Archive for the ‘Arkansas Politics’ Category

Clubbing Tom Cotton with John Burris


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take a position on the private option because it’s a state issue that would go away if he and others successfully repealed Obamacare at the federal level.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



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.



Written by jbrummett

December 16th, 2013 at 10:58 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

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


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.


Written by jbrummett

October 4th, 2013 at 6:32 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Reply from Cotton camp on men, women, divorce


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.



Written by jbrummett

August 9th, 2013 at 11:06 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Some personal notes from the Cotton affair


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.”


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.


Written by jbrummett

August 7th, 2013 at 9:18 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Cotton on a shutdown — UPDATE/UH-OH


I am at work on an online-only column for Wednesday about this crazed right-wing Republican notion to shut down the government after Sept. 30 unless spending on Obamacare is taken out of any continuing budget.

But I’ll go ahead and tell you this much: I saw that 71 House members had said they would not vote for continued funding if Obamacare was contained in it, so I asked Caroline Rabbitt, press secretary to our ultra-rightist Tom Cotton, if he was among the 71.

She replied: “Well, since you didn’t send me the story you’re referencing it’s a bit difficult to comment on it…. I would assume you mean 71 signers of a letter to leadership about defunding Obamacare. If I am correct then your answer is that he generally prefers consulting with colleagues in person, rather than joining letters. But he strongly supports all efforts to defund, delay and ultimately repeal Obamacare, regardless the legislative approach.”

So what one might surmise — what seems clear — is that, yeah, Cotton would shut down the government — that presumably covered by “strongly supports all efforts … regardless the legislative approach” — which even Paul Ryan says is misguided because all it would do is stop discretionary spending, not entitlements, including Obamacare.

A gaggle of Republican governors pleaded just today with Republicans in the House not to do this.

But Rabbitt responds to say I couldn’t reasonably come to that conclusion from what she said. She wrote in followup, “I am not sure how you can make that claim based on my answer. I think you are inferring something based on what you want to be true, not what I actually said.”

I do not want anyone to support a government shutdown.

Perhaps she means she thinks I want Cotton to take an outrageous position. Make that — another outrageous position.

So let’s conclude here: Rabbitt stopped short of specifically declaring Cotton’s support for a shutdown.

I’m just honored she replied. Usually she ignores me.

UPDATE-UH/OH: OK, Ms. Rabbitt emails again to say, and I quote:  “Congressman Cotton doesn’t want a government shutdown, nor does anyone else in his party. Only Barack Obama is threatening a shutdown. They’ve talked about not voting for a CR that funds Obamacare — the shutdown is just inferred, like you did to me earlier.”

Alas, she and I can’t seem to get clear on this, because now I infer that she just told me sure-as-shootin’ that Tommy gonna vote with Cruz, Paul and the other extremists for a shutdown unless Obamacare taken out, as of course it won’t be on account of being the law.

More to come between now and Nov. 4, 2014.


Written by jbrummett

August 5th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Preliminary finding: Don’t do it, Halter


So my Sunday column was about how Bill Halter needs to determine  if the Arkansas Democratic establishment, a Beebe-ish BlueDoggy thing that has never liked him, is really all-in for him for Congress in the 2nd District, or if it merely gave lip service to a supposed forthcoming commitment merely to lure him out of a Democratic gubernatorial primary and save Mike Ross some cash and trouble.

I’ve been hearing from Arkansas Democrats since the publication of that column, and here’s my preliminary — stress preliminary — conclusion, subject to revision or reversal should new information arise: Halter shouldn’t trust establishment Arkansas Democrats. They don’t like him. They can hardly stand him. They wanted him out of the governor’s race and aren’t very optimistic he could beat Griffin, and, at most, they want only to use him to gin up enough anti-Tim Griffin zeal to stir Democratic turnout for Ross and Mark Pryor.

I’m thinking Conway Mayor Tab Townsell or former state Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway could do as well as 2nd District candidates, stirring Democratic vote in Pulaski and holding their own in Faulkner, if, that is, the Democratic Congressional Committee would offer the financial and voter turnout help it has promised to Halter.

Meantime, I don’t sense that the Arkansas Democratic establishment wants to concede at this point to Halter as the nominee against John Boozman for the U.S. Senate in 2016. I think those folks would rather give Dustin McDaniel a chance to rehab and put some distance between himself and the little indiscretion.

I don’t fully understand what Halter did to Arkansas Democratic insiders. I know I’ve never been able to have a comfortable chat with him, but this flavor of disaffection seems to go beyond that.


Written by jbrummett

August 5th, 2013 at 10:56 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

Halter’s choice; Asa’s headache — UPDATE


All right. Since I’m not columnizing on this for tomorrow’s paper, let me blog here on the latest I’ve got on Bill Halter’s withdrawal from the Democratic governor’s race — or, specifically, whether he now runs for Congress from the 2nd district against Tim Griffin.

The Democratic Congressional Committee, in courting him lately, has told Halter that it has discovered a significant number of unregistered  likely Democratic voters in the district, and that, if he runs against Griffin, his race will be one of the three or four top priorities of the DCCC in terms of money and other assets.

It’s 50-50 whether he does it, I’ve been told. What he intends to do now is sit back and look for signals about how fervently Democrats want him to make the race.

His greater interest is running against U.S. Sen. John Boozman in 2016, but the best way to earn Democratic good will for that is to do this Second District work this time, win or lose.

Will he look opportunistic abandoning governor to go for Congress with the Senate really on his mind? Here’s what one Democrat told me: No more than Tom Cotton. Or Mike Ross, for that matter.

Meantime, a Republican insider tweets to me: “Very bad day for Asa.”

