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Archive for the ‘Arkansas Politics’ Category

Here’s a point the right-wingers actually have

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The Chicken Littles of the evangelical Christian right wing – who say the Lord will cause the sky to fall upon us because it really peeves him or her that gay people may now marry in the United States – raise one worthy issue.

Does this new universal right of two persons of the same sex to marry mean that a church-affiliated private college must now sacrifice the precepts of its religious affiliation and grant the same benefits to same-gender married students as to other married students, mainly, one would think, in the matter of married student housing?

To be more precise: Could such a college lose its religious tax exemption – and thus be made to pay taxes on property and profit, and lose tax deductions for donations, and thus live in a much tougher financial universe — if it persisted in denying those benefits in a way that the Internal Revenue Service or the federal courts might deem discriminatory under the gay-marriage ruling not quite two weeks ago?

Justice Samuel Alito asked that very question of the U.S. solicitor general during oral arguments in the gay-marriage case. And the solicitor general said he honestly didn’t know, but that he would not dare deny that such an issue could well arise.

So then Justice Elena Kagan chimed in to get the solicitor general to clarify – as he promptly did — that his answer did not mean in any way that a church or a pastor could be denied beliefs or practices by a general right of gays to wed.

It was a good question that Alito asked. It was a fair answer the solicitor general gave. And it was an important clarification that Kagan insisted upon.

A religiously affiliated institution of higher education is not a church. Alito’s question was not about the free exercise of religion in the basic way of religion, meaning through church and church-held beliefs. That will be forever untouched so long as the United States stays free. The question centered on the tax-exempt status of colleges.

At worst for religious colleges that discriminate against gays, they might eventually be made to pay taxes if they insisted on continuing that discrimination. But by no conceivable scenario would they be forced to stop believing as they believe and behaving accordingly.

And we are years away from a full exercise of that debate, much less its resolution.

The Supreme Court took great pain to explain that it was granting merely a right to marry for gays. It specifically declined to embroider that ruling with implications for other forms of discrimination, such as housing.

So there exists under that ruling no basis for the IRS, which has enough trouble already, to go after religious colleges over their married-housing policies.

But it is entirely possible that a same-sex married couple would enroll at a religious college, get denied married housing and go to court. And it is possible that one federal district court would rule that the Supreme Court precedent allowed a religious college that latitude while keeping its tax-exempt status and that another federal district court would say it didn’t. So then the Supreme Court would have to take that case.

There is the Bob Jones University example: It had a brazen policy outrageously couched in supposed religion that said students could not attend there if they married or even dated someone of a different race.

The IRS took the South Carolina school’s tax exemption away. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the country was so strongly committed to ending racial discrimination that it was permissible for the IRS to take that action.

In time, Bob Jones relented and permitted a dark-skinned student and a light-skinned student to go the movie together if they wanted — even if, by the perverted religious opinion of university benefactors, mixed-color cinematic experience was forbidden by the Lord.

Then there is the example of the Catholic Church and the University of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church insists that gay marriage is wrong. But Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, grants marital benefits to same-sex employees and students.

It is possible – though some of the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups find it hard to imagine – to hold a free religious belief for yourself while not insisting on imposing it on others through public policy. And tax policy is public policy.

We are headed someday, I feel certain, to a generational and legal environment in which gay discrimination will be as egregious as Bob Jones’ racial discrimination, and penalized similarly. We also are headed someday, I feel certain, to an environment in which the model of the Catholic Church and Notre Dame will generally apply.

It will all work itself out. But the meantime, the sky looms over the grandstand. And is falling thereon, some will shout.

 

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Written by jbrummett

July 4th, 2015 at 8:10 am

Asa’s veneer of niceness and centrism

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Asa Hutchinson keeps governing from the right and talking from the center.

That makes him the inverse of Bill Clinton, who once was credited by a labor lobbyist with the splendid dexterity to hug you while urinating on your leg.

There is a vintage Asa emerging.

He says we must save the private option and kill the private option.

He insists that the Legislature recall that bill on religious freedom to discriminate and resend the same bill to him in the same substance but different words. For that he has gay and lesbian advocates cheering him on the Capitol steps, spiking the ball after no gain on the play.

Vintage Asa was on display for the nation Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Hutchinson said on that program that he’s against same-sex marriage but accepting of same-sex marriage and that we must ever couch our attitudes in tolerance.

