Full disclosure from the outset here: I have started writing this post without much of an idea for where it will wind up. I’ve had a bunch of thoughts and emotions and opinions bouncing around my head for the past couple of months, and this is an attempt to try to synthesize those and to figure out the future for me and this blog. So, I apologize in advance if it rambles a bit or if there appear to be ideas and assertions that are contradictory to one another. (In the latter case, I would just direct you to Walt Whitman for my full response.)
With that caveat out of the way, let’s hop this train and see where we wind up.
When Jeff Woodmansee and I started Blue Hog Report in the spring of 2010, the plan was to sort of mirror the Arkansas Blog and focus on news aggregation mixed with occasional opinion where warranted. The blog, however, was a fall-back plan.
Initially, we had discussed trying to work for one of the campaigns in the five-way Democratic primary to replace the retiring Vic Snyder.1 We quickly realized, however, that real life and little kids and day jobs would make that difficult if not impossible. So, “hey, we could start a blog and just write about Arkansas politics” seemed like a good way to stay somewhat plugged in and informed.
Hell, now that I sit here thinking back on those early days, I just remembered that we initially didn’t plan to get into the weeds on local races much at all. The overarching idea for BHR 1.0 was to write about national politics that impacted Arkansas, federal congressional races in Arkansas, and (maybe) constitutional-office races. Why? Because we were both originally from Missouri and weren’t as well-versed in local Arkansas politics as we were in the bigger picture stuff. Plus…I’m sure we thought we were “too cool” to write about state house races,2 which is an attitude that would also explain why we launched with a post that made it sound like we were long-time experts on stuff without any sort of introduction or explanation about the blog. But I digress; you aren’t here for a History of BHR post.
I mention the early days of the blog, however, because it provides some context. As of the day that this whole venture went live on March 31, 2010, Arkansas had Democrats in every constitutional office, both US Senate seats, three of four US House seats, and a majority in both chambers of the state legislature. The state was such an outlier, it even prompted things like this cover and article from The Nation:
For a brief period in the summer and early fall of 2010, it felt like Arkansas would continue to be this lone holdout, a progressive outpost on the edges of the Old South that continued to vote blue even as the states around it went red. In fact, Democrats were so in control of the state in 2010 that a lot of the early articles were about why one Democrat was better or worse than another. (See, e.g., the series of articles on Tim Wooldridge.)
Then came the 2010 election. I won’t pretend like I had any more of a sense of the gut punch that was coming on November 2, 2010, than anyone else did. While Democrats didn’t get completely blanked–they still held the Governor’s mansion and the state senate majority, at least for a couple more years–they did get the absolute shit kicked out of them pretty much across the board, to such an extent that you can pretty clearly plot how the long-term trajectory of this state changed on 11/2/10.
Let’s fast forward a bit, because this is still bogging down as some sort of paean to yesteryear. Reader’s Digest version of 11/2/10 through 1/20/23: break big story on illegal legislative reimbursements, state GOP tries to get me fired, blog shuts down from May 2011 to May 2013, blog comes back, Republicans are in control of everything by January 2015 when Hutchinson replaces Beebe, Republican majorities continue to grow, Trump arrives on the national scene, the worst kind of people embrace Trumpism and sell it to Arkansans in a bizarre way that gets them to vote against their own interests to “fight socialism,” Arkansans elect an unqualified hatemonger with zero qualifications to be their governor solely because she was the kind of useful moron that Trump liked to hire.
It’s that last one that has pushed me to the point of “what now?”
A few days ago, Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) invited questions from followers on Twitter. Being more than a tad cynical–and already struggling with the question of where I and this blog go from here–I asked:
If I was being facetious here, it was only the tiniest bit. After all, in the two weeks of this new regime that we’ve suffered through so far, we’ve seen literally nothing that does anything to benefit any Arkansans in a meaningful way.
Oh, sure, Huckabee the Lesser has signed a bunch of executive orders and taken to social media to brag about her actions, but that’s just because she’s copying the Ron DeSantis/Donald Trump playbook of crowing on the internet about the culture-war, hate-stirring idiocy that is red meat to the worst kinds of people. Firing up the lowest-common denominator as a soft launch for a “please pick me as your running mate” VP campaign is hardly governance. Banning words and non-existent teaching topics and “mandates” that were never actually mandatory sounds good (to some) when TV news uncritically repeats the content without examining the context, but it is a far cry from accomplishing anything substantive.
