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The Ironic Arkie: Demandin’ Personal Choice

9 Apr

 

Go ahead…and tread on me?

Ain’t it funny how the good folks here in Arkansas think the notion of government-promoted healthcare access as a fundamental right for all of our citizens is somehow an unconstitutional overreach by this president’s administration in dealing with state guidelines, yet have never (until recently) raised much stink about their completely acquiescence to state and local kingmakers in deeming them as lacking the personal responsibility and moral fiber required to let otherwise hard workin’ and tax payin’ Arkansans make the personal choices of whether or not they want to throw down some cash on a card game, purchase Arkansas’s Diamond Bear products freely, play up their southern bonafides by making their own mash at home, or simply drink on the state’s unofficial official deity’s Sunday holidays.

Of course, the sort of “Blue Laws” like we have in Arkansas are ones which restrict certain activities or sales of goods on Sunday, to accommodate the Christian Sabbath, in this case being the sale of liquor. The first Blue Law in the American colonies was enacted in Virginia in the early 1600s, which included required church attendance. Other early Blue Laws prohibited work, travel, recreation, and activities such as cooking, shaving, cutting hair, wearing either lace or precious metals, sweeping, making beds, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Blue Laws have operated to protect Christian business owners from competition on their day of sabbath. However, they never sought to protect from competition those Jews and Muslims whose traditions call for Saturday worship, and thus have clearly established a double-standard to promote Christianity, which seems to me, even as a follower of Jesus in my own right, to run far more afoul of the U.S. Constitution than the legislation affectionately known as “Obamacare” could ever been seen as doing.

Although Blue Laws requiring Sunday church attendance disappeared in the 19th century because they so blatantly violated citizen’ rights to 1st Amendment religious freedoms, other such Sunday restrictions have continued to exist into the modern era, including in Texas, where such laws prohibited selling common housewares and washing machines on Sunday until 1985, and car dealerships in the state continue to operate under similar outdated prohibitions. Similarly, courts in New York and Connecticut have ruled that, because blue laws were created and propagated by religious groups for religious purposes, they are unconstitutional:

Buy Alcohol on Sunday? Connecticut Now Allows It

Gary Donaldson, left, Ben Schiano and Brooks Titcomb celebrating the Sunday sale of beer, wine and liquor in Connecticut.
By ELIZABETH MAKER
Published: May 20, 2012 in The New York Times

Nevertheless, we’re all too aware that Blue Laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays continue to exist and be enforced, especially among our fellow freedom lovin’ Southern brethren residing here in Arkansas and elsewhere in Ye Ol’ Confederacy.

The fact that ours remains one of only a handful of remaining states which still prohibit selling alcohol on Sunday — even as it is now the second busiest shopping day of the week — seem to make no sense in terms of economic losses for small business, statewide revenues from sales taxes, and most importantly, the fact that our state chooses to severely limit the personal freedoms of our adult population while their peers from freedom-hatin’ Lib’rul ‘Merica do not encounter the same government “overreach” that we do here in The Natural State. Indeed, as most Christians see little conflict in going to church in the morning, then watching a football game — maybe with the family, or maybe at a sports bar — in the afternoon, what is the remaining valid rationale for this Puritan ritual anyway?

Once again, we have here a severe case of The Ironic Arkie. (Look for more of these rants in the coming weeks.)

Check out some more local flavor on these broader issues from an earlier story by Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times:

City Wire has a good report on a federal lawsuit arising from the newly opened liquor market in Benton County. A prospective retailer has challenged the Arkansas law that prevents franchising of retail liquor stores and multiple ownerships as a burden on interstate commerce.

Macadoodles liquor chain sought to expand its presence in Arkansas in lawsuit, prior to more liquor law loosening seen in other locations after last election.

The plaintiff wants to run a Macadoodles, the retail chain that had to win a legal fight to open its store in Washington County and which has long enticed huge Arkansas business just across the Arkansas line in Missouri.

The link gives you lots more of the legal ins and outs.

Key points include that 1) there’s a grandfather clause in Arkansas law for related ownerships and 2) it’s well-known that there are families with related stores that already operate in Arkansas and, it is suspected, take advantage of combined buying power not readily available to single-permit owners.

Lurking in the background, too, is behemoth Walmart, whose heirs paid for the campaign to open Benton County to retail liquor stores and which is currently restricted to a single liquor outlet, on a nominally separate premises in Fayetteville. It took a long legal battle for Walmart to get that single outlet; it thirsts to sell more booze here. The situation exists because of Arkansas’s protectionist liquor laws. They are aimed, first, at protecting profit margins of wholesalers.

