Arkansas Democrats Eye Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Name Change

Jul 28, 2015

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair Vincent Insalaco in his office in Little Rock.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The head of the Democratic Party of Arkansas is considering a name change to the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Party Chair Vincent Insalaco told KUAR on Tuesday that the two former Presidents, with ties to slavery and Indian removal, don’t always live up to modern standards.

“They were probably pretty normal for the days that they lived but if you look at it in today’s world they’re obviously not,” said Insalaco. “It’s probably time to bring it more up to date and with people who will be more relevant to the times. Just like whoever we pick now, 50 or 100 years from now they’ll probably be looking at those people and saying, ‘we need to evolve.’”

The consideration of a change to the name of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, in which 2016 Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton gave the keynote speech earlier this month, is an old discussion according to the party chair.

“It’s not a new conversation, it’s been going on for a long time,” said Inslaco. “I think like so many things attitudes, perceptions evolve. We progress by fault. I think that’s what going on here.”

Former Republican State Representative John Burris, who among other things is now a Talk Business and Politics contributor, opined in a column earlier this month that some Democrats were being “frustratingly inconsistent” by keeping the dinner name while also assailing Confederate imagery.

Insalaco does give some credit of renewed consideration to the rise of a national discussion about the interpretation of historical symbols and people. But he also has plenty of praise for the figures from America’s early history.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and Andrew Jackson saved the Union. If you look at it in that context it’s pretty remarkable, they’re pretty remarkable men.”

Yet, Insalaco still prefers new faces head the banner of the state party’s signature gathering, “I would rather it be I think in today’s world, that it be a more diverse name that recognized people who have given things to the Democratic Party on a more contemporary level.”

While the decision is solely that of the party chair Insalaco said a committee will likely be charged with evaluating the dinner name. He made no promises the name will be changed or when it would, if it does, “I don’t want to be confined to a time frame.”

“It’s not going to be any kind of reactionary decision.” He said finding new names would also be a delicate task, “We’ll discuss it, who are the best people to honor going down the road because it is a big honor.”

The potential shake-up is not an unwelcome discussion or a source of any embarrassment for the Democrats, said Insalaco, nor is it irregular.

“That’s always the way things change. You recognize that things have proven unequal to the task, if you will, and we have to change it,” said Insalaco. “That’s a good thing. That’s what democracy is all about and what the Democratic Party is all about.

The names have been in use for 150 years. Missouri, Georgia, and Connecticut have recently changed the name of their Jefferson-Jackson dinners.