Arkansas Politics and Government

Article excerpt

Arkansas Politics and Government, second edition. By Diane D. Blair and Jay Barth. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Pp. xviii, 497. Preface to the second edition, acknowledgments, tables, maps, figure, notes, index. $29.95, paper.)

Back in 1988, a great breath of fresh scholarship blew into Arkansas almost without warning. Diane Blair (earlier known as Diane Kincaid) had written little that prepared us for such a cobweb book. In her relentless sweepings through fifteen chapters, she opened doors and peered into every nook, cranny, and corner of the sometimes byzantine and other times Beverly Hillbillies world of Arkansas politics. Immediately, the book became a classic, for often she went where no other political scientists had trod. Arkansas was not overly rich in political scientists, and the state's colleges and universities had few scholars interested in studying Arkansas.

By 1988, the time was ripe for such a book, for Blair caught Arkansas during that great burst of modernization that followed the Faubus years-the age of the Big Three: Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Bill Clinton. However, once Clinton headed off to Washington and Bumpers and Pryor retired, Arkansas began to catch up with the changes that made the South the mainspring of the present-day (but anti-modern) Republican party. In the next decade, Republicans occupied at times the governor's office and a United States Senate seat and built a statewide party base. Term limits and a constitutional decision uprooting traditional school financing added to the mix.

A second edition was required, but Blair was too ill to complete the work. Bringing in another author is always something of a gamble, but in this case the work of Jay Barth, a Hendrix College political scientist, meshes so nicely with Blair's original text that only by getting out the first edition and comparing it to the second can the seams be found.

What remains the same is the outline. The first chapters set the Arkansas stage. Then comes a close study of the state's archaic constitution followed by a look at the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial). The final chapters examine state-federal relations, grassroots politics, and state services, and take a retrospective look at the themes of continuity and change. …