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Archive for the ‘Arkansas Government’ Category

Too scared to rule, state Supreme Court rules — CORRECTED

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The Arkansas Supreme Court announced Thursday a little something I wish to paraphrase generously, indeed embellish, but only for worthy purposes of candor and clarity.

The court is dealing in chaff and somebody needs to get in there and pick out the wheat.

So here goes:

The court said that it did not want to rule on the same-sex marriage appeal properly before it, and would not, most likely.

The court said we couldn’t make it rule even if we tried.

It said its judgeship positons are matters of popular election and that the people of Arkansas don’t much like same-sex marriage, which the judges might be forced by, you know, justice and stuff, to permit.

So the eminent justices said they simply will concoct lame, indeed nonsensical, excuses not to opine on Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s stayed ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. They said they will stall until the U.S. Supreme Court handles the issue perhaps by June and makes moot the state case and gives everybody in Arkansas someone to blame, probably Barack Obama, who has nothing whatsoever to do with the court case, but so what?

Justice Paul Danielson, the real jurist in the group, dissented. Presumably he favors going ahead and deciding a case that’s been fully argued and pending for months while the other judges have been hiding under their desks with their robes pulled up over their heads.

Justice Rhonda Wood, who is newly elected to the court and didn’t hear the case last year, announced separately that she couldn’t find any record of those proceedings anywhere, mainly because she hadn’t looked, and was not going to participate in the case at all, even in any comical stalling tactics such as these otherwise undertaken by her colleagues, because . . . well, she doesn’t want to. And we couldn’t make her if we tried.

To be clear: Wood is disqualifying herself not only from the original appeal that she didn’t hear, but from this new lame-brained notion to start a whole new case right now on her watch on the question whether to start over on that thing last year she didn’t hear.

You see.

You don’t see? All right, let me break it down further: She don’t want to.

CORRECTION: Turns out I didn’t see either, which would be funny if not about me. Judge Wood tweets to explain what her letter to Chief Justice Jim Hannah plainly says: She disqualified only from voting on whether to create this new case to invite arguments about whether to rehear the original case. That’s because it affected her. She is not disqualifying from the original case or any rehearing of it. She says she is ready to hear the case itself, if the opportunity arises. She says she would have dissented from this latest action to create a new case on the question of whether to rehear, except – again — she disqualified on that, because it was about her. Check Justice Wood’s twitter feed to see if that’s still wrong. If this is unclear, apportion blame among me for the description and the court for the silliness. )

Let’s run through this narrative: Piazza ruled nearly a year ago that same-sex marriage was to be permitted in Arkansas. After a few days of gay weddings, the ruling was stayed for appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Sen. Jason Rapert, as God’s own legislator, got the Legislative Council to adopt an unconstitutional resolution presuming to tell the court that the legislative branch would darned sure appreciate it if the judicial branch would overturn this abominable ruling by this judge whom Rapert calls “Pee-at-zah.”

The appeal was fully briefed and orally argued in early November, and the justices, by usual procedure, would have gone into conference and decided it and issued a ruling by the end of the term in December.

But they didn’t. So then two newly elected judges joined the court in January. So then the Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the court to consider the question of whether to start over and rehear the case with the newly constituted court.

So the court said that was a swell question, right up its alley, and asked for briefs, which have now been submitted.

What specifically happened Thursday was that the court said it was now opening a whole new case on this issue of whether to have new oral arguments on this matter, and that, since it was creating a whole new case, the parties would need to supply fresh briefs for that case on the now-recycled question of whether to conduct start-over oral arguments.

It is unclear whether lawyers will be allowed simply to photocopy their existing arguments on that question.

Most likely, the Supreme Court will open a third case on that question.

There may now be a fourth case on the matter of the columnist’s contempt of court.

I would remind you that former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel once said this court seems result-oriented, meaning as opposed to blind justice-oriented. And I would remind that retired Justice Don Corbin wrote a dissenting opinion in a case that offered as a little aside that McDaniel might be right.

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 3rd, 2015 at 7:55 am

On the religion-gay issue

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I just released my column for tomorrow on HB1228, the religious conscience bill that outrages the gay and lesbian movement, after inserting a few hedging phrases in concession to a bit of morning buzz.

I am told that Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has committed to signing the bill, has this morning become interested in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s idea to “clarify” his state’s similar new law, presumably by another measure to assert that the new law does not conflict with anyone’s civil rights.

