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take a position on the private option because it’s a state issue that would go away if he and others successfully repealed Obamacare at the federal level.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


All tied up for Senate and governor

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.


What the heck happened on UA audit Friday?

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.

UA student gives the paper what-for

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.

50 years ago today, 5th grade, a teacher . . .

Fifty years ago today, in the early-afternoon, in a fifth-grade classroom at Baseline Elementary School on Baseline Road in southern/southwestern Little Rock, the most memorable and influential teacher of my lifetime, Judy Hankins, mother of a couple of boys our age, one of whom would grow up to be Craig O’Neill, got called to the office. She was gone a long time.

She returned looking somber. But she had a certain moodiness, shall we say, which made her all the more interesting.

Once she wrote, “I’m a bona fide artist,” which she was, on the blackboard and told us she didn’t have to put up with the commotion we’d caused on our trip to the restroom. Another time she was instructing us in the meaning of “satisfied,” and said it was the way you feel after going to the bathroom. I laughed. She walked to my desk and glared at me and asked, “How dare you laugh at God?” One morning my dad dropped me off at school and my playmates were  in the middle of a touch football play. I threw down my satchel and yelled for a pass, which I caught for a touchdown. Mrs. Hankins, seeing it all as the other team argued, told me I could count the touchdown if it was all right with my conscience. I said, “I don’t have a conscience.” She said, “Then you’re the devil.”

She also unilaterally changed my name from Johnny to John, irking my parents and giving me a more substantial byline.

So on this day, upon her return, she walked silently to the blackboard and wrote, “Thou shalt not kill,” then proceeded with teaching.

Our mom and dad told us what had happened when my 3rd-grade sister and I piled into the car at 3:30 p.m.

Years ago I wrote a column reflecting on this day and said that Mrs. Hankins was “mixing church and state, I guess.”

Days later I got a letter  from her with a gold star attached that told me I was one of her more memorable and bright-eyed students and wondering how in the world one could teach without mixing church and  state.

‘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.

Three points on Wally and Razorback, Inc.

I spent some time this morning — wasted, some would say — taking to the Twitter to argue with oxymoronic Arkansas sports journalists in light of Wally Hall’s mighty fine column this morning.

The Wallster took to task Razorback, Inc., of which the University of Arkansas is a subsidiary, for selling marketing rights to an out-of-state firm that operates from offices on the state-owned campus and posts videos of football team practice sessions from which the Arkansas sports media is barred.

Wally called this a case of the Hogs competing with the news media professionals covering them.

I wish to make three points if I may:

1. Arkansas sports journalism is mostly about Hog boosterism. It looks to me like Channel 4 doesn’t have a sports news segment, but a Razorback promotional segment. So the specific complaint is actually that the Hogs are competing in the boosterism field with the local media. My suggestion, then, is that Arkansas sports journalism try some, you know, journalism. Detached, questioning, dubious. That assertion by me this morning on the Twitter led a couple of offended sportswriters to say Arkansas sportswriting had come a long way since my childhood days in it. I replied, yes, the wrong way. In those days, at least Orville Henry wrote informatively, insightfully and authoritatively. My boss at the Arkansas Democrat was a guy named Fred Morrow, who may still be the best columnist I ever read. He had little use for Frank Broyles or the Hogs and wrote so. I seem to remember he actually made fun of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

2. Arkansas newspapers waste too much precious money that could be paid to me on sending massive contingents to these Razorback football games. Basically, the only thing these armies of typewriter jocks are doing is watching live production of a television show. Statistics are kept for them. Dressing room quotes are provided for them. And if real news breaks out, such as Bobby Petrino’s camera-caught crossfield outburst toward Les Miles two years ago at LSU, then they say, hey, I didn’t see it. Does television not provide replay? The CBS people are right down there in the other booth. Check on the Twitter and see that everyone is talking about this incident, then ask CBS to replay the video for you, then do a story. I wrote a column on this incident the Tuesday after this Friday game. It was the first newspaper column reference to Petrino’s misbehavior.

3. Razorback, Inc., has always been out of control and remains so. Johnny  Tyson got off the UA Board of Trustees becaue he was sick of the way Jeff Long ran the whole university. David Pryor, who is on the board, has some of the same cocnerns, but is entirely too circumspect to make a spectacle, especially with his boy not needing any familial waves made until Mr. Cotton is disposed of.

Otherwise, Wally had a good column and was right.

Beebe moves to have UA monitor hog farm

Gov. Mike Beebe tells me this morning that his office has formally asked the Legislative Council to approve at its next meeting his release of $250,000 in rainy-day funds to contract with University of Arkansas specialists to intensify normal water-quality monitoring in and around the C&H Hog Farm and the Buffalo River.

Beebe confirms there has been a little resistance to this enhanced monitoring from Cargill Foods, which contracts with C&H and other area landowners, but that, essentially, he doesn’t care.

He says Cargill is not a party to the state’s dutiful consideration of how it might beef up in this case the normal  regulatory oversight provided by the state Environmental Quality Department.

The normal procedure is for DEQ to do periodic checks of the Buffalo itself and to require the landowner to submit samples and stand for on-site inspections.

In this extraordinary case, Beebe says, that simply didn’t strike him as sufficient.

What these UA scientists would do is set up monitoring wells, and then keep those wells checked frequently, at points chosen by the experts above and below the Buffalo.

The idea, Beebe says, is to arm the state with plenty of authoritative scientific data should it see a need to move to restrict farm  operations to protect the Buffalo.





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.


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.


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