The interstate commerce clause is a mighty tool against state discrimination in commerce. Hard to see the compelling state interest in protecting wholesalers’ profit at the expense of higher retail prices for consumers. But lawyers are ready to explain.

And also don’t miss this 2012 piece from David Kinkade of The Arkansas Project.

A dedicated Arkansas Project reader sends along a link to this nifty map (pasted below) from those limey toffs at the BBC offering “a snapshot of wet and dry America.” They slipped out of their powdered wigs and put on their thinking caps to generate this graphic detailing the lingering effects of alcohol prohibition here in the U.S.

With 43 dry counties in red, Arkansas looks to be a national leader (?) on this front. I don’t think I realized how much of the nation lives in open territory when it comes to alcohol sales. I mean, geez, look at that vast swatch of liberatory bluish gray once you move west out of Oklahoma and Texas, and head north from Kansas. I also like that there’s “no data” on Georgia, so it’s grayed out like a medieval dragon preserve. That actually sounds about right.

This is really just an excuse to link to this masterly 2009 piece from the estimable Michael Tilley of the City Wire in Fort Smith, wherein he explored the “convoluted concoction of rules” that govern liquor sales in the Natural State—and lived to tell the shocking tale! A taste:

We have rules as to when and how alcohol can be sold from either a convenience store, grocery story or a bonafide liquor store; rules differentiating between sales of wine fermented in Arkansas and wine fermented outside the state. There are rules that say your local Chili’s or Applebee’s is simply a restaurant that can serve beer if built in a wet county, but is a special private club with a (wink, wink) membership policy to go along with food sales if it operates in a dry county.

There are rules on specific times hooch can be sold on the weekends because we’re all mindful of and in agreement with the seminal Harvard study proving that a beer sold at 9:59 a.m. on a Sunday morning leads to immediate and terrific societal destruction, whereas the same beer sold 61 seconds later is nothing more than a standard commercial exchange between consenting adults that results in a positive economic impact for the local economy and tax proceeds for state and local governments.

Not familiar with the Harvard study? Of course you’re not, because no such study exists. Which is something to keep in mind when considering dang near all Arkansas liquor laws and wondering if there is some pragmatic reason for their formulation — No Such Study Exists.

Do go revisit the whole thing and weep for the dearth of good sense that requires you to rush out and buy your Sunday beer supply at 11 p.m. Saturday.

MAP: U.S. Alcohol Sale Restrictions (BBC, 2012)

[Editor’s Note: Wait a minute…The Arkansas Project, you say? You just quoted and wholeheartedly agreed with them?!?

Yup. I’ve come to respect the heck out of Nic Horton and how he goes about his conducting his business, building his brand, and is willing to do the dirty work of research before public diatribes via keyboard, even when I might be well on the other side of the partisan fence on any given issue…this state needs more honest & open government crusaders, believe me.]

Quapaws Hint at Savaging Arkansas…with Economic Progress?

21 Feb

John Berrey, Quapaw Tribe Chairman

Very interesting developments could be in the works as leaders from the Quapaw Indian Tribe of Oklahoma continue to hint at the group’s long-term plans to replicate their successful casino business model with “new” formalized “legal” gambling to central Arkansas, which, goin’ by what the good folks here tell me, is somehow entirely different than what they’ve been doing down at Oaklawn in Hot Springs and on east of here at the dog tracks in West Memphis . . . but I digress.

You may recall that the tribe  purchased an 80-acre tract south of the Little Rock Port Industrial Park for $775,000 late last year, leading to the original speculation about the group’s true intentions on down the road.

Hey, for the record, I am certainly no gambler, and frankly have never quite wrapped my brain around the idea that all the unnecessary anxiety that comes with risking your own cash could be fun or entertaining. That being said, you can also put me on record as being counted among the generally pro- new revenue & stuff-to-do club on these sorts of things, rather than the many hell-in-a-handbasket Chicken Littlers we often find to have the loudest political voices among us. You know who I am talking about, that Family Council crowd of misguided do-gooders who continually seem happy in letting each of our bordering-state neighbors reap the financial rewards we have more or less gifted to their respective state budgets due to our collectively misplaced moral stands, which may very well come from an altruistic viewpoint, but obviously misses the bigger picture.

Source: Tribal Government Gaming (2009)

What the people who lobby hard against the prospects of a state lottery, bizarre legal relics like Sunday alcohol restrictions, and legal gambling via tourism-friendly casinos near the state’s most populated areas, is that maybe if a few slot machines and blackjack tables directly lead to helping our state combat hunger, provide our public schools with more resources or smaller class sizes for our children, or even might mean we can finally finish that Interstate 49 project Missouri and Louisiana keep waiting on us to complete our portion of (or any of the myriad other road improvements we desperately need for a modern economy), then by all means BRING THIS ON. Am I right or am I right?

