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Archive for the ‘Arkansas Politics’ Category

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

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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Written by jbrummett

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

All tied up for Senate and governor

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Last week Republicans gleefully touted a poll commissioned by a bankroller of Tom Cotton that said Cotton was ahead of Mark Pryor by 48-41 in our big U. S. Senate race.

So it seems fair today to report a survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic outfit, putting the race in a dead heat, 44-44.

A near-identical finding was made in the governor’s race, with Republican Asa Hutchinson leading Democrat Mike Ross — if you can call it leading– by 44-43.

The PPP poll, a robo-call survey of 1,004 Arkansans from Dec 13 to Dec. 15, was mainly done, apparently, to test basic leanings on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour. It found superficial support for that by a margin of 52-38.

The races are all about a gender gap, apparently.

Pryor leads among women by 49-37 and Cotton leads among men by 53-39.  Ross leads among women by 46-39 and Hutchinson leads among men by 49-39.

Women provided 53 percent of the sample and men 47 percent.

This was the party breakdown: 37 percent of respondents identified as Democrats; 37 percent identified as independents, and 27 percent identified as Republicans. That adds to 101 percent, which must have to do with some rounding-up.

 

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Written by jbrummett

December 16th, 2013 at 10:58 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

‘Move on’ from Griffin? There’s an idea

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Let’s take a moment to consider the nationally ridiculed behavior on Thursday of our congressman from the 2nd District, that brash Rovian, Tim Griffin.

A few minutes into the lockdown of the U.S. Capitol because of a gunshot, a situation about which no details were known, Griffin took to Twitter and typed, “Stop the violent rhetoric President Obama, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.”

Apparently they’d said such things as that Republicans were holding guns to their heads over Obamacare. Metaphors, those were, not unlike The Wall Street Journal’s editorial years ago urging Republicans not to take the debt ceiling hostage unless they were willing to shoot it, and not unlike my column the other day saying the Republicans had taken a hostage immune to harm, meaning Obamacare, and had then shot it only to have the bullet ricochet  into their own jugulars.

Imagery in pursuit of effective political communication should never be blamed for someone else’s terroristric or murderous activity.

So then Griffin’s tweet began to go viral as people were inferring quite reasonably that he was blaming leading Democrats for whatever it was, he didn’t know, that was going on out there.

Then Griffin deleted the tweet and put out a statement saying no one but the shooter was to blame — though, actually, there was no offending shooter suspect, but a wild driver of a crashing car — and that his tweet had been from emotion and was not helpful.

He didn’t apologize or admit inanity and he gave a couple of interviews in which he continued to say he was distressed over the coarsening of our political dialogue and culture, as if political dialogue still had something to do with whatever had happened out there, which he admitted he didn’t know.

As ridicule of Griffin exploded on the Internet, a strange tweet appeared from Skip Rutherford, noted Democrat and Clinonite and dean of the Clinton School of Public Service.

He said Griffin had made a mistake and taken it back and that we should all “move on.”

I replied on Twitter to Rutherford to say “no.”

I don’t think anyone ought to move on at all. Quite to the contrary, I think voters ought to focus on Griffin’s behavior and analyze it.

There are two possibilities.

One is that he was over-emotional and thus precipitous and reckless in his public pronouncing, which is unbecoming of a U.S. representative. His constituents have a right to expect better judgment from him.

The other is that he sought cynically and lamely to capitalize in terms of partisan politics on a developing tragic situation. That would be an egregious affront to the public dialogue he dared to accuse others of coarsening.

Either he was too emotional and too possessed of bad judgment, or he was too cynically political and hypocritical.

The only moving on his constituents ought to consider is electing a different congressman in the next election.

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Written by jbrummett

October 4th, 2013 at 6:32 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Reply from Cotton camp on men, women, divorce

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It is beneath me to write a column on Tom Cotton’s immature writings as a 21-year-old personal essayist for the Harvard Crimson.

So I’ll blog on the subject instead.

There is a bubbling-up issue among women about a column young Tom wrote about men, women and divorce.

It seeks to be clever, but isn’t, and it seeks to be insightful, but is, well, young.

