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Brummett online: The future for Democrats

The state Democratic Party is anxious to showcase 34-year-old educator Megan Godfrey in her unlikely challenge to Republican state Rep. Jeff Williams in Springdale, long decidedly Republican.

The state party chairman, Michael John Gray, more or less insisted that I sit down for acquaintance-making with her while she was in Little Rock last week for educational administrator meetings, a fundraiser for her hosted by Democratic women, and the state Democratic Party convention and festivity.

“We think she’s a great candidate, and we like her chances,” Gray said.

Godfrey and I visited about so many topics so rapidly that I had to ask her to double back on that thing I thought I’d heard her say, which was that she had been homecoming queen at the University of Arkansas.

Not to make a big deal of it, but it’s not every day a political columnist interviews a state legislative candidate who turns out to be a former UA homecoming queen.

Yes, Godfrey said, in 2004, her senior year, she was the nominee for homecoming queen of the student government association, of which she was a member. She went before the football seniors for an interview, which ended with quarterback Matt Jones asking if she knew the Razorback fight song, and, if so, to prove it by singing it.

So, she belted it out. “I guess I did OK,” she said. “I knew the right lyric was ‘rah, rah’ instead of ‘go Hogs.’”

Before long she graduated and thought about how best to pursue her values. She was influenced by her church background that included missions to Mexico. Her college major in Spanish was decided when she fell in love with the people on such a trip in eighth grade, she said.

“I thought about law school,” she said, “but then I saw an opportunity in education.”

So, yes, she’s one of those, by which I mean bright young service-minded Arkansas millennials or near-millennials, academic standouts in college, who might have gone into law and perhaps then public service in past generations. But these youngbloods — gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson, congressional candidates Hayden Shamel and Chintan Desai, and state legislative candidates Jonathan Crossley and now Godfrey, among others — instead chose education as their Peace Corps or Vista.

Godfrey’s life’s work is English-as-a-second-language instruction, for several years as a teacher in Springdale and in the last school year as an administrative overseer of ESL programs in the Fayetteville Public Schools. She is fluent in Spanish.

These young people to whom I refer want to try to enhance opportunity early rather than advocate as a lawyer for the aggrieved later — not that there’s anything wrong with advocating as a lawyer for the aggrieved later. No one is dissing the more conventional credentials of, say, Clarke Tucker.

They stayed with education occupationally even as they decided to venture into electoral politics to widen the canvas of their service. And they are seeding a remaking of the post-Clinton Arkansas Democratic Party, not one likely to win much if anything this November, but one beginning to turn slowly at sea.

It is steered hard in that turning by these bright young people who know well from public education’s modern challenges about arduous steering.

I’m making their acquaintance and, in the process, starting to think that there is yet hope both for public education and — perhaps more distantly — a healthily competitive Democratic Party presence in Arkansas.

For now, it may be enough — a start — to engage hostility at the door and turn it momentarily thoughtful, as Godfrey has sought on the divisive issue of abortion.

Our conversation included Godfrey’s tearful recollection of her miscarriage that influenced her thinking about keeping government out of a woman’s relationship with her unborn child.

That — an unborn child — is exactly what it was and is, she said.

From the moment she learned she was pregnant, maybe even from the point of conception, she sensed a certain and intimate relationship of mother-and-child, she said.

Godfrey, now mother of two born later, told me that she felt a Mother’s Day void that tragic year. It happened not simply because she had lost the baby. It was, she said, that no one else could possibly understand that she felt fully like any other mother — that she knew she was every bit a mother fully bonded to her forever-unborn child.

She told the story only because references to it came up three times otherwise in our conversation — mainly in the context that she had told it to pro-life voters she encountered going door-to-door in central Springdale as a Democratic candidate for state representative who was pro-choice, unpopular in long-solidly Republican Springdale.

Godfrey says she’s pro-choice to the extent that, while she doesn’t believe she could ever advise a young woman to get an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, she couldn’t fathom, on the other hand, a government presuming to tell any young woman she couldn’t get an abortion no matter the circumstance.

It is a matter of a mother’s bond, not a politician’s dictate.

Godfrey told me she’d seen pro-life listeners in her door-to-door campaigning pause to consider her story and her point, and to be sensitized, at least for the moment. And she refuses to think abortion choice is a single-issue determinant against her.

As Godfrey figures it, she needs to change the minds of about 300 voters from two years ago in a district perhaps 40 percent Hispanic, thus a potential strength for her.

I’m not writing to suggest she’s going to win. I’m writing to chronicle the planting of seeds.

Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Bill Clinton — all young once, all lawyers interested in electoral service, all election losers at one time or another.

There’s no shame in that. But there can be a future in it.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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