Arkansas

Do women in leadership positions still have to guard against showing emotion in public? Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t.

Regardless of what one thinks about her otherwise, no one can question her toughness after watching her go toe to toe with the national media as President Trump’s press secretary. She may have made other people cry, but she didn’t.

On Tuesday night, her voice cracked a couple of times in her acceptance speech after she easily secured the Republican nomination for governor with 83% of the vote.

“I didn’t think I’d get so emotional this fast,” she said as she began her speech.

Hopefully things have changed for all women, and not just Sanders. Male politicians used to not be allowed to cry, either.

From a policy perspective, Sanders said she was running to make sure students are “educated, not indoctrinated.” Referencing the terrible mass shooting in Texas earlier in the day, she said she wanted to ensure students are safe at school.

Discussing abortion, she said, “We will make sure that when a kid is in the womb, they’re as safe as they are in a classroom, a workplace, a nursing home, because every stage of life has value, no one greater than the other.”

Two things were missing in her speech: her opponent, and the November elections.

Sanders spoke as if her ultimate election is a foregone conclusion, which it probably is. She closed by saying, “The real work starts in January of next year when we take office, and we take Arkansas to the very top.” Candidates often say that kind of thing, but this had an air of certainty about it.

Sanders is Arkansas’ second female major party nominee for governor. The first was Jimmie Lou Fisher, who lost running as a Democrat against Sanders’ dad, Gov. Mike Huckabee, in 2002. If Sanders wins, she’ll be the first governor to return to the Governor’s Mansion after growing up in it as a kid. She’ll be returning to the house her mom renovated. The race will gain national attention because of her fame and connection to Trump.

It was also a big night for Chris Jones, who won 70% of the vote in a five-candidate race on the Democratic side. He also made history as the state’s first African American major party nominee for governor. Arkansas has never produced an African American statewide officeholder or member of Congress.

In his speech, Jones drew on his background as a physicist and a minister. He called for a “nuclear fusion politics,” noting that more effort is required but greater energy is produced when atoms come together, as with the sun, than when atoms are split.

The minister side came out when he discussed the uphill climb he faces against Sanders. Referencing the biblical story of David and Goliath, he said, “They say we’re the underdog in this race. They say we’re facing a giant. But we have five stones.”

Based on Arkansas’ recent history, it’s understandable why Jones would say that. In this year’s primary elections, more than 347,000 voters voted in the Republican gubernatorial primary, while 94,000 voted in the Democratic one. More than 3.5 times more people voted in the Republican primary. Nearly as many people (58,568) voted for Sanders’ Republican opponent, Doc Washburn, as voted for Jones (66,443). The last Democratic nominee for governor won less than 32% of the vote in 2018.

One major difference between this contest and the real David vs. Goliath story is that in the Bible, Goliath underestimated and mocked David. In contrast, Sanders will blanket the airwaves with ads and pretty much ignore Jones. He’ll be running a campaign against her, and she’ll be running a campaign against President Biden and CNN.

Regardless, history is being made this cycle. Every Arkansas governor has been a white male. When voters go to the polls in November, they’ll be choosing between a female and two African American males, the other being Libertarian Ricky Harrington.

They’ll make history November 8 just by being on the ballot. If any of them get a little emotional about it, that’s OK.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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