Not meaning to be always blaming the virus on things that are not going well -- it is hard to predict just how engaged the public will be with politics this fall leading up to 2022 -- in what should be a very important political year for Arkansas.
Two years ago, the public shut down -- be it either self-imposed or mandated by health groups, federal and state governments or just common sense -- made politics not work so well.
There were only a few "Meet The Candidate" forums. Even fewer candidate and issue debates and even far fewer "retail political" settings -- parades, festivals and gatherings like the Cane Hill Harvest Festival, Lincoln Apple Festival, Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair and Siloam Springs Dogwood Festival, in which to casually meet those running for public office.
I do not say the following lightly: On such small things, entire lives turn.
And I mean that.
I've seen candidates for public office "shine" and become a better candidate by pressing the flesh at a community event, where, perhaps, the focus was not on a sound bite, a glib answer to an often-asked question, but found in a firm, friendly handshake from the people.
Over the years, this type of transformation of a candidate meeting the public and doing so with the same honest aplomb and sincerity has turned what seemed to be a marginal candidate into one that commands a core following at the ballot box that equates into winning margins -- even in the dirtiest of campaigns by groups or organizations hellbent on electing a cause -- not a candidate to public office.
As the 2022 political season shapes up, the new U.S. Census will change the landscape of Northwest Arkansas. Many of those serving in the Arkansas Legislature will be finding a new and ever-changing district. Some will lose territory -- areas they have cultivated friendships, alliances and votes in over the last decade.
Other "new" districts may not contain an incumbent and thus be open to a new set of candidates.
Some former districts may be merged together -- thus putting two office holders into the same area -- a rather unusual and uncomfortable situation at the ballot box and on the campaign trail.
Two years ago, the issue of wearing a mask, shaking hands (sans plastic gloves) , mastering the elbow or fist bump and even the distribution of campaign materials was discussed and debated.
There was a significant uptick in the number of mailings -- those pesky colorful flyers that fill one's mailbox. That was really unwelcome as Arkansas still does not have adequate safeguards prohibiting outside groups from slamming an incumbent or a candidate from behind some unknown moniker.
The amount of robocalls to your cellphone will likely increase in the next few months. So will the number of texts, emails, Facebook posts and Facebook messages asking for your help, dollars, support and, of course, your vote.
Will we in 2022 be asked to again vote absentee? Will the somewhat lax rules still apply that you can ask for a ballot to be mailed to you without a real "medical" reason? All these questions we do not know at present.
What we do know is this.
Arkansas needs better quality candidates who care more about the health, welfare and safety of its citizens than many of those who have sought to take away such safeguards while espousing "personal freedoms" flying in the face of public safety.
Those who don't follow a pre-subscribed agenda from a national or regional political action committee, but instead follow their heart and the good for the will of all the people of Arkansas.
We need "retail" one-on-one politics back in 2022. I am hoping the booster shots, vaccinations and these newly drawn districts might energize the voters of Arkansas to select better candidates in the year ahead.
-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylon [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.