By Louie Graves
A Howard County icon was recognized Saturday night by the local Democratic Party.
Nashville’s oft-honored citizen Neely Cassady, who spent 14 years in the Arkansas Senate, was presented the Parker Westbrook Award for his service to the party and to citizens of Arkansas.
The plaque was presented by the district’s current Arkansas senator, Larry Teague of Nashville, who also served as master of ceremonies for the party’s third annual Parker Westbrook Dinner.
The senator’s son, Mark, read the honoree’s acceptance remarks which included comments about his pleasure in serving the people and addressing important issues facing the state.
“My dad served this area in the Senate for 14 years and loved every minute of it. When he was there, both houses of the legislature were heavily dominated by Democrats. He had the privilege of serving with Senators like Stanley Russ, Mike Beebe, Mike Ross, Vic Snyder, Charlie Cole Chaffin – and I could go on and on naming senators such as these,” Mark said.
The honoree is “especially proud that Larry Teague is now one of those senators. He watched Larry grow up – Larry and my brother Tony were close friends growing up. And I’m not telling any secret when I say those who knew Larry when he was growing up never would have expected him to become a senator someday. But he has been an excellent senator. He’ll be up for re-election next year, and we all need to work hard to be sure he is re-elected, and that this senate seat remains in Democratic hands.”
The senior Cassady said that the award was especially meaningful to him because it comes from the people who know him best.
Sen. Cassady’s 89th birthday was Sunday, the day after the dinner. “You have given him a very good 89th birthday present,” Mark said.
About 100 persons attended the event which was held in the Nashville Elementary School cafeteria. County Democratic Party chairperson Julie Tuck welcomed the crowd, and Rev. Shirley Souder, pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church, gave the invocation.
The keynote speaker for the event was Arkansas’s best-known newspaper columnist, John Brummett, who has had a long career writing about the Arkansas Legislature and Arkansas politics. Brummett described himself as a “token liberal columnist” writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is a conservative publication. He is frequently asked to speak at state Democratic Party events.
Brummett also has roots in Howard County. In his talk he said that earlier in the day he had driven to old family homesites in the Burg community and in Dierks. He also said that his family was connected to Democrats because, he quoted his mother, the party “helped poor folks like us.”
He said that Democrats needed to be obsessed with President Donald Trump, but that the party needed to “put someone up” who was both moderate and progressive. “Democrats need a better message,” saying gently that candidate Hillary Clinton did not connect well with voters.
The days of Bumpers, Pryor, Clinton and Beebe are past, he said of the Democrat-dominated days in the governor’s office and in the legislature. “That connection has been lost.”
Democrats need to be on the right side of history, he said. Losing is no disgrace, but not standing for what is right is a disgrace, he said.
He also pointed out that Sen. Teague, a Democrat, was able to get along and work well with his Republican counterparts. Sen. Teague noted that in the audience was Rep. Justin Gonzalez, the district’s representative in the House and a Republican. Rep. Gonzalez was accompanied by his wife, Cassie.
Democratic county officeholders were recognized, including Circuit Clerk Angie Lewis, Tax Assessor Deb Teague — spouse of the emcee — and Nashville Mayor Billy Ray Jones. There were several delegations from Democratic Party organizations in nearby counties.