ARKANSAS HITS AND MISSES: In the marquee primary matchup of June 8, Blanche Lincoln defeated Bill Halter, proving that incumbency still has its perks. But it wasn’t all bad news for progressives. In the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses Little Rock and seven surrounding counties in central Arkansas, State Senator Joyce Elliott, an outspoken progressive who is running to become the first African-American candidate elected to Congress or statewide office in the state, defeated good ol’ boy Robbie Wills. Wills, speaker of the Arkansas House, opposed Obama’s healthcare bill and ran hard to Elliott’s right in the final weeks of the race, distributing a controversial mailer claiming that Elliott wants to "restrict gun rights," "outlaw prayer in schools," and promote "extreme abortion views." Even conservative bloggers condemned the ad, which helped rally Elliott’s base in Little Rock. She’ll now face Karl Rove protégé Tim Griffin, a key figure in the 2006 Attorneygate scandal, in the general election.
Meanwhile, in northeast Arkansas’s 1st District, boyish Congressional staffer Chad Causey—who worked for retiring Representative Marion Berry—defeated über-conservative Democrat Tim Wooldridge, who once introduced a bill in the state leg- islature to reinstate public hangings, earning him the nickname "Hang ’em High" Tim.
As for Halter, the peculiarities of Arkansas politics explain his loss better than an alleged broader failure by the progressive groups that rallied to his side. Core Democrats and liberal Obama voters, to the extent that they exist in the state, stuck with Lincoln out of loyalty and never took a liking to Halter, who they viewed as icy and overly ambitious. The loss will certainly sting, but it’s more like a missed opportunity than a crushing defeat for progressives. The next time they have to organize in a red state like Arkansas, they’ll do better. Elliott’s race would be a good place to continue the job. ARI BERMAN
IN BED WITH BIG BIZ: A sex scandal again threw South Carolina’s governorship into turmoil over the past few weeks, this time with accusations of infidelity against Republican candidate Nikki Haley. In the weeks before her party’s primary, in which Haley finished first but without the outright majority that would have avoided a runoff, two men claimed to have had "inappropriate" relations with the state representative. Haley said it wasn’t true and even offered to resign should anyone produce evidence to the contrary.
The real scandal, however, is where one of the alleged flings took place: at a 2008 meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative front group for the nation’s largest corporations. In the months after Haley attended the ALEC conference, the corporate-funded group wrote her a $1,600 check to cover her expenses. Since then, she has co-sponsored ALEC-backed bills aiming to block healthcare reform and helped pass a resolution decrying EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.
She summarizes her economic policy as pushing tort reform, tax reform and workers’ compensation reform. "We need to pass business-friendly legislation," she says in a video on her campaign website. "We’re a right-to-work state: we keep the unions out; we need to stay that way." The cries of infidelity may be baseless, but she’s sure in bed with big business.NICHOLAS KUSNETZ
THOMAS’S LEGACY: It may well be that the most remarkable thing about the long and accomplished career of White House correspondent Helen Thomas was that, at 89, she remained so fierce and focused an interrogator that the most disreputable players in American political life made it their business to force her out of the press room.
Thomas didn’t help her cause. Responding to an ambush interview question with a bumbling attempt to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, she suggested that Israeli Jews should "go home" to Germany, Poland and America. Thomas recognized immediately that it was a crude and irresponsible remark; she issued an apology that reaffirmed her longstanding support for a just and equitable Middle East peace. But that was not enough for Ari Fleischer, the former Bush/Cheney White House spokesman who so frequently clashed with Thomas in the run-up to the Iraq War.
Virtually alone among senior correspond- ents at that time, Thomas refused to act as Fleischer’s stenographer. The barrier-breaking female journalist who had held presidents and their aides to account since the Eisenhower years demanded facts, not fantasies. Fleischer couldn’t stand the heat and went out of his way to isolate and diminish Thomas. But she remained after he fled the White House, even penning a powerful criticism of official deceit and a pliant press corps: Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (Lisa Drew/Scribner, 2006).
When Thomas handed him an opening with her remarks about Israel, however, Fleischer began campaigning for her firing. On June 7 she retired in what was by any measure a sad end to a storied career. But even if Fleischer won the last fight, the correspondent will be far better remembered than the flack. History will record that while she could be indelicate, and in the end even offensive, Thomas believed in and often made brilliant use of the First Amendment as the tool the founders intended: a check and balance on abuses by the powerful—and by their shameless spokesmen. JOHN NICHOLS
KUDOS TO KATRINA: Each year, Exceptional Women in Publishing gives its highest award to a woman who embodies its mission—to educate and empower women in publishing and through publishing. Past awards have gone to pioneers like Ms. Magazine‘s Gloria Steinem and Newsweek‘s Eleanor Clift. We at The Nation are delighted that our fearless leader, Katrina vanden Heuvel, joins that list this year. At the awards presentation, held at the 2010 Folio Show, vanden Heuvel discussed how The Nation strives to "embrace the changes roiling our industry and still stay true to the values that have kept us strong for 145 years." It’s a challenge, she noted, that is particularly relevant online—where we’ve relaunched our website and built up our online communities, all under a crackerjack team led by women editors and web producers. We’ve even embraced Twitter— @katrinanation especially!