The talk this morning was whether to put such an amendment on the Arkansas bill, still awaiting a final concurring vote in the House of Representatives, and on whether it would make any difference — either politically or to protesting gays and lesbians or on substance.

Arkansas has no civil rights protections for gays and lesbians and, in fact, just enacted a crazy and hateful law denying local governments the authority to enact any on their own.

My column in the morning will deal with timing, context and perspective and conclude that Arkansas is the worst in regard to timing, context and perspective.

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Written by jbrummett

March 30th, 2015 at 11:52 am

Being real poor ain’t all that fair either

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So poor beleaguered state Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock got pounded down this morning on his bill to provide tax relief to the working poor in the wholly viable and bipartisan fashion of an earned income tax credit, embraced nationally by Presidents named Reagan and Clinton.

 

Sabin argued for the bill by saying this session would be judged on how it acted on his bill, which would define whether, all things considered, it was fair to everyone in its determination to reduce taxes.

 

The defeat of his bill in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee invites me to ponder thus the overall fairness.

 

1. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, admirably, I think, chose to grant tax relief first and only to the middle class, those making from $20,000 to $75,000. You have to hand it to any Republican who pushes through a tax cut that does not extend at all, much less inordinately, to the rich people.

 

2. In order to pay for his cut, Hutchinson first proposed reducing a capital gains cut passed two years ago. That was positively Obama-esque, and, naturally, it would not stand. The Legislature is now in the process of restoring the capital gains cut, meaning that the rich people realizing capital gains will be either held harmless or given a break, depending on how you choose to apply timing.

 

3. Poor folks get diddly now that Sabin’s bill to increase the tax credit they could qualify for by working went down to defeat.

 

Fair? It is if you think poor people are themselves to blame for being poor and are getting enough from us already and ought to stand alone in this state as persons worthy of no tax break from this legislative session.

 

If you have certain instincts for justice and humanity, then you know that what this session is doing, taken in full context, is of breathtaking proportion in unfairness.

 

An earned income tax credit is not a handout. It is a credit low-income people get toward their tax bill by venturing out to earn a meager paycheck with hard work.

 

A few Republicans on the committee objected to the fact that the earned income tax credit would be refundable. That means it can amount to cash if the earned credit exceeds the tax bill.

 

Getting more back from the rest of us than they even owe — what the hell is that?

 

It’s simple: These people are poor. If they work enough for a penance to get a credit exceeding their tax due, then they can use the overage for help with regressive taxes they pay just for the opportunity to get out and do hard work for pauper’s pay — the gasoline tax,  the sales tax, both most burdensome on the little people.

 

So a guy will get no tax on a capital gain exceeding $10 million, but these poor working folks can’t earn a meager refundable credit by paying regressive taxes to get to a job paying an unlivable wage.

 

If history doesn’t judge that harshly, then history lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

March 24th, 2015 at 12:54 pm

On big legislative dinner — and a buried lead

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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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Written by jbrummett

March 20th, 2015 at 4:17 pm

High drama on private option? Line in sand by Democrats?

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With Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View continuing to say it’s not all up to her and that she is a “no” on re-upping the private option for which she fashioned an all-about-me dramatic “aye” vote late in the regular session — though it apparently is indeed all about her — I’ve had very recent discussions with insiders suggesting the prospect for high drama in the fiscal session beginning Feb. 11.

This is insiderly and procedural, but it raises the possibility of high-stakes brinksmanship, which sounds positively Washingtonian.

To begin: The Medicaid appropriation to be introduced in the fiscal session is a mere continuation of the existing Medicaid appropriation. This it contains the hundred-percent federal money for the expanded population under the private option.

Presumably, the Republican minority seeking to obstruct continued existence of the successful and popular program — nine or so voters in the Senate and 25 or so in the House — would need to excise the private option money from the appropriation, and then, by the requisite three-fourths vote, pass old Medicaid with the federal-state match for a tiny segment of the very poorest.

That would require amending the continuing-level appropriation with special language in the Special Language Subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee. The special language would affirmatively excise the private option money.

Amending the measure that way would require only a majority vote, but I don’t readily see how a narrow extremist minority barely able to stop a three-fourths vote could be expected to get a simple majority vote to take out the program that nearly three-fourths of the Legislature favors.

