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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Tucker and the scarlet 'Y'

by John Brummett | September 19, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

by John Brummett | September 17, 2023 at 1:42 a.m.

What a week it was. First Arkansas Republicans turned against their vaunted leader, Gov. Sarah Sanders. Then some of the several still-existent Democrats took to social media to blast their best excuse for a leader, state Sen. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.

He's a Harvard-educated lawyer distinguished for a credible congressional race as well as for waging lonely, beleaguered and well-informed opposition in the regular session to a succession of Republican bills now tending to be under court injunction, as he warned.

He's also shown a personable, trustworthy style enabling him to get along with some of his Republican legislative colleagues and occasionally pass with them a small-focused improvement.

But, yes, the center-left Democrat Tucker cast a scarlet "Y," meaning a "yes" vote, to let the queen hide whatever it was she wanted to hide, even retroactively, regarding where she was taking that State Police plane and with whom she was airborne.

Posts began appearing Wednesday afternoon on social media that branded Tucker a MAGA-ist and a blankety-blank, neither of which he remotely is. The word "shameful" came up, which is a tad overwrought for an isolated one-time difference in judgment.

But that's just me--the old squishy moderate--and I'm accustomed to being despised by the right and ridiculed by the left. I'm just happy I'm getting read.

Other posts responding to Tucker's vote expressed surprise, disappointment, even hurt and dismay. Those are the ones that will get to you--those from people saying they once held you in such high regard but now feel betrayed.

What had happened was that the Senate roll call on the pared-down anti-Freedom of Information bill, the one stripped of a broad attack on open government but saving an exemption for Queen Sarah's use of the State Police airplane, had just come out. And it showed a vote of 29-2 to pass the bill.

Beside Tucker's name was a "Y," just like those beside all those Republicans.

Sanders had lost on 90 percent of what she proposed in the bill to eviscerate the FOI. That was a glorious victory in which Democrats shared. But, yes, she was going to get the leftover, mainly an exemption for particulars on funds spent for her travel and personal and family security.

Here's how Tucker came to do what he did: Early in the week, he assessed the governor's anti-FOI bill and realized that the non-security part was by far the greater threat to open government.

Gubernatorial plane use is, whatever you think of it, a narrow strip of the law. But the provision to exempt "pre-decision" records on the "deliberative process" of policymaking practically would have repealed outright any citizen right to information.

There was a moment when Tucker, who keeps open his lines of communication with the Republican leadership to the extent he can, told those leaders that if they'd drop that broadly threatening section, then he'd vote for the security slice, though he thought some of its supposed concerns a tad silly or even paranoid. Tucker was included in a lot of insider conversations about the bill because he does FOI work in his private law firm.

He admits he never thought what he suggested would come to pass.

But then it did. Quite apart from his comment, the Senate leadership decided that practicality compelled them to ask the governor to concede broadly and put back in a bill only for the security secrecy.

She unhappily consented.

It's as simple as it seems: Tucker had told colleagues that he would vote for the bill if a certain thing happened. That certain thing happened. He valued keeping his word. That applied specifically in this case to what at times were valuable relationships with a few reasonable Republicans. He voted the way he said he would. His vote made no difference, since 28-3 passes the bill just as 29-2 does.

Many of Tucker's supporters freaked out, thinking he'd effectively endorsed Sanders' imperious secrecy.

Tucker posted a 12-post explanation on social media, saying pretty much what I've written above.

People have made or will make their own judgments about that. Mine is to regret the fix Tucker was in but celebrate the rejection of the great bulk of the bad bill.

It is to predict much will be forgotten the next time he rises to speak expertly on the constitutional vulnerabilities of a Republican bill.

It is to suspect that human nature and reporter-blogger instincts are such that we're going to find out a lot about the governor's plane use now that Queen Sarah has made such a show of trying to keep it secret.

It is to scoff at all those social-media threats to "primary" Tucker. A primary is not a threat or vengeance. It's democracy. And, by the way, it's not a verb.

And it is to think it would have been different if Tucker had looked at a 17-17 vote tally in which his last vote would decide.

Sometimes the right thing is a moving target, not as absolute as the hard partisans make it.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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