He said maybe the U.S. Supreme Court would let Arkansas continue to ban same-sex marriage and only require the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states.

That is to say he’s not against recognizing gay marriage but that he is against recognizing gay marriage specifically in the gay-discriminating state where he hopes again to appear on the ballot.

But he wants modern business to know Arkansas is a welcoming place for any gay married couples they might bring here.

And on these revelations about the Clintons and the uranium deal for Russia, Asa said Republicans need to be restrained in talking about it — the deal that stinks to high heaven, that is.

He said the revelation does not appear to amount to a clear quid pro quo but certainly encompasses a ton of money and clearly advances the appearance that the Clintons make a lot of mistakes whenever they wander into the intersection of personal business and politics.

He basically says to be measured when talking about the ethical wasteland of Clintonville.

Asa is for cutting taxes only on the middle class and he is for charging no income tax at all on the portion of a capital gain exceeding $10 million.

He is not for building a big new state prison but he is in favor of building new prison space.

He is against taking away local control. So he will let a bill taking away local control become law.

He is for carrying out the death penalty and he is for putting lethally injected inmates on immediate life support and deferring the pulling of the plug to a task force.

I made up that last one.

Maybe.

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Written by jbrummett

April 27th, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Arkansas Politics

The two faces of Tim — UPDATE

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Politico reports that Mike Huckabee is lining up campaign staff for his personal rebranding refreshment campaign that will encompass a perfunctory bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

It reports that the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, a veteran Karl Rove-trained political operative named Tim Griffin, will be a paid campaign operative for the Huckster.

Griffin comes close to confirming that this morning to the Democrat-Gazette.

Now, please understand, as I have written previously, that there is ample precedent for the Arkansas lieutenant governor, having nothing to do in a government capacity and getting relatively modest pay, to take outside work – which, in fact, is expressly permitted for that office by law.

And there has been no actual conflict because there was never any real public duty or accountability for the lieutenant governor with which to pose a conflict.

However ….

In Griffin’s case, he recently got appointed by his apparently adoring benefactor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, to head yet another of Asa’s ad nauseum task forces – this one to gather facts and make recommendations on what if anything the state should do to get out of, or revise somehow, the federal Common Care standards for public schools.

In fact, the task force meets today.

So that’s a real job.

Meantime, this Huckabee character for whom Griffin apparently will toil in a paid campaign operative role started out years ago embracing Common Core, but has since peeled back that support because he needs to champion the right-wing evangelical religious fringe in order to refresh his brand.

And the right-wing evangelical religious fringe has decided amid raging insanity that Common Core is a godless socialist takeover of local public schools by the godless socialist administration of the godless socialist Kenyan who tragically holds the office of American president.

Common Core is a set of uniform goals that schools would endeavor to meet in terms of what kids know at a certain grade level so that a youngster could be moved, say, from Massachusetts to Arkansas and enroll in school in a more or less seamless experience.

Common Core does not presume to tell state and local educators how to achieve those goals. Nor does it permit the federal government to swoop in and start doing any local educating – godless or otherwise.

So is there a conflict there for Griffin in objectively executing a public policy assignment for Hutchinson to assess Common Core while he also works in a political advocacy role for an active presidential candidate whose interest is in distancing himself from, and indeed demonizing, Common Core?

Why, sure, there is. In one role he’s to be objective. In the other he’s to be advocating. Those roles are …. like …. way different. One is to serve the government of all of us. The other is to serve the personal rebranding refreshment interests of an active political candidate.

Unless, that is, Griffin has two faces and two sides his mouth out of which to talk.

UPDATE: I am now reliably advised that Griffin will not be paid by the Huckabee campaign for whatever service it is that he will provide.  I am further advised that his role, whatever it will be, will not be remunerated indirectly through the consulting firm with which he has associated. If that’s the case, then the above blog post falls somewhere between “well, that’s less egregious for sure” and “never mind.”

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 23rd, 2015 at 8:29 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

How’s Mike Beebe doing?

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So I chatted by phone this morning with Mike Beebe. It was the first time we’d talked since he left the building.

Any governmental or legislative commentary or analysis was off-the-record, not that he had much of that to offer. I just wondered how he was doing. I miss the rascal.

But on the important stuff he said:

1. Ginger sustained a little physical setback from which she is recovering well, but which had him for a time doing two things he had not really ever much done. Laundry was one and vacuuming the other.