The potentially offending part — and offending only to the extent that Cotton might still think this way — is when Cotton seems to say that no-fault divorce is bad for women because, due to easy marital dissolution, needy women lose to new trophy wives otherwise trainable men who would, if restrained, eventually become their “dream men.”

Here’s that excerpt:

“Feminists who allegedly speak for women should attack divorce, not its effects. If men have easy access to divorce, many will choose it thoughtlessly. They may not gain true happiness with their new trophy wives, but they certainly will not slide into the material indigence and emotional misery that awaits most divorced women. If restrained, however, men can fulfill women’s deepest hopes. They can learn that personal happiness comes from the desire to devote and sacrifice oneself to one’s beloved.

“A few men can see this by themselves, and women are quite lucky to hook them. Ordinary women must not only defend these men against feminism, but also demand that all other men accept the lifelong nature of marriage. If not, one-half of all women who marry see their “greatest fear” come true. If so, they can have their ‘deepest hopes’ fulfilled.”

There are women on social media who are absolutely outraged by that. And it’s sure-enough creepy. They say it’s bad enough on its own, but that it reflects Cotton’s views today.

Others — I among them — tend to think collegiate ramblings should not be taken too seriously.

However, Bill Clinton’s collegiate ramblings to Col. Holmes certainly were taken seriously.

So I am contradicting myself.

Anyway, I dared to direct a question about these writings to my good friend Caroline Rabbitt, formidable press shield for Cotton.

She has replied as follows: “The columns Tom wrote while at Harvard aren’t a secret. But I would say most college students think they know it all, and most who later look back on what they wrote in college — Tom included — would probably put things differently today.”

Rabbitt goes on to say that Tom’s mother has some finger paintings by her boy at 5 that she might release to me if I would agree to do a photo-only column.

I ask again for my 30 minutes with the candidate. He knows the question. If he reads the local press.

 

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Written by jbrummett

August 9th, 2013 at 11:06 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Some personal notes from the Cotton affair

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Random and extraneous thoughts from the Tom Cotton Show in Dardanelle yesterday:

“Do you remember when we met?” asked Lynn Cotton, local farmer and affable father of Tom.

Why, yes. It was at the Clinton Presidential Center as Lynn and Avis, Lynn’s school-teacher wife of 40 years, and Tom’s mom, presented themselves to me at a retirement party honoring the senior Cottons’ good friend . . . Congressman Vic Snyder, unabashed liberal.

Tom Cotton’s parents are old Arkansas Democrats, which means not liberal, necessarily, and perhaps reflects River Valley heritage more than philosophy. But it’s interesting.

Lynn said he didn’t know what he was by label anymore. I joked that he probably agreed with his son most days. He grinned and nodded.

Avis said she always reads my columns and even follows me on Twitter. So she knows I can get a little rough with her boy. But she was just as pleasant as could be.

Maybe I make too much. My momma disagrees with me only when we’re talking. But she loves me, I think, though I need to check a second source.

___________

So I was waiting to exercise permission granted by Cotton’s press secretary to shake the man’s hand, and state Rep. John Burris, young Republican legislative leader and architect of the private option to Medicaid expansion, walked up.

I told Burris I was going to ask Cotton when he would do something as pragmatic as the private-option example given him by his young Arkansas political director. Meaning Burris.

Burris said, “He’s going to surprise you on that.”

When?

Don’t know.

Minutes later Burris stopped by with some “irony.” Some right-wing petitioners were at the event seeking his permission to cirulate petitions table-by-table to repeal the private option, which they were fraudulently calling “Obamacare.” Burris told them they could seek signatures outside, but not go table to table to bother the barbecue feasters.

_______________

“Impressed with Cotton?” a Republican strategist asked me.

Yes, I said, regarding what I deem to be his discipline at saying on message. But, no, I said, regarding his public speaking or his ease of relating to people in a retail politics kind of way.

“Tossup,” said the strategist, meaning this Cotton-Mark Pryor battle.

Yes. So close to the bitter end that no dollar will dare go unspent, or accusation unhurled, by either side.

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Written by jbrummett

August 7th, 2013 at 9:18 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

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