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On big legislative dinner — and a buried lead

It’s time to reactivate this long-dormant blog.

A good return-to-action post would be about lobbyists helping to raise money for last night’s speaker’s ball and the president’pro tem’s ball, long social staples of the state legislative culture, and harmless feel-good affairs.

But — thanks to the obsessive blog work of Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times — they’re kind of wrapped up in this whole matter of the voters approving Issue 3 to ban lobbyists’ gifts to legislators and of lobbyists and legislators finding a way around it.

It used to be — before Issue 3, or Amendment 94 — that the state Chamber of Commerce would bank these formal dinners late in session, by which I mean collect the money from corporate and lobbying sources.

That was bad, and the leading ethical purist of the Legislature, former state Rep. Duncan Baird of Lowell, now budget director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, always wrote a hundred-dollar check to cover his part.

Issue 3 rather clearly banned the chamber-coordinated process.

While it’s true that the big loophole otherwise availed by lobbyists and legislators is that lobbyists may fete legislators under Issue 3 if they invite entire committees or the entire General Assembly to a “planned event,” the speaker’s ball and the president pro tem’s ball were mainly for those two individuals. Or at least it could be argued.

So to the rescue came the proud Arkansas Republican Party, which said it would raise the money to honor these two fine Republican legislative leaders  — Speaker Jeremy Gillam and President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang.

And they are, by the way, in my opinion, fine Republican legislative leaders. We could do way worse.

So it turned out the Republican Party prevailed on two leading lobbyists, Ted and Julie Mullenix, to help, specifically to hit up other lobbyists to cover sponsorships for the dinners.

That outraged me, both on principle and as an affront to the voter dictates of Issue 3. So I went on Twitter to call the process a cesspool.

So then Gillam and Dismang wondered if I could come out to see them at 2 p.m.

I could. I did.

They said (1) this is the same process governors have always used to raise money for their inaugural balls and (2) they didn’t know about any outside services the Republican Party was using and (3) they were not beholden in any to the Mullenixes or any other lobbyists.

But they said that, yes, there might be a better way to do it in the future.

I’d have members ante up to a dinner fund, especially now that members are in line for significant pay increases.

But Gillam and Dismang might not be in positions of authority after this session.

In that regard, I can now relate that I’ve buried the lead.

Gillam told me he has pretty much decided to seek re-election as speaker.

(ADD: I’ve complicated Gillam’s life. I apologize. He thought he was telling me that little tidbit for a Tuesday column, which was true.  But I got the wild hair to blog it, and now some of his pals are displeased that he hadn’t told them of his plan. Put that on me.)

Dismang? He says no to re-election as president pro tem, although he knows of no percolating candidacies as yet to succeed him. Gillam wondered if Dismang might accept a draft. The two good ol’ boys from rural White County have a good working relationship ,and it has enhanced the orderliness of the session.

Oh, and one other thing: Some lobbying cabals have kept open certain rooms and facilities for entertaining legislators in cynical finesses of Issue 3 by inviting all legislators to these standing “planned events.” Gillam and Dismang said those have been so poorly attended that they can’t imagine they would be continued. We can hope.

 

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