If that was all Gov. Sanders was doing, there might be no need for introspection on my part. If she were hamstrung with a Democratic majority in even one chamber, at least her worst instincts would be somewhat controllable. But that’s not the situation at all.
Instead, we don’t just have a Republican majority in both chambers of the legislature. We have Republican supermajorities in which the absolute worst among us–the Mary Bentleys and Gary Stubblefields and Dan Sullivans and the like–are seen as thought leaders on social issues. We have a Republican majority legislature that not only supports all of Sanders’ worst ideas, but kowtows to her every whim and suggestion. Following a state hiring freeze and rants about reigning in government spending with a request to pay her political appointees more than their predecessors? Damn the hypocrisy and full speed ahead; whatever her highness wants, she gets, because she worked for Trump and that’s literally all that matters to a large number of legislators.
And this is all in the first couple of weeks.
Do you think it’s likely to get better any time soon? Because, I sure can’t see that argument and, if you can, I’d love to hear the it.
Oh, sure, as Sen. Leding mentioned in response to my tweet, there’s still an opening for some good bills to make it through. This one, in particular, seems very positive and is rumored to have strong bipartisan support. But…while beggars can’t be choosers and any good bill in this environment should be applauded, hanging too much hope on the few good bills to make you feel better about the overall Hindenburgian trajectory of the state feels a lot like asking, “other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
Even as I write this, I have a nagging feeling that “what now?” isn’t the right question. I might be better served asking myself what the point is of writing BHR at all in this day and age. After all, blogs in general aren’t nearly as popular as they once were, with people seemingly preferring podcasts, YouTube, and even TikTok for information about current political events. Writing a political blog in 2023 feels a lot like being a radio newsman must’ve felt in the late 1950s.
More to the point, it’s not like anything I’ve written here has stopped or slowed the state’s inexorable march toward it’s current proto-fascist existence. I dare say, if the whole Mark Darr fiasco broke today, he would not drop out of that U.S. House race. Hell, I dare say he wouldn’t even resign as Lt. Governor. The entire understanding of what was disqualifying for a politician has changed that much in the last 13 years.
Through that lens, it becomes far more difficult to clearly see a reason to keep this whole thing going. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that has thought long and hard since November about shuttering this place permanently. That would certainly be the easiest route, and, in my darker moments, I can even convince myself that no one would begrudge me for turning off the lights and calling it a day.
So…why don’t I? If I know that what we’ve done here over the last decade-plus hasn’t changed the overall bend of this state’s political arc, why am I hedging and looking for a reason not to consign all of this to the dustbin of history? What makes me want to keep it going, even if in a slightly altered form?
The short answer, I think, is the realization that Blue Hog Report has had an outsized impact through the years on a local/campaign/issue level. Even as I’ve weighed shutting it down, I keep coming back to the list of old BHR stories in this post along with more recent efforts such as the posts about Heather Turchi, Max Avery, and even LITfest. Maybe BHR hasn’t changed the trajectory of the state as a whole over the last decade, but there are definitely some people who would have been much more comfortable if BHR had never existed. Maybe that is the answer to “why keep it going?”
After all, the overarching ethos of BHR has long been to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I can’t say with any certainty that I’ve accomplished the former, but I am positive we’ve done the latter. And, if anything, this new Sanders regime–schooled under Trump and populated with some of the greediest, worst people you can imagine–is only going to embolden certain people at every level of the state. Even if Sanders is Teflon, some random mayor or Justice of the Peace or county judge who tries to emulate her and her disdain for accountability and transparency won’t be.
That, I think, is enough of a reason to stick around.
This is where you, the readers, come in. If we are going to turn most of our attention to where we know we can make an impact–county and local-level issues and stories–that is going to require more input and information from you guys, especially in the towns and counties further from central Arkansas. If you hear about something sketchy going on in your area, drop us a note at email@example.com. You can stay anonymous and all communications will be treated as off-the-record unless you specify otherwise.
Maybe we can’t do anything about Sarah Sanders in the short term. Maybe we can’t do anything about the legislature. But we can sure as hell make things uncomfortable for some county and city officials who want to try to emulate Sanders, et al., at the local level. The folks at the Capitol may act with impunity; we don’t have to sit idly by while the folks at city halls and county administration buildings across the state do the same.
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