Cool vs. Competent in Arkansas Government
Gov. Mike Beebe is cool. And one of the common beliefs in our shallow pop culture is that if you display that aura of cool, you are competent. It's not necessarily true of course. Having a winning personality and projecting an air of relaxed confidence does not insure one has the right answers when its crunch time. It's the geek, not the cool kid, who most often gets the answers right.
In a perfect world, we'd get someone who is the total package. Sadly, we don't live in a perfect world, and this is seldom more obvious than it is when it comes to selecting our politicians. Cool and competent? Of the two I'd take competent, unfortunately I seem to be frequently outvoted by people who think the one is somehow a guarantee of the other.
Not that I blame the voters in the case of Governor Beebe. I blame the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Recent events I will describe shortly indicate that he is not the man they have been telling us he is, and that's true of many of the political figures they report on. Most of what people think they know about the Governor is really just the image presented to them by that particular propaganda organ. As I have shown on this blog time and time again, they are not a reliable source of information about political candidates.
Just as it is hard to accept the truth that the socially adept person may not be as competent as the geek, it's hard to accept that the state's biggest baddest loudest most established newspaper is not as trustworthy in evaluating politicians as a good blog. How can that be when they have all the resources? Easy. It's the very fact that they are so powerful that impedes them from deviating from the establishment line. Because they are so powerful, they have been an attractive target to moneyed influence peddlers. They have all kinds of special interests who have sought, and gotten, influence with them. Once they get that influence, truth becomes supplanted by spin on all things political. That happened a long time ago.
You've heard of "too big to fail." Unfortunately in our current culture media can become "too big to tell the truth." At least the whole truth. What the average person sees as the stamp of media legitimacy, size and closeness to the establishment, is in fact a sign that the information it feeds you is less credible.
This leads to Moore's Media Maxim: In a political culture so corrupt that connected business are "too big to fail", you will also find connected media that is "too big to tell you the truth."
That's where us little guys and gals in the blogosphere have the edge. No special interests have levered me. I have no ad dollars at risk. I don't have to pump up the establishment's chosen face man of the hour. I can just write the truth. I may not write as well as the pros write. I might not have the resources to make it look splashy. I might not be able to match the volume because this is a hobby not a paid job. But the one edge we bloggers have is that when the Emperor has no clothes we can sit down and write that the Emperor has no clothes. The court jesters don't dare say that.
Now for those current events which reflect so poorly on the Governor's management prowess: We have learned that the Forestry Commission had to make emergency lay-offs because it was discovered that a Beebe official, a fellow by the name of Shannon, was improperly re-directing federal grants to pay ongoing expenses. He blamed an underling, but many lawmakers have questions. If we still lived in a country where connected public officials could get in trouble for stuff like that, well someone would be in trouble.
Now we learn that the Department of Education, another Beebe run agency, and the office of State Treasurer Martha Shoffner (another one the papers assured us about) are pointing fingers at each other over who dropped the ball on about two million dollars of federal grant money to rural communities simply by failing to collect forms telling the feds who to make the checks out to. Normally I am skeptical of federal grants. I think officials ought to read the fine print carefully. In this case though, the money was simply a share of the logging revenues obtained from logging federal lands near several communities. Rural communities have not been a high priority of politicians from either party lately, and this oversight highlights that lack of commitment.
It turned out that a recently retired employee from the Department of Education had as one of their collateral duties the collection and submission of these forms. When they retired, no one knew that that was part of their job duties. The DOE said "institutional knowledge" was lost when the employee retired and people just seemed to shrug off the blunder.
Let me contrast these multi-million dollar mistakes with the actions of another public official- Secretary of State Mark Martin. If Beebe is the cool kid, Martin is the geek. He has an engineering background. He puts goofy photo-shopped pictures of himself on facebook. He flies off the handle when he is mad and gets choked up when he sees injustice, especially to kids. There is no mask of cool. But when it comes to competence, despite what the papers are telling you, it's Martin that gets it, not Beebe.
When Martin got into the Secretary of State's office, he realized that the organizational flowcharts, such as he could find after many documents had been shredded, were a mess. He told me that people did not have their duties defined in writing, so it was impossible to evaluate them or hold them to performance standards. People getting paid from one pot of money were actually doing work that applied to another pot. In other words, time bombs like the two that just blew up on Mike Beebe were all over the place in the Secretary of State's office too. And who knows how many other bombs have gone off that we have not heard about?
So Martin decided to use funds already in the budget to whisk his top employees off to a retreat where they would talk about what they did, what they ought to do, and how to do it better. In other words, build an accurate organizational flowchart that properly documented who was responsible for what. The media pros at the Demozette and the Arktimes raked him over the coals for having that employee retreat- even though the funds for it were requested by his predecessor Democrat Charlie Daniels. They never seemed to complain about it when he did it.
Beebe has had seven years to do what Martin did in his first two: build a proper organizational flowchart. The Governor has more agencies, but the Secretary of State is the second biggest state constitutional office by a long shot. If Beebe were really a good administrator, instead of someone who is good at putting on the appearance of a good administrator, then he would have done what Martin did. Instead, we get million dollar blunders and the papers showing very little desire to get to the bottom of it. The papers showed more agitation at Martin for trying to fix these poor management practices than they have shown towards Beebe continuing them.
Bottom line, we are not going to get better government in this state until either the big media is either reformed or ignored. The people are part of the problem insomuch as we continue to grant them credibility simply based on their size and connectedness to our current system, and so far as we elect people based on superficial traits rather than integrity and ability.