By that scenario, the appropriation would proceed to the chamber floors in full private option form, starting in the Senate because the House went first last time and wants the Senate to go first this time. And Irvin votes no and we’re stuck.

Presumably, then, faced with that logjam, legislators would concede to the tragic reality of the know-nothing obstructionist minority and amend the measure to take out the private option money to get something passed and get on home.

But now get this: There are some infant discussions — just that, at this point — that the Democratic caucuses of the House and the Senate might declare preemptively that they will vote only for a Medicaid appropriation containing the private option.

That’s 48 votes in the House and 13 in the Senate and plenty to prevent a three-fourths majority.

High drama. Private option or no Medicaid at all. Private option or we go home without any appropriation at all for Medicaid.

Here’s the question:

Is that politically advantageous high ground for these Democrats, drawing a line in the sand for an innovative national program for the working poor and for hospitals and for the state budget’s money for prisons and higher education?  Didn’t that recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll show a strong plurality of respondents favoring the continuation of the private option?

Or is it political quicksand for Democrats, introducing Washington-style apocalyptic politics like that? Would they get blamed for dysfunction rather than nobility?

That’s such a good question. I think I know the answer. But let’s let the idea percolate for a bit while we think on it a little longer.

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

January 31st, 2014 at 9:26 am

Private option looking great except politically

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There are developments regarding the state’s innovative Medicaid private option — developments beyond the potentially tragic political signals sent by the Jonesboro area in the special election Tuesday.

First: The state has compiled the demographics on the tens of thousands of persons below 138 percent of poverty who have been enrolled so far, and they show most of them are younger.

That is the full opposite of the state and nationwide experience in the non-Medicaid health care exchange — where few young people have enrolled so far, but plenty of folks my age have, leading to concerns about “adverse selection” and “death spirals” by which Obamacare rates might be expected to explode to unaffordable levels,  causing the entire reform to collapse under its own weight.

The remarkable thing in Arkansas, then, is that we are using our federal Medicaid expansion money to deliver poor folks to private insurance and produce a more actuarial credible risk pool for Blue Cross and Qual Choice. Our rates conceivably — conceivably — could remain at or near current levels in the second year if not beyond.

That is to say — just to put it in clear individual terms — that my own Obamacare options to be unveiled in October might remain relatively reasonable thanks totally to our state’s private option.

Furthermore, the preponderance of younger folks in this PO pool means they’ll pay relatively lower premiums — to the extent, it seems, that we are going to tap less federal money than previously estimated.

All of that is to say our private option is unfolding as a smashing success just in time for know-nothings to kill it in the budget session beginning Feb. 10.

Second: The Joint Public Health Committee will meet at 3 p.m. today to hear the state’s star consultant, former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Republican, testify about the personal health saving account component of the private option on which Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View insisted on the next-to-last day of the session before casting her vote.

I am advised to expect a bold proposal. It will require getting the federal government to approve an amendment to the waiver by which we’ve done the private option. It ought to be enough to hold Irvin’s vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux is quoted today as worrying about several more senators than Irvin.

One Republican legislator favoring the private option told me the only way it survives in February is if something really conservative is put into it.

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January 16th, 2014 at 10:49 am

Darr’s two minds, and the one he’ll follow

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My best reading is that Mark Darr is currently of two minds and goes back and forth between these minds with great speed and dexterity and frustration.

One mind: Yes, I made errors and I was wrong. But, darnit, it’s not serious thievery and I could be given a hall pass to make amends except for this raw political partisanship that is at work against me. The best thing I can do is be strong and take a stand against this criminalization of politics. To resign would be to concede to that criminalization of politics, even encourage those in my party who tell me they resent what’s being done to me and will counterattack some Democrat for retribution.

The other mind: My resignation is the practical thing. It would save the state the nonsense of distracting impeachment. It would relieve those of my party of whatever burden my predicament places on them. What I should do is put my own interests aside and gracefully bow out. I should do so with a statement declaring my innocence of truly impeachable offense, but couching my action as a personal sacrifice for the sake of our state, and pleading with those of both sides to cease and desist this kind of politics of personal destruction.

I think he bounced from one mind to the other yesterday.

I believe he will bear the inconvenience of regretting following either mind, of taking either action, but will choose, at some point soon, to offer himself in sacrifice and resign while making that plea for a less toxic political climate.

