How’s Mike Beebe doing?

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.






A blogging ode to spring — tiptoeing through the tulips

I’ll just tell you: I’m a real sissy for the tulips. I tiptoe through ‘em like a regular falsetto.

It started years ago – the last century, I think.

Shalah and I had one of our best vacations, starting in Amsterdam. We caught a bus to Haarlem where some famous tulip place existed. Franz something, I think it was. Franz Rosen, I want to say.

I wasn’t terribly excited by the expedition, until, that is, we got there.

Fields as far as you could see, swarming with tulips standing straight and of all the bright and beautiful colors and variegations.

They would ask where you lived and invite you to purchase your favorites and they would mail the bulbs to you at the proper time for you to plop in the ground where you lived.

We bought. Pretty big. I may still be carrying some residual damage on the American Express.

The bulbs came by UPS in stages, before and just after Christmas, and I took the bulb-maker and poked hundreds of holes in the front yard and back.

That early-to-mid spring at our house was a wonderland, and I do not lie.

People would stop their cars and get out and look and take pictures, and ask things like where we found those tri-colored tulips at the side of the front steps.

From time to time a smattering of those would come back and some years we’d buy a few more bulbs locally. But it was never the same. And the squirrels would get them. I guess it was the squirrels. The bulb holes would be opened and empty, the dirt upturned.

So late last summer or early fall, I got one of those marketing emails and made the impulse buy. Some outfit would sell me tulips and send me the bulbs when the time was right for my climate. I made my selections, a hundred bulbs, and punched in my credit card number.

It was my biggest impulse buy off an email since the tangerine and turquoise fiesta ware showed up on the porch that time.

It bothered me that the bulbs arrived in a box almost immediately – in October, I think it was. Surely it wasn’t time to plant them, I thought, and I put the box aside and went my merry way.

And forgot it until Shalah saw the box in mid-January and asked what that was.

Oh, dear, I said. It’s wasted money and bulbs that will never make tulips now, I said.

She grabbed the box and the bulb hole puncher and proceeded furiously to inject them into pots and sections of flower beds on the front, side and back of the house.

I advised her not to waste her time – that October was too soon, but mid-January too late, being learned as I am in matters of tulip timing.

Today, being obsessive, I counted 64 tulips, front and back and side  – bright yellow changing to orange, bright orange changing to yellow, solid yellow, solid orange and then these little miniature tulipy things that peek out in three cup-forming sections of orange and yellow variegations.

I like orange and yellow and a blend – for flowers. I don’t want to wear them, necessarily.

Saturday would have been the day for the tulip festival around here. Today is drab and a few of the tulips are on the downhill side.

I’d post pictures but I don’t know how to put pictures on the blog, and, anyway, we have too much instant photography and not enough word description and imagination these days.










Quoting Vickery on the gay matter

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.





Too scared to rule, state Supreme Court rules — CORRECTED

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.



On the religion-gay issue

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.

On thou shalt not kill, and meanness

Being real poor ain’t all that fair either

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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








Sounds like him

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.

On big legislative dinner — and a buried lead

It’s time to reactivate this long-dormant blog.

A good return-to-action post would be about lobbyists helping to raise money for last night’s speaker’s ball and the president’pro tem’s ball, long social staples of the state legislative culture, and harmless feel-good affairs.

But — thanks to the obsessive blog work of Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times — they’re kind of wrapped up in this whole matter of the voters approving Issue 3 to ban lobbyists’ gifts to legislators and of lobbyists and legislators finding a way around it.

It used to be — before Issue 3, or Amendment 94 — that the state Chamber of Commerce would bank these formal dinners late in session, by which I mean collect the money from corporate and lobbying sources.

That was bad, and the leading ethical purist of the Legislature, former state Rep. Duncan Baird of Lowell, now budget director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, always wrote a hundred-dollar check to cover his part.

Issue 3 rather clearly banned the chamber-coordinated process.

While it’s true that the big loophole otherwise availed by lobbyists and legislators is that lobbyists may fete legislators under Issue 3 if they invite entire committees or the entire General Assembly to a “planned event,” the speaker’s ball and the president pro tem’s ball were mainly for those two individuals. Or at least it could be argued.

So to the rescue came the proud Arkansas Republican Party, which said it would raise the money to honor these two fine Republican legislative leaders  — Speaker Jeremy Gillam and President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang.

And they are, by the way, in my opinion, fine Republican legislative leaders. We could do way worse.

So it turned out the Republican Party prevailed on two leading lobbyists, Ted and Julie Mullenix, to help, specifically to hit up other lobbyists to cover sponsorships for the dinners.

That outraged me, both on principle and as an affront to the voter dictates of Issue 3. So I went on Twitter to call the process a cesspool.

So then Gillam and Dismang wondered if I could come out to see them at 2 p.m.

I could. I did.

They said (1) this is the same process governors have always used to raise money for their inaugural balls and (2) they didn’t know about any outside services the Republican Party was using and (3) they were not beholden in any to the Mullenixes or any other lobbyists.

But they said that, yes, there might be a better way to do it in the future.

I’d have members ante up to a dinner fund, especially now that members are in line for significant pay increases.

But Gillam and Dismang might not be in positions of authority after this session.

In that regard, I can now relate that I’ve buried the lead.

Gillam told me he has pretty much decided to seek re-election as speaker.

(ADD: I’ve complicated Gillam’s life. I apologize. He thought he was telling me that little tidbit for a Tuesday column, which was true.  But I got the wild hair to blog it, and now some of his pals are displeased that he hadn’t told them of his plan. Put that on me.)

Dismang? He says no to re-election as president pro tem, although he knows of no percolating candidacies as yet to succeed him. Gillam wondered if Dismang might accept a draft. The two good ol’ boys from rural White County have a good working relationship ,and it has enhanced the orderliness of the session.

Oh, and one other thing: Some lobbying cabals have kept open certain rooms and facilities for entertaining legislators in cynical finesses of Issue 3 by inviting all legislators to these standing “planned events.” Gillam and Dismang said those have been so poorly attended that they can’t imagine they would be continued. We can hope.


Slapstick with Ross, Asa and other oddballs

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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