Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe was sworn into his second and final term Tuesday and in taking the oath of office, he took his place as an anomaly in the former confederacy.
Beebe is a Democratic incumbent who weathered a pro-GOP, anti-incumbent election season that punished most politicians with Ds next to their names. Voters elected Republicans to three constitutional offices and booted U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln out in favor of her GOP challenger, John Boozman.
Still, Arkansas doesn't have a broken budget to fix and Beebe's been able to chip away at his campaign promise to abolish the grocery tax. By most accounts, he's sitting pretty.
"Listen to phone call after phone call from governors all over the United States, saying, 'Whatever it is you're drinking down there, we want some of it,'" Beebe said in his inaugural address.
He touted the state's recent achievements in education and economic development while surrounded by pomp and circumstance at the state Capitol. A show choir sang about good news and an Army band played majestic marches that wouldn't sound out of place in a Ringling Bros. circus. The inaugural festivities will continue Tuesday night with a formal ball in downtown Little Rock.
The governor has a lot of reasons to celebrate: He won every county in November and, despite a Republican Party that won its greatest numbers in the Legislature since Reconstruction, he's still popular. But he faces greater opposition this term than last from a stronger GOP that holds more power to block his agenda, which includes reforming the state's prisons and finding funding for Medicaid.
Part of Beebe's success stems from his platform that steals some Republican thunder. Beebe campaigned — for both terms — on the idea that Arkansas residents shouldn't pay taxes on their bread, milk and other groceries.
This year, he's proposed another half-cent cut in the grocery tax, which would knock it down to 1.5 cents on a dollar. Beebe has said it's the only tax relief the state can afford to squeeze into the budget, thus maintaining his status as a tax-cutting savior while curbing Republicans' hopes of portraying the same image to their voters.
Sam Martin, a retired sousaphone player watching the inauguration, is proof that Beebe is winning over Arkansans through their stomachs and their pocketbooks. When asked why he voted for the current governor, he points to the cuts in the grocery tax.
"The food tax — I really appreciate that," says Martin. "It helps a little bit at the grocery store."
Beebe's success isn't built on groceries alone. Voters — from Little Rock to rural areas — know the Beebe name.
Even Republicans admit that Beebe's popularity among Arkansas residents helped exempt him from an anti-Democrat tide.
"He's got a lot of well-known name recognition," said Rep. Stephen Meeks, a freshmen lawmaker of Greenbrier. "And because our state has not faced a lot of the problems that other states have faced, that's helped protect him in the governorship."
Still, Meeks and other members of the GOP aren't completely sold on Beebe's stance on taxes.
"Of course, as a Republican, I'd like to see tax cuts," Meeks said.