It’s the better of bad options, and I think he knows that.

As soon as he takes it, he’s going to be mad at himself. But that’s the nature of his dilemma. A little time away with family might be good.

 

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Written by jbrummett

January 10th, 2014 at 10:56 am

Clubbing Tom Cotton with John Burris

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The employee-employer relationship between state Rep. John Burris of Harrison, a responsible Republican state representative, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, an irresponsible congressman seeking undeserved promotion to the U.S. Senate, is indeed a delicate one.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, whom Cotton presumes to seek to replace, has no regard for that delicacy. He simply sees a wedge. He sees an exploitable opportunity.

This morning Pryor’s campaign press relations agent, a smart and tough and diligent former prize-winning newspaper reporter, has been poking me to exploit this relationship. And, indeed, here I stand — manipulated into writing about this matter. But I’m not sure I’m writing about it the way the Pryor people would have me write about it.

Burris is an elected state representative practicing by constituent responsibility his own direct form of politics and public policy at the state level. He also has hired on as  Arkansas “political director” for Cotton, a campaign-funded position that has him in service not to himself, directly, but to Cotton.

An uncommonly bright and politically able young man, far more impressive in my view than Cotton, Burris was one of the primary GOP architects of the so-called private option form of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. By that mechanism, the state got a federal waiver to take the federal money for the expansion but to use it to buy private insurance for poor people on the Obamacare health care exchange, and to impose other privatizing conservative principles — co-pays, premiums, centers of excellence and so forth.

Cotton wants to repeal all of Obamacare and won’t take a position on the private option because it’s a state issue that would go away if he and others successfully repealed Obamacare at the federal level.

So the other morning Burris sent out a mass email to Republican legislative backers of the private option telling them he was convinced more than ever of the private option’s wisdom and hoping everyone would stay the course against a few critics, some of whom seem to want to use the state legislative process as a “playground.”

Aha, said the Pryor campaign. Lookie here, it announced. Here is Tom Cotton’s political director touting the benefits to the state of a program that his boss, the Senate candidate of primary fealty to the Club for Growth, wants to end.

They want to use Burris’ responsibility against Cotton’s irresponsibility.

Burris’ private option is the “Ford” delivering health care to poor people in Arkansas, the aforementioned campaign agent told me. But the Affordable Care Act is the “fuel.” And Burris is touting the Ford while the man for whom he works is trying to dry up the gasoline.

OK. Fine.

What the Pryor campaign wants to do is pick up poor ol’ responsible John Burris and use him as a club to pound irresponsible Tom Cotton.

And I’d rather beat up Tom with some other weapon. There are so many. He is so dreadful, opposing even the recent budget deal, and the farm bill, and college student loans, and disaster aid and food stamps.

What I would like to do is explain Burris’ own independent state legislative position, going like this: He believes — like Cotton, actually — that Obamacare is bad and ought to be repealed. He hopes for that. But, meantime, the reality is that Obamacare is the law and there is a pot of money available for Arkansas. He believes in the wisdom of the state’s availing itself of that money to provide a national laboratory for reforming Medicaid into a privatized system. If Obamacare collapses or is repealed and the federal Medicaid manna goes away, then Burris would want the expanded Medicaid coverage in Arkansas to go away. But he would favor continuing the private option or at least its principles in a new form of basic Medicaid.

Please understand all of this is at risk in the fiscal legislative session in February.

If the private option doesn’t get re-upped by arduous three-fourths votes in the House and Senate, barely achieved last time, then its funding authority goes away and the state’s income tax cuts are no longer paid for — since the private option uses federal dollars to produce state taxpayer savings.

Asa Hutchinson, should he get elected governor, would confront an imbalanced budget as he seeks to impose his hundred million dollars’ worth of additional income tax cuts.

So all of this approximately enormous.

 

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Written by jbrummett

December 17th, 2013 at 12:15 pm

What the heck happened on UA audit Friday?

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I’ve been nosing around trying to make sense of the nonsense occurring Friday at the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee on the audit of the University of Arkansas Flagship Campus at Fayetteville (UAFCF).

I have concluded that media accounts of UA strong-armed orchestration and legislative whitewashing are overstated.

