FAYETTEVILLE — I thought I’d report on the blog on my quick trip here yesterday to debate state Rep. Charlie Collins on his idea to reduce state income tax rates a little in every category to provide what he calls a “jobs magnet” for the state.
I will present a substantive report on my five-pointed rebuttal to his proposal in Sunday’s column. But the event itself was interesting in peripheral ways.
I praised the amiable and sharp Collins then, and do so again now, for putting together these kinds of forums to account to constituents, advance his views vigorously and present opposing sides generously and civilly.
We gathered in a lovely conference area on the back side of a modern office building nestled against some woods. Donated pizza was brought in, but not enough, it turned out, because we must have had 60 or 70 or more people.
I looked out from the front table and saw every liberal in Northwest Arkansas. I saw a minuscule percentage of the conservatives of Northwest Arkansas. That provided a nice audience balance.
I made an eye contract with a familiar female visage on the back row, and she grinned a bit wryly. I thought, “Who is that? I know that woman.”
Then it hit me. I knew this face from that startling television commercial that, in last Sunday’s column, I had called the best and worst I’d ever seen.
This was Appeals Court Judge Jo Hart, vanquisher of my friend Raymond Abramson by nearly two-to-one in last week’s Supreme Court race — an outcome I had found so distressing (well, more precisely, a campaign I had found so distressing, no matter the outcome) that I resurrected and intensified my argument for a Missouri Plan with appointed judges standing alone for occasional voter review up-or-down.
Judge Hart came up to me afterward and introduced herself. I asked how she and Raymond were getting along there on the appeals court and she said, oh, fine, it wasn’t personal, at which point I said that if somebody pounded me two-to-one, I’d consider it personal, at which point she said she had run for the office and not against anybody.
Also in the audience was Mark Henry, lawyer there in Fayetteville. Now this gets interesting: He was formerly married to the now-Courtney Goodson, then Courtney Henry, who got elected to the Supreme Court two years ago. Right after getting elected — having availed herself of prominent Henry family ties to Bill Clinton for good will and a fund-raiser — she split the sheets and took up with Texarkana trial lawyer Johnny Goodson, later marrying him, after having had to report lavish gifts from him on her financial disclosure. So, anyway, I confirmed with Mark something I’d heard, which was that he’d consulted Hart’s campaign and helped create that TV ad I called the worst and best ever. He confirmed, saying he had chosen to emphasize the word “best.” I do not know what any of that means. I just think it’s a single-degree of separation that bears mentioning.
Also in the audience was a fresh-faced young man looking about 20, but who told me he was 34, thank you. This was Bart Hester, former Razorback baseball player who got elected to the state Senate up in Benton County over a less extreme Republican, state Rep. Tim Summers, with the considerable outside help of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, which couldn’t stand Summers’ occasional moderation and support for a functioning government.
There was the local liberal Episcopal priest, Lowell Grisham, who got up to cite a report from the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families about the burdensome regressiveness of our state income tax system and to argue for progressive taxation that relieves the poor man and transfers the burden to the wealthy man better able to pay. Later I reviewed Twitter posts during the event and found a couple scoffing that I was getting support for my tired liberal views of progressive taxation from “the local socialist preacher.”
The Republican Party propaganda brigade was up from Litttle Rock headquarters to live-tweet as well, perhaps seeing a chance to try to assail Democrats as tax liberals because an independent newspaper columnist was expressing personal views in opposition to a Republican officeholder.
Let me assure you: Arkansas Democrats want nothing to do with a newspaper columnist arguing for higher income tax rates on the highest incomes.
That’s just me, OK? Don’t blame any politician for my brave and lonely truth-telling.
That goes triple, I’m sure, for the nice woman down front. This was Adella Gray, member of the Fayetteville City Council and the Democratic opponent of Collins in November. She was recognized to say a few words, and all she said was that it was a beautiful day and she so appreciated this kind of civil and respectful public policy discourse.
That’s a competitive race. Collins told me Gov. Mike Beebe kind of messed with the district in reapportionment “because he doesn’t like my tax plan.”
Beebe has a commitment to continue drawing down the sales tax on food. I asked Collins point-blank in the debate if he was for that, and he wouldn’t say. He prefers cutting rich people’s top marginal income tax rate in Arkansas from 7 percent to 6.
(NOTE TO MISREPRESENTING RIGHT-WING GOP POLITICAL OPERATIVE: I did not just say there that anyone making more than $30 grand is rich. I did not just there define rich. Did I? In fact, I called in my remarks for rearranging rates to make lower middle class ones such as for $30 grand and kick the threshold for the top rate, which I would raise a point or two for progressivity and to achieve revenue neutrality, at least to six figures.)
This whole notion of lower or nonexistent state income tax rates fueling economic growth in states — well, we’ll discuss that in Sunday’s column. Or I will.