LITTLE ROCK — Believe the governor when he says he has no plans to run for office after he leaves the Governor’s Mansion in two years.
Gov. Mike Beebe, 66, who has served 30 years in political office at the state level — 20 as a state senator, four as attorney general and six as governor — says he plans to “fish, play golf, travel” when he completes his second term as governor in two years.
Though he still opposes term limits on state legislators, Beebe confides he has grown to appreciate the two-term limit for governor.
“I’m not ready to leave right now but I can foresee eight years will be enough,” Beebe said in an interview with the Arkansas News Bureau. “I can foresee that your energy level would be hard to sustain beyond eight years.”
Longtime friends of the governor said last week that they believe Beebe is sincere when he says has no higher political aspirations than governor. But they also say he is driven, eats and breaths the political life and think he might not be able to stay away.
“I think he’s had his fill, but I don’t think he’s had his gut,” said Home Bancshares Chairman Johnny Allison, who has known Beebe since they were fraternity brothers at Arkansas State University.
“I think he actually means what he is saying because one thing about Mike, the governor, is he tells it like it is, he’s honest and straight forward … I think he will try,” according to Allison, who said the two have talked about going fishing in the Florida Keys after Beebe leaves office.
“But I don’t think he can stand it. I think he means what he is saying, but I don’t think he can stand it … I don’t think that long term that’s what he will do,” Allison said.
Former Sen. John Paul Capps of Searcy, who served 36 years in the state House and then eight years in the state Senate, said Beebe’s love for public service and politics will make it difficult for him to stay away.
“I really think that once you have been governor you are always really up there and people respect what you say, so I don’t think he’ll totally walk away from the political arena, but I think he will walk away from elected office,” Capps said.
Allison and Capps both said the state’s congressional delegation would benefit with Beebe as a member.
“He would be such an addition to national politics like the Senate,” Allison said. “And let me say this, those morons in Washington could really use him.”
Capps said Beebe would make a great congressman.
“Right now the only thing left for him would be something in U.S. Congress, and I think right now that’s not very tempting to anyone, particularly for someone as smart as Mike.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, the only Arkansas Democrat left in the state’s congressional delegation, has said he will run for re-election in 2014, as has U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, who represents the 2nd District, which includes Little Rock and Searcy, Beebe’s hometown.
Beebe said last week what he has been saying for several years, that he has no plans to run for office after governor.
“I don’t have plans to do anything full time,” he said, adding that people continue to not believe him when he tells him that.
“Everybody keeps saying year after year, ‘I don’t believe him, I don’t believe him, I don’t believe him,’ and as it gets closer and I keep saying it more and more, people are starting to believe it,” Beebe said.
A self-described fiscal conservative, one of Beebe’s campaign pledges when he ran for governor in 2006 was to reduce the state sales tax on groceries to just the one-eighth cent which can only be changed by amending the state constitution.
The grocery tax was 6 percent when he took in 2007 and he successfully pushed for gradual decreases in the tax during each regular session. His latest proposal, to be considered by the Legislature which convenes Jan. 14, is to reduce the food tax from the current 1 1/2 cents to one-eighth cent per dollar spent.
The reduction would be triggered when certain budget obligations, including desegregation payments to three Pulaski County school districts and payments on certain bonds, decline by at least $35 million for six consecutive months.
“My top priority in tax relief … is cutting the grocery tax,” he said. “I’m happy that we’ve gone from 6 down to 1 1/2, but this is my last session. If I could get rid of it all right now I would propose it, but in good conscience I don’t know that you can get rid of the rest of it right now with a projected $139 million Medicaid shortfall.”
When asked if he would run for a third term if he was not term-limited, Beebe replied, “I don’t think so.”
He said being governor for eight straight years takes a toll and that “I think there is some wisdom in limiting a chief executive to eight years.”
The governor said he still opposes term limits on the legislative branch.
“I think it hurts the people, and I say that with total objectivity because I’m not running for the Legislature. My ox is not getting gored one way or the other, but I don’t think it’s good for the people,” he said.
Beebe said he understands the difficulties and pressures faced by the legislators.
“I think the Legislature is the closest branch of government to the people on the state level,” he said, “and I think some continuity and the knowledge that goes along with that continuity actually in years is a benefit to our people.”
Capps said he appreciates the governor’s position on term limits.
“I think it’s much better for administrative officials, for the executive branch” than for legislators, he said.
“If you had unlimited terms and you had a real popular guy in there, he could be re-elected … but you get the wrong person in there, they get control of all the boards and commissions and that sort of thing. You don’t do that in the Legislature,” Capps said.