Fayetteville campus officials learned only Thursday, the day before the meeting, that Sen. Bill Sample, Republican of Hot Springs, intended to make a motion to accept the critical audit of the school’s fiscal mismanagement in the chronically deficit-ridden advancement operation.

They did not actively lobby for that, surmising from their discussions that what was happening had as much to do with internal legislative issues as with the university. That is to say they had determined that there was sentiment in the committee that the co-chairmen, Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton and Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest, both Republicans, had over-politicized and grandstanded the matter.

Meantime, Johnny Goodson, the rich Mr.-Fix-It class action lawyer from Texarkana who Gov. Mike Beebe made the mistake of appointing to the UA Board of Trustees, had gone to Senate President ProTem Michael Lamoureux of Russellville to ask what the board might be able to do to try to get the issue put to bed so that the Fayetteville campus could move on.

Lamoureux’s advice was that Goodson, who knows how to settle a case, go before the committee and gather up all the tactical or genuine humility of which he was capable and admit the UA’s egregious errors and vow that lessons had been learned and would be diligently applied forthwith.

Lamoureux said no one with the Fayetteville campus administration seemed capable either of exercising or feigning humility.

Goodson said he could do that, and would, and was given the opportunity to do so in opening remarks at the meeting Friday.

Moments before that, I’m told, Goodson had remarked to other UA officials that there was no chance in the world that Sample’s motion would pass.

But then Sample made his motion to accept the audit and Sen. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock, a progressive Democrat, seconded it by explaining a few basic facts: (1) The committee accepts unfavorable audits all the time without acquitting anyone; (2) the commitee is not a court and a prosecutor had already decided not to file charges, and (3) the acceptance of the audit would not preclude hearing the planned testimony of the two sacrificed employees of the advancement office — Brad Choate and Joy  Sharp.

So the  motion passed, 21-13.

By this time, Hammer, presiding, had got entirely out of sorts about this apparent rebuff by his committee. So he said the committee would proceed to hear from Choate and Sharp unless there was any objection. So Sample said, “I object.” and then Hammer huffed, essentially saying to heck with it, matter closed, no more discussion.

Several in the 21 majority votes had not intended or known that their vote would deny the testimony.

Lamoureux tells me it is now likely that Choate and Sharp will be invited to give their testimony to another legislative committee, perhaps the Joint Performance Review Committee.

That would be appropriate. I hope that it happens. And surely it will, if, as I am advised and assert here, the university did not strong-arm legislators into a whitewash.

I will seek to develop this further for my column Thursday, unless something else comes up.

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Written by jbrummett

December 16th, 2013 at 8:11 am

UA student gives the paper what-for

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The public information operation of the University of Arkansas (the flagship one at Fayetteville) distributed last night a pugnacious statement from Bo Renner, student government president, in which Renner declared that the Razorbacks finished  the regular season 12-1 and will play Florida State for the national championship.

No. Wait. That wasn’t it.

What the lad said was that the university is doing great — growing, attracting stellar students, retaining those students, engaging in vital research and earning national academic acclaim. And he said the Democrat-Gazette ignores this good story, this real story, to harp on chronic multi-million-dollar overspending in the fund-raising office that has produced an unfavorable state legislative audit and led to a prosecutor’s investigation.

The university Mr. Renner accurately describes is indeed to be celebrated. But the inability of the young man to compartmentalize issues, to separate the general success of the institution from pockets of budgetary misfeasance and FOI law resistance, suggests that he needs to mature if ever-so-slightly so that he can keep unrelated matters in an emotionally detached perspective. I’m sure his fine university can help him with that maturation.

It’s not a precise comparison, but it’s close enough to be instructive: Take the case of Bobby Petrino. He misbehaved egregiously and was fired. All of that was legitimate news. But, at the same time, the UA football team had been highly successful under his coaching. It had just finished a season of 11-2 after one of 10-3. So was the media at fault for reporting his misbehavior? Or should it simply have reported the successes of the two most-recent seasons and ignored motorcycle wreckage and girlfriend-hiring and public misrepresentation?

You see?

So let’s go forward by walking and chewing gum at the same time — praising the general performance of this flagship while reporting as well on the big Legislative Joint Auditing Commirtee meeting on the budget woes taking place tomorrow morning.

And, most of all, we must never yield.

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Written by jbrummett

December 12th, 2013 at 10:25 am

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