The Republican Primary in Arkansas has seen quite a reversal since the last time there were statewide races for constitutional officers. In 2010, Republicans did not even field a full slate for all seven positions. Now almost will have a Republican primary.
One has quickly devolved into a rather strange primary race pitting Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan against state Rep. Duncan Baird for state treasurer. It’s now centered on a 2 a.m. stroll around the state Capitol followed by a clandestine meeting gone awry at a Little Rock donut shop.
The story goes like this:
On the afternoon of Nov. 7, Milligan called Baird and told him he urgently needed to meet him face to face. He claimed he had some "damaging information" on Baird and that they needed "to look each other in the eye and sit down and evaluate and determine what’s going to happen."
Baird agreed to meet Milligan a few hours later at Krispy Kreme in west Little Rock, but smelling something fishy brought along a hidden recording device.
"A review of Dennis Milligan’s history, as has been reported in the press, caused me to be concerned that he would seek to be aggressive and menacing in this campaign. To provide certainty as to what happened during our phone call and meeting on Nov. 7, I recorded our conversations," Baird said later in a statement.
He was correct to be concerned. At the donut shop meeting, Milligan laid out what he claimed was evidence that could embarrass not only Baird but several of his House colleagues.
Milligan showed Baird several pictures and described a video of Baird, three House colleagues, and "two unidentified women" visiting the Capitol at 2 a.m. on Oct. 18. Milligan also showed him an internal email he had obtained from Capitol Police to the secretary of state’s office that said the legislators had asked to go up on the Capitol roof and that one of them had dropped Secretary of State Mark Martin’s name when they were denied access.
The context of the Capitol stroll was that it occurred during the condensed three-day special session to address the Arkansas Public School Employees health insurance shortfall. The two "unidentified women" as Milligan has repeatedly referred to them were a friend of one of Baird’s unmarried colleagues and a friend of hers from out of town.
The video is tame – even boring, but despite that Milligan pressed Baird.
"Here’s the bottom line, you’re finding a new career. You’re not going to run for state treasurer. OK? Unless you want to see this on the 7 o’clock news," Milligan told Baird. He went on to say, "If you call me within a couple of hours, we’ll find you something else to do." Milligan brought up how the video may embarrass Baird’s wife, the wife and children of his House colleagues, and said he even planned to tell his colleague’s employer about the video.
Milligan’s version of the donut-shop meeting has evolved in numerous interviews and statements.
"I never once told Duncan Baird to get out of the race. I did tell him there were people who wanted him out of the race. I want to make that clear and I will put my hand on a Bible," said Milligan in an interview on KARN radio shortly before Baird released the audio tapes.
After the release, his tone changed quite a bit, although he has remained resolute that his Krispy Kreme caper was entirely appropriate, saying on a Northeast Arkansas radio program, the Paul Harrell Show, that he "stands by the meeting 100 percent." Milligan argued that he was simply trying to warn Baird about what his enemies might do with the video.
However, an examination of document requests made of the secretary of state’s office for the past month shows the only request germane to the video and emails prior to the Nov. 7 Krispy Kreme showdown came on Nov. 4 from Jim Harris, Milligan’s chief of staff . The first request for the video and emails from the press — or anyone else for that matter — came on the day following the Nov. 7 meeting, after Baird did not respond to Milligan’s two-hour deadline.
The scandal here is not that Baird visited the Capitol for about 40 minutes in the early morning hours of Oct. 18 in mixed company. The scandal is that Milligan obtained what he felt were some embarrassing photos and tried to use them to pressure Baird out of the race. He then lied about doing it and when caught red handed, has continued to double down on his baseless charges.
Baird — the younger of the two candidates — has constantly shown the maturity of someone far beyond his years. In fact, it is comically tragic for Milligan to attack him on his character. Baird is perhaps the most ethical member of the Arkansas House. He was one of the first legislators to self-impose the "Wal-Mart rule" of not accepting even a cup of coffee from lobbyists.
By contrast, this type of behavior is normal for Milligan. Another entire column would have to be devoted to explain the numerous times he has embarrassed himself and his party with his words and actions over the years. He truly has earned the title Dennis the Menace.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.