I Salute Nate Bell
Readers of these columns, and of my blog before that will know that I have long dueled with State Representative Nate Bell of Mena over various policy issues. I am even involved in a lawsuit against the State of Arkansas because of a bill pushed by Bell. The bill put more restrictions on people who run for office as an Independent compared to running for public office as a member of one of the two terminally corrupt DC-based and globally funded parties which have so mismanaged America. I even donated $500 of our family's hard-earned money to one of Bell's opponents last go-round- Libertarian (more classical liberal really) candidate Marc Rosson.
It was not always this way. Early on in Bell's career he made my blog's "Top Ten" list. The panel of activists doing the rating, including me, admired his courage but gave this warning "If there was a place he could improve, it would be responding to criticism with grace equal to the panache he displays when going after the bad bills." He did not get better though, he got worse. And that started a long feud between us. I wrote a number of columns calling him on one thing or another. All the while, I maintained that I was not attacking the man, but the behavior. In my mind the problem was his positions on the issues and his behavior rather than a personal grudge. I said that if he ever did the right thing he would have nothing but praise from me.
Recently Nate Bell resigned from the Republican saying he believes he can best represent his west Arkansas district and his values as an independent.as an Independent. At first, I was incredulous. This was the guy whose bills were laying more burdens on independents. This was a guy who carried a lot of water for the state GOP. As a member of Neighbors, a group who encouraged people to run for office outside the two-party system, did I even want this? I suspected his motives. Privately, I mocked his choice.
I now realize that I was getting uncomfortably close to making it personal, instead of about principle. Nate Bell is only wrong when he is wrong, he is not wrong because he is Nate Bell. Indeed on this one, and its a big one, he is right. His act forced me to look at myself and my claim that when he does wrong I would call him on it, and when he does well I will praise him for it. Did I mean it?
The truth is, on this one, he was right. He can best represent his district and values as an independent, especially on the issue which was the final straw. He objected to the primary season being moved up at the behest of the national Republican party and a man who has no chance to be President- Floridian book-seller Mike Huckabee. For local candidates, especially ones thinking of challenging incumbents, it is a disruptive change. The legislature is supposed to represent the folks back home, not their national party. Yet here was a blatant example of a change being made, not because the folks back home demanded it- indeed it will be very disruptive for a lot of them, but rather because the national party wanted Arkansas to align its primary with the Republican primary in other states.
Thinking back, I wonder if much of Bell's belligerence, particularly when he was carrying water for the GOP and his measures which discriminated against independent candidates, were signs of a man wrestling with his conscience. Sometimes that can look a lot more openly offensive than a man who has no conscience to struggle with. You may know the type- calmly and coolly explaining why they just have to do the wrong thing. They have no inner-conflict with cronyism to boil over into external turmoil.
That fits the pattern I see with some of my Republican friends who are struggling against the party establishment and are adamantly opposed to what I am doing with Neighbors. Meanwhile, establishment figures may join in the same actions, but they do so without emotion. They are simply logically pursuing their best interests, which is serving the higher-ups in their national party rather than folks back home. The ones struggling with their conscience in this course of action are lashing out and blaming the victims as a coping mechanism. The real bad guys don't need a coping mechanism because they have no guilt to cope with.
Whatever the reason, Nate Bell was right to do what he did, and I salute him for it. What he said about being able to best represent his district as an independent was a true statement and a conclusion so obviously true that I figured some elected official would come to it someday. I am just shocked that he was the first one to reach it rather than one of those with whom I have cordial relations. This is why I must stop, swallow hard, and salute Nate Bell for the choice he made.