Points By Drew Pritt

Lu Hardin should’ve never switched.
August 9, 2008, 5:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Above you see Lu Hardin with his former colleague of many years from the legislature, Mike Beebe. Beebe is Governor now and Hardin would have liked to have succeeded him, if but for a glaring problem.

There is an old Bible adage which says, “Yea, it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” After viewing the recent troubles of Lu Hardin, President of UCA, former State Senator in the 12th Senate District (that included Russellville), and a former strong candidate for the U.S. Senate, I have to rephrase that Biblical adage to say, “Yea, it is easier for a philandering husband in politics to find public forgiveness than it is for a party-switcher to ever receive mercy, much less redemption.”

I am neither crucifying nor excusing anything regarding Lu Hardin and the scandal surrounding his $300,000 “bonus” he received as President of UCA. What I am suggesting is in Arkansas, if you are a party switcher, you are treated much more ruthlessly and efficiently eliminated as a political force than if you remain in the party you began in.

If you are not a Rockefeller, Hutchinson, or a Huckabee, the chances you have to survive politically as a Republican in Arkansas are very sparse. Also, if you are a prominent Democrat and switch to the Republican Party, you become hunted like John Dillinger or Baby Face Nelson.

Speaking of Nelsons….Supporting Evidence # 1 – SHEFFIELD NELSON.

All one has to do is read Nelson’s bio and see a Horatio Alger story waiting to happen. Sheffield Nelson is probably one of the most talented, intelligent, and empathetic men never to have reached the Governor’s office. He was praised widely in National Gas Industry and Business Publications for holding down gas prices through a system he created known as “Replacement Cost Pricing,” which resulted in significantly smaller gas bills for residential customers. Long considered being groomed for the Governorship by Bill Clinton, Nelson lost his nerve waiting (as so many talented individuals did like Steve Clark, Jim Guy Tucker, Tom McRae, etc.) So in 1989, he switched to the Republican Party. He gave some sort of timid reasoning that the party had left him. Thats the usual apologetic by a party switcher. Nelson had just in 1988 contributed to a number of Democrats including Ted Kennedy.

Regardless, Nelson switched and challenged Bill Clinton. Largely due to a massive support of current Democratic friends, Nelson shellacked then-U.S. Congressman Tommy Robinson, another party switcher, in the primary. He lost the General Election to Bill Clinton. In 1994, once Clinton was gone, Nelson came back and ran again. He left his Horatio Alger life story behind and ran a hard-hitting campaign with the slogan, “TOUGH ENOUGH TO BE GOVERNOR.” The long and the short of it is Nelson lost again.

The man who defeated Nelson, Jim Guy Tucker, would later be be chased from office as part of a Republican Witch Hunt that brought our state the decade of Mike Huckabee. However, even though Tucker was convicted of at least one felonious count, he is revered and treated as a mighty statesman.

Nelson on the other hand showed lately he is still the consumer’s best friend. He said he would lead a campaign for an Initiated Act on the General Election ballot this year that would raise the state’s microscopic tax on the severance of natural gas to 7% of gross price, same as Oklahoma. This would benefit the revenue the state would receive but hinder corporations hoping to make a large profit. Governor Mike Beebe called a special session of the legislature and the issue was resolved.

Yet even in doing well, Nelson is villified by one of Arkansas’ more senior political analysts, John Brummett, who says “Nelson is damaged goods….He’s a failed politician….”

There are others who fell prey to this indignity. Betty Dickey was a much touted candidate by Democrats in 1998 flailing about for a Gubernatorial nominee. I mean at that time, she was the ex-wife of a sitting Republican member of Congress, Jay Dickey. She was the Prosecuting Attorney for Jefferson County (Pine Bluff) and she was a woman. She entertained the advances and the approaches by the Democrats but instead she decided to run as a pro-choice Republican for Attorney General. She was facing former U.S. Senator David Pryor’s son, Mark, a state legislator who had running a credible but losing race for Attorney General in 1994. Dickey immiediately was villified. She lost that race. She went onto serve as the first female as Chief Justice of the Arkansas State Supreme Court. She also more recently served on the Water Commission in Central Arkansas and even now is held to a higher scrutiny.

It’s not just Democrats who commit these acts. Republicans have never forgiven retired General Wesley K. Clark for becoming a Democrat. In fact Republicans like to think ALL military officers of record are Republicans. They insinuate that National Security is a Republican, not a common national issue. In fact they attack Democrats, like U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and former U.S. Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, both who are decorated Marine Veterans and Cleland lost two legs and an arm in defense of this nation. That doesn’t make Kerry & Cleland immune to Republican-funded attacks on their patriotism.

Consider the legacies of Jim Guy Tucker, Bill McCuen, even Bill Clinton. They each in their own varying and glaring ways committed acts considered political death. One went to prison, one was chased from office, and one has seen his womanizing haunt and otherwise chaste and wonderful career.

Yet, those villified today like Sheffield Nelson and Lu Hardin have given a lot to this state. If Bill Clinton can be forgiven for multiple philanderings with other women, while married (and I have.)If we believe Jim Guy Tucker got caught up in a witch hunt and was unmercifully attacked and taken out to elevate a Republican to the Governor’s Mansion (and I do.) If we simply accept Bill McCuen for what he was famously described when he won the ’92 Congressional primary, “He might be a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch,” (and I did.) Then we must and should impart the same sort of political mercy and forgiveness to the Sheffield Nelsons and the Lu Hardins.

UCA is a much better campus because of Lu Hardin. When it comes to an advocate for the poor and the elderly on issues regarding utilities, we have a wonderful expert in Sheffield Nelson. I for one am thankful for them both and their service to our state and nation!


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