2. He is hitting the golf ball better than ever but can’t putt. Putting is for the younger man who hasn’t missed enough putts in his lifetime to know how scary putting is.

3. Reports that he is mostly coaching the Arkansas State football team are false, in part because they have a good coach and fine recruiter who has landed a class in the top 50 or 60 in the country and comparable to Kentucky’s or Vanderbilt’s.

By the way, he is not doing either lawyering or lobbying. He has affiliated with the Roberts Law Firm on its international business side to advise clients on economic development prospects. I don’t really know what that means. He goes to the office, oh, maybe a half-day a week.

On this day, AETN was coming up to Searcy to interview him for a documentary about him.

So no golf today. No putts left short or pulled wide.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 7th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Quoting Vickery on the gay matter

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Credit where due: Conservative quipster/lobbyist Bill Vickery said during my monthly sit-in with him on his radio show Sunday morning that, when it came to religious rights and gay rights in Arkansas from the big to-do last week, “nothing has changed and everything has changed.”

That’s exactly it.

I deem that to be Vickery’s best line since he said Liza Minnelli would play Martha Shoffner in the movie. Or when he said voting for Mike Ross as Mike Beebe’s third term was like flirting with the pretty girl all night, then going home at closing time with her ugly sister.

What Vickery meant first was that law in Arkansas is unchanged. Asa Hutchinson’s big show of resistance actually left the status quo. Religion is freely practiced in our Bible Belt state, where no one had even remotely impeded it. And gays remain without expressed anti-discrimination protections in our law.

But, politically speaking, he meant that The Washington Post article was correct that the gay rights movement has won.

Indiana had to retreat. The business and entertainment industries demanded it.

Arkansas had to appear to retreat. Walmart and Acxiom and our fully warranted fear of another besmirched reputation demanded it.

And then Georgia, with such a bill under consideration, looked at Indiana, and then Arkansas, and said to hell with that.

With remarkable rapidity, the gay rights movement has so remade the prevailing American culture that American corporations, under new public pressure in both a micro and macro way from the immediate and intimate public connection of social media, must now get out in front of a cultural issue like that with a purely economic decision to attend to the emerging customer base.

Corporations make the real decisions and government falls in line. That’s an old thing and a bad thing on tax and regulatory policy. But apparently it’s a good thing and a progressive thing for the culture.

What it means on public school policy is a big fight, which is what we may be about to have in the state-usurped Little Rock district.

That’s another blog post.

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 6th, 2015 at 4:28 pm

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

Sounds like him

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So on the front page today the Democrat-Gazette reveals new morsels from the apparently dictated journals of former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers in the 1980s and 1990s — journals in the sense that the now-ailing senator apparently dictated candid personal thoughts that his secretary transcribed on pages the Bumpers family now says should not have been included in a document donation to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and that the family has retrieved at least temporarily for review.

These were the musings that included the Mother Jones headline discovery that Bumpers had harsh words in 1983 for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

It turns out the Democrat-Gazette copied some pages before the family retrieved them. On the front page today, thus, Bumpers is quoted from decades ago talking about what a “charlatan” and “troglodyte” Ronald Reagan was, and ridiculing the substandard oratorical stylings of Bill Alexander and John Paul Hammerschmidt, former Arkansas congressmen, and calling Gary Hart a scary oddball, and saying he had found three Miss Americas of his acquaintance to be not all that, including one whose legs were, in the former senator’s estimation, larger that his own.

That last one is the big scoop. I knew all the other things already. But that a beauty pageant winner had . . . well, let’s move on.

The new information also has Bumpers praising his own oratory.

There’s something very sad about uncovering and making much of old private thoughts of a man now in cognitive decline and unable to speak to the discovery’s authenticity or context.

But since the thoughts are out there, let me say, as a great admirer of the senator and good friend of his family, that the musings sound like him in his heyday..

His tendency to ridicule Reagan’s intelligence and engagement and to lampoon colleagues . . . well, let me put it this way: It is conceivable that we would uncover someday the private thoughts of one of those colleagues and that colleague would say that Dale Bumpers was the most egotistical person he had ever encountered.

Bill Clinton had character flaws. Hilary Clinton has a bunker mentality. Ronald Reagan wasn’t all there. Gary Hart was eerie. Some other guys were boring speakers. And Dale Bumpers was always very keen on himself but not so much on others.

