Democrats Come Hard After Gilbert Baker
Immediately after the state GOP debacle of 2006, in which Republicans failed to capture any state-wide office, the party establishment rallied around then-chairman Senator Gilbert Baker of Conway. When they announced the meeting to elect state party officers for the next cycle, the email announcement went out with endorsements of Baker from what few top Republicans were left, such as Governor Mike Huckabee and Congressman John Boozeman.
How is that for stacking the deck? The announcement that there would be an election for chairman was sent to the party's email list with endorsements for re-election of the incumbent displayed prominently in the announcement! It was sort of an official party announcement/campaign ad all wrapped up together so that the faithful would know that they needed to stick to the plan.
Baker was re-elected with assurances from the party big-wigs that he was the one to stick with. The grassroots were thus cautioned against making any big changes just because things did not go the party's way at the ballot box. The message was :"In times like those, when the chips are down, the party needs stability most of all."
Four months after he was re-elected as state party Chairman, Senator Gilbert Baker resigned the position to focus on his state senate seat. The Chairmanship was suddenly open once again. Gilbert Baker endorsed little-known businessman Dennis Milligan for the chairmanship, and Milligan was quickly elected with no organized opposition.
There is a hypothetical subtext to that which I will only touch on in this report. When Baker was originally re-elected, the insiders tried to quickly put up former state Rep. Doug Matayo as Vice-Chairman. Conservatives in the convention reportedly stopped them from rushing him in, and instead pushed former Secretary of State Candidate Jim LaGrone for Vice-Chairman. At the time, the position of Vice-Chairman did not seem that important, but in retrospect one wonders if Baker and Company knew even then that Baker was only going to hold onto the office a few months and were planning on sneaking Matayo through on the hopes that he would step into the chair once Baker departed. Both Baker and Matayo are long-time allies of Governor Mike Huckabee. At any rate, for some reason the Vice-Chair, Jim Lagrone, did not step into the Chairman position when Baker resigned. Instead they held a completely new convention and put up a new man- Milligan.
Now I don't have much evidence to support that hypothesis, other than knowing some of the personalities involved and their SOP. It may be that Gilbert Baker did not catch wind of how hard the Democrats were going to come after his Senate seat until after he was re-elected chairman. At any rate, it has been told to me by a reliable source that he resigned the Chair because the Democrats were going to come after him hard and (hypocritically) use his "partisanship" as GOP Chair against him, along with accusations that he was not paying enough attention to the home folks. Based on the rhetoric coming from Baker's Democratic opponent, that seems to be the case.
Here is an excerpt from the website of one Joe White, the Democrat drawing a bead on Baker: "recently I’ve become concerned with the lack of attention our community is receiving from Little Rock. I’m running for the State Senate in Arkansas’ 30th district because I believe that Faulkner County deserves a Senator who will put politics aside and focus on the tremendous challenges that face us."
According to Steve Harrellson's "Under the Dome" blog, Senator Mark Pryor is actually doing a fundraiser for candidate White. That is pretty high profile fundraising for a State Senate seat. The message the Democrats seem to be sending is "don't advance the interests of the Republican Party if you are an office holder. If you do, we will come after you. If you try to back off from it, we still won't forget."