Indeed, Asa Hutchinson’s Democratic opponent just got spared $3 million in primary expenses. Meantime, Asa is vulnerable to being pulled untenably to the Tea Party right by primary opponent Deborah Hobbs.

In fact, I’m told Republican legislators attending the Southern Legislative Conference in Mobile caucused today to discuss a bolder conservative agenda for Hutchinson than this little drawdown of the income tax rates.

Big day.

UPDATE: What Halter wants more than anything else is a party-cleared road to be the Democratic nominee against Boozman in 2016. To that end, he is seeking meeting with Majority Leader Harry Reid to try to make up with Reid who is irked about Halter’s running against Blanche Lincoln in 2010. Halter apparently also has invoked the idea of running for Congress in the 4th District, but that”s Blue Dog territory and the DCCC wants him in the 2nd. To be clear: Griffin will be difficult to beat. But this is a 2nd District that Vic Snyder represented until three years ago, and Pulaski is a Democratic central anchor.


Written by jbrummett

July 29th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Arkansas Politics

About that Top 10


Reaction so far to the Top 10 legislator list: Not bad, people say, but Sen. Bryan King shouldn’t have been there, and instead, at 10th, I should have put either Rep. Darrin Williams of Little Rock, who helped kill bad bills, or Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home, an often-overlooked reasonable Republican.

Probably so. I was determined to pry King in there for reasons I am having trouble remembering

I think I just wanted to irk people. But I do that naturally enough.

Some legislators are mentioning the idea of polling themselves to see how they would select a Top 10. I wish they would do that. It would be interesting to compare.

I will not do a Bottom 10 because, after you list Jason Rapert, Bob Ballinger and the two Meekses, you get into a kind of mundane general badness.

Worst delegation: Conway. No contest.

Here are some related awards just for kicks:

Best lobbyists — The Mullenexes.

Best on-line reporter — David Ramsey.

Best multi-platform reporter — Roby Brock.

Best bureaucrat — Andy Allison.











Written by jbrummett

April 25th, 2013 at 9:51 am

Reid, Pryor and Arkansas gun zealotry


Allow me to explain why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would take the assault-weapon ban out of the gun control measure.

It’s because of you.

Not you solely or specifically, of course. I refer to you in a general way as an Arkansas voter, thus an element of a gun-crazed electoral subset.

I refer to our pervasive identity in the Natural State as irrationally devoted to the self-enriching propaganda of the National Rifle Association.

You know the nonsense to which I refer: Any restriction of any kind of any weapon violates your constitutional right to defend yourself against an evil president who is coming for your gun,

You know the self-enrichment to which I refer: The more that the NRA can make you afraid, the more money the NRA receives.

So Arkansas paranoia rules the country. Arkansas paranoia helps keep it possible to shoot faster to kill more children in a shorter time.

What I am saying is that Reid’s action is largely about preventing U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor from losing too many of your votes in the next election.

It matters to the country whether the Democrats hold control of the Senate. It matters to Democrats in holding that control whether Pryor keeps his seat. It matters to Pryor’s keeping that seat whether you will vote for him.

So put yourself at the center of gravity on gun issues in America.

Reid is a practical politician who enjoys a Democratic majority and would like to preserve it, indeed build on it toward filibuster-proofing. He certainly does not want to imperil it for the next election cycle.

He has four Democratic senators from red states who face re-election in 2014, one of them Pryor. The others are Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska and Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

Please understand that the Tea Party-infested U.S. House of Representatives will never approve an assault-weapon ban. So the Senate exercise of pursuing such a ban, led by California’s Diane Feinstein, is academic, pointless as policy.

So what Reid has done is pare the assault-weapon ban from the main gun control measure. He’s told Feinstein she can propose it only as an amendment.

Leaving it in the main bill would cause Republican senators to filibuster, blocking any gun legislation at all.

It would force Pryor and those three others either to vote to end a filibuster and thus for the ban, and thereby likely commit political suicide, or vote against any gun legislation and so outrage their bases that their re-elections would be severely weakened by a loss of supporter enthusiasm.

And it would be for no good reason since the House is not going to approve an assault-weapon ban anyway.

So Reid wants to give Pryor and the three others something moderate on guns to support, though it’s not certain they’ll do even that as long as there is an unsettled dispute about whether universal background checks would create a national gun owner database, which the gun lobby fears for some paranoid reason.

Then it would be up to these red-state senators to finesse with their liberal bases their separate votes against Feinstein’s amendment for the assault-weapon ban.

Pryor has spent his political life in those very kinds of finesses, first watching his dad do them and now performing them himself. He knows how they’re done.

Or used to be done.

He undoubtedly will say something privately to his base along these lines: “I opposed the assault-weapon ban because Republicans were going to filibuster it in the Senate and defeat it in the House. Faced with that reality, I voted the best way I could to make sure we would get at least some improvement in our gun laws.”

Translation: Do you prefer me on this tightrope or Tom Cotton and the Tea Party?

It used to be that a Democrat like Pryor could deflect the gun issue by publishing photographs of himself as a sportsman hunting fowl.

That’s what Pryor did in 2002. People leaving a big pre-election NRA rally in Springdale found photos like that on flyers that had been placed under their windshields while they worshipped inside with Wayne LaPierre.

But the right-wing has so devolved that the issue is no longer about hunting.

The contemporary gun zealot doesn’t care how much camouflage a politician lathers on his body or how many dead birds he carries out of a duck blind for a waiting photographer.

The contemporary gun zealot wants to carry any firearm of his choosing on his person at all times, regardless of what game is in season.

That’s because it’s always in season to be manipulated by the NRA and prepared for marauding Kenyan Muslim socialists coming to take your Constitution and your arsenal.






















Written by jbrummett

March 25th, 2013 at 8:25 am


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