None of us is perfect.

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Written by jbrummett

March 22nd, 2015 at 6:42 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Slapstick with Ross, Asa and other oddballs

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The comedy hits just keep coming in the governor’s race.

Just yesterday:

–Mike Ross said Asa Hutchinson may be the only lawyer in the history of the state to lose a trial with his brother on the jury, and Asa said that was snarky

–Ross assailed Hutchinson for being one of the House prosecutors in the Bill Clinton impeachment and putting his own partisanship over supporting a governor from Arkansas, as if the coincidence of birthplace had anything to do with morality or decency or law.

–A curious character seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Curtis Coleman, whom I previously believed mistakenly to be the football coach at UAPB, unveiled a plan to cut state general revenue nearly in half with deep income tax cuts over eight years.

–Coleman said this tax cut should be our top priority, even higher than . . . well, educating our children.

–Then Coleman put out a followup statement that, oops, his plan would actually raise taxes on the poorest, and that he didn’t mean to do that and would fix it. Which was odd. Republicans favor lower taxes on the wealthy and higher burdens on poor people.

–Hutchinson put out a statement saying, well, uh, we really need to emphasize education. And the Ross campaign declined to respond to this Coleman character, perhaps wondering why the football coach at UAPB was proposing a tax plan.

–Dr. Lynette Bryant, surprise opponent of Ross in the Democratic primary, finally got up that website, the one she said she wanted to unveil before she entertained any questions from reporters. It’s pictures, mostly, including shots of her with Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman and the Republican Huckabees, Mike and Janet. Odd.

So you’re up to date until the next one-liner or pratfall or pie in the face.

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Written by jbrummett

March 27th, 2014 at 7:33 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Asa calls, chortles, challenges, converses

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Asa Hutchinson called this morning to chortle, challenge and converse on the matter of Mike Ross’s tax plan, and we covered several points that I want to share.

Let’s get this out of the way: Hutchinson said he had met with officials of the Finance and Administration Department on the Beebe administration assertion he had publicly questioned — that ending the private option would leave an $89 million hole in the state budget — and, well, now is willing to accept that number or something in that vicinity as reasonable guesswork for budgeting purposes.

Meantime, he remains in the position of neutrally studying the private option, which is to say he still has no position.

A fully developed view of the issue, he said, needs to look long-term both to the eventual 10 percent cost to the state and the effect on existing Medicaid policy if the private option is scrubbed. He has not personally satisfied himself on those matters, he says.

He did admit that ending the private option — and producing that budget hole the amount of which he is no longer actively questioning — has potential implications for his ability to cut middle-class taxes by $100 million in his first year as governor.

But he said his cut could still be afforded through the existing surplus, which is an entirely different debate for which I can refer you to my column this morning.

Now, about Ross’s plan:

1. Hutchinson chortled that I have had to admit today on Twitter something I should have caught previously, which is that Ross used bogus math in saying his eventual $575 million income tax cut was barely half the size of Mike Beebe’s more than trillion-dollar cut in grocery taxes.

Ross’s cut, if ever made fully, would be in one year, and would recur year-after-year, while Beebe’s grocery tax amount as cited by Ross is a cumulative one that adds one year’s cut on top of another year’s.

2. Hutchinson challenged Ross’s tax plan on so many conflicting or cumulative grounds — that it would take too much money out of the treasury for higher education and other things, and that it was a “hollow promise” that would never be kept and that it provided no tax-relief for the “job-creating” incomes in excess of $75,000 — that I asked him to please pick one.

He obliged, picking the “hollow promise,” meaning that Ross would never actually cut all those taxes to the tune of $575 million a year every year.

“If you really believed he was going to do it, a liberal like you would be screaming to high heaven,” Hutchinson said.

I’m a moderate. I’m a pragmatist who understands tax cuts are coming to the state Treasury.

I’m a pragmatist who squeals more at present about a candidate’s unwillingness to stand up for the private option and its savings while proposing to take a hundred-million dollars all at once out of the treasury.

And I like Ross’s underlying purpose of modernizing our antiquated and regressive income tax brackets.

But, yeah, $575 million in someday-money is a lot of someday-money.

Should be a good governor’s race. I’ll try to keep up with it for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

February 6th, 2014 at 11:38 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

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