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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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Report on that Beebe, Burris, Sanders confab

 

I got so many visits yesterday for the rare blog post that the least I can do is follow that one up.

Gov. Mike Beebe, state Sen. David Sanders and state Rep. John Burris had their meeting in the governor’s office on this overblown matter of whether Planned Parenthood, which is going to promote the heck out of Obamacare either way, gets money for five or six or seven $12-an-hour navigators to explain to people who come in how to access their new health insurance opportunities come Oct. 1.

They agreed on an underlying point: All of them want the private option on adapted Medicaid expansion to work.

Sanders and Burris gave Beebe this account: All in the world they wanted was to quietly excise Planned Parenthood from the list of contractors so that the Planned Parenthood/abortion issue would never come up and gum up the works on the private option. You see, they said, we have people in our caucus who will go nuts, and maybe kill the private option, if we dare let the public dialogue become all about abortion.

We’re not the ones who leaked this into the blogosphere, they said.

We’re not bullies, they insisted. We’re the ones trying to be circumspect.

And then Burris told the governor this: If you feel obliged to permit Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford to push this Planned Parenthood contract forward, that’s fine by us, but just know that the legislative review committee is 12-10 Republican and three of the Democrats are pretty conservative on social issues and it takes 11 “ayes” to give favorable recommendation

That’s not bullying, but simple vote-counting, he said.

Beebe then went way out on a limb to thank the young Republicans for coming in and to wish them a good day.

His choice is how to let this thing die. He could call Planned Parenthood and say, you know, y’all could pull this contract and save us a lot of hot-button issue folderol, and I would personally appreciate that. Or he could tell Bradford to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s applicatoin. Or he could just let it go and let the Republicans and a few Democrats give it seven or eight votes needing 11.

Planned Parenthood could then file a lawsuit, if it wanted to go thermonuclear on a gnat.

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