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Columnist's ballot

A former editor's general election ballot

Oct. 31, 2012

By Roy Ockert Jr.

In nearly 30 years as the editor of three Arkansas daily newspapers, including most recently The Jonesboro Sun, I never endorsed a political candidate. That was not my publisher’s policy but rather my choice as editor.

I was always a “hands-on” editor who presided over news meetings and influenced news coverage; these were newspapers with comparatively small staffs and no separate editorial page editor. Taking sides in a political campaign could give the perception of bias, even within our own staff, and divert us from what’s most important — covering the news.

I have no beef with bigger newspapers like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which has an editorial page staff completely separate from its news department, that endorse candidates. It’s their right.

However, those endorsements grate on some readers and provide ammunition that the newspaper isn’t fair, whether it is or not. I would also question their effectiveness. Newspapers are notoriously bad in picking winners, and some people will vote against a candidate because of an endorsement.

As an editor, I was sometimes accused of being too liberal, sometimes too conservative — both of which I took as a compliment because I consider myself a moderate. Unlike PBS veteran Jim Lehrer, the presidential debate moderator, I have always done my civic duty and voted.

Now as a retired editor and occasional columnist, I can offer opinions without affecting my former newspaper or its staff. A vote, after all, is strictly an opinion, and that’s what a columnist is supposed to provide.

So, for whatever it’s worth, below is my ballot, as it stands today, and some reasoning. Because I love the experience of going to the polls on election day, I’ll reserve the right to change any vote until then.

• President — Barack Obama. The economy is improving, however slowly; we’re out of Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan; and there is no reason to go back to the failed policies of the Bush years. If you want to know more about his opponent’s business experience, read last week’s Newsweek excerpt from former Reagan budget director David Stockman’s book, “The Great Deformation: How Crony Capitalism Corrupts Free Markets and Democracy.” You can find it online at

• Congressman, 1st District — Scott Ellington. I like him as our prosecuting attorney, but he wants to go to Washington, D.C., for some reason, and we need a good congressman. I won’t vote for anyone who refuses to face the voters in a statewide political debate, which the incumbent, Rick Crawford, did.

• State representative, District 58 — Harold Copenhaver. He’ll be a strong voice for Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas, which is needed. The incumbent, Jon Hubbard, has embarrassed us while pushing his own weird ideas instead of representing his district.

(That's the district I vote in, but I would not vote for any candidates supported by the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity or its satellite organizations that are trying to gain influence over the Arkansas Legislature.)

• Court of Appeals, District 1, position. 2 — Phillip Whiteaker. He has been a circuit judge for about 15 years, a great qualification for this position. We’re not allowed to know much about judicial candidates beyond their experience.

• Craighead County clerk — Kade Holliday. While young, he has degrees in finance and business administration, and it should be obvious why we need someone more competent with handling money in this office.

• County treasurer — Terry McNatt. He won a primary election and has an accounting degree so he should be a good successor to Russell Patton, who was superb until health forced him to give up the office.

• County collector — Marsha Phillips. She has worked in the office for 22 years and should be ready to move up.

• Sheriff — Dwight Tosh or Marty Boyd. Both are experienced law enforcement officers with solid reputations, and I hate to see either lose. Right now I lean toward Boyd, whose campaign has stressed that his experience is more recent and varied, but I’ll probably have to flip a coin.

• Jonesboro alderman, Ward 2, position 2 — Chris Moore. Except for the city transit service, which he has opposed, he’s usually on the right side of city issues.

• Jonesboro alderman, Ward 4, position 2 — Mitch Johnson. He’s conscientious and a steady voice for progress.

• Jonesboro alderman, Ward 6, position 2 — Richard Wang. The professor will ask “why” or “why not” on important issues, and every public body needs someone to do that. He’ll also join Gene Vance in trying to limit emergency declarations to real emergencies.

• Constitutional Amendment, Issue 1 (sales tax for highways, roads and streets — against. We shouldn’t use a sales tax, even temporarily, to build and maintain roads but rather to stick with user fees. That way the big trucks, which cause so much damage, don’t get off the hook.

• Constitutional Amendment, Issue 2 (revenue bond projects) — against. This is similar to the Tax Increment Financing scheme, except that it would divert sales tax revenue to  finance development projects, possibly benefitting private enterprise. At a time when we’re cutting taxes and critical services, this is a terrible idea.

• People’s Initiative, Issue 5 (medical marijuana) — against. While I’m sympathetic to anyone whose suffering could be eased by marijuana, it’s still a federally prohibited substance. If we want to legalize it for medical purposes, it should be dispensed like other prescription drugs — through licensed, regulated pharmacies.

These are the contests and issues I expect to see on the ballot in my voting district. Yours may, for example, show a different state House race, a justice of the peace race or municipal races. You are, of course, entitled to your own opinions and reasons for how you vote.

The only bad decision is not to vote at all.

Roy Ockert is former editor of The Jonesboro Sun, The Courier at Russellville and the Bateville Daily Guard. He is an independent columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and may be reached by e-mail at