(Editor’s Note: I am right.)

Tunica certainly isn’t Mississippi’s great ethical failing, folks. Perhaps Jerry Cox and the like can secretly lobby for passage of Arkansans for Compassionate Care ballot initiative and have a way to combat all those stressful, sleepless nights sure to come when those squaws bring all that sinful abomination to town.

Source: Arkansas Blog

It’s probably worth noting to readers that John Berrey, the Quapaw Tribe’s Chairman, recently completed a four-year stint as a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a presidentially appointed post. So when you’re left muttering to yourself “how in the heck are they able to link this one to Obamacare so everyone here hates it?!” you’ll at least know where the enormous stretch would seemingly come from.

Hubert Tate

For more background, below you will find the accompanying commentary yesterday from KARK’s Hubert Tate.

Stay tuned. Could get real testy if this push becomes a reality.

An Indian tribe, native to Arkansas, has purchased 160 acres of land in Pulaski County, hoping to reclaim a part of its history in the state. The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma is trying to figure out the next step to develop the land, including the possibility of a casino. No decision has been made, but right now the tribe’s main focus is to reclaim its history in the State. The tribe had property in Pulaski County dating back to before the 1800’s, but the United States government forced them to surrender their lands.

“We really love Arkansas and see it as part of our home. Then in 1850s, we were removed from Arkansas and brought out to Indian Territory of Oklahoma,” said business chairman John BerreyQuapaw, Oklahoma is where the majority of the tribe’s 4,500 members are now located.

Property near the Little Rock Port Authority is where Quapaws were for decades before moving northwest, which is the main reason why the tribe purchased 160 acres near Thibault Road in Little Rock recently. Berrey says the focus is now on determining what to do with the land. “We are more concerned right now about our history and reestablishing ourselves to the people and children in Arkansas. We were part of the very beginning of the state and we want to be part of the future state of Arkansas,” he said.

Berrey says the tribe has a strong business arm in Oklahoma, including a portfolio of gas stations, restaurants, hotel, spa, golf course and two casinos, all of which provide more than 2,000 jobs through its enterprises in Oklahoma. So, KARK asked him about the possibility of duplicating the business model in Little Rock. He makes it clear, the group doesn’t have any plans right now to build a casino or anything else in Pulaski County, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility.

“I would never say never. We would love to help the state out in any fiscal situation. We would love to employ a lot of people. We have a great record in doing those type of things. So if the opportunity arises, we would probably take advantage of it , but right now, we are trying to protect it and be a good steward of what we own,” said Berrey, who also does acknowledge there has been mystery surrounding the possibility. “I just think people try to put stuff together that may or may not exist. (The tribe) can game. We don’t know what the opportunities are in Arkansas, but we just want to be part of the state,” reiterating his sentiment that there is no timetable to making a decision.

“Native Americans can have casinos under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We have two, very beautiful, very nice casinos and are very successful in the casino business. We are very efficient and we have a very nice product and we are a big economic impact on the region,” said Berrey.

Located east of downtown near the Clinton National Airport, the recently-acquired tribal property has important historic and cultural ties to the area. To better understand the tribe’s ambitions and loyalties, Arkansas Business provided a concise and contextual history in a feature around the time of the purchase:

The newly acquired tribal property is on part of a natural levee that extends northwest from the former Thibault Plantation to the Clinton National Airport. This strip of high ground was home to a string of scattered dwellings and farms that date to 1300-1500 A.D.

Graves are part of the cultural equation, too. Local denizens of the era favored burials near and even in their dwellings. The Arkansas Archeological Survey will conduct a detailed survey of the property for the tribe to identify the historical secrets it contains. “It wasn’t a big, compact village,” said Tom Green, Director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Berrey, a University of Arkansas journalism graduate, also noted that in addition to its “tremendous cultural significance,” the property possessed “economic development potential.” Most of the tribe’s property along the east side of Thibault Road is devoted to farming, and more than 20 acres is wooded.

That choice of names pays homage to the tribe’s name (Ugaxpa in the native tongue, meaning downstream people) and is a reference to the tribe’s migration downstream from the Ohio River Valley to what would become Arkansas.

Oh, and as far as that little “presidential appointment” quip I wrote about — well, perhaps these guys do have their Red State Bonafides in order on a very “different front” after all:

The tribe most associated with Arkansas (including the state name) is now associated with a highly successful gaming development: Downstream Casino Resort in OklahomaOn a different business front, the Quapaw Tribal Business Committee recently bought a 51% stake in Detonics Defense Technologies LLC, a high-end handgun maker.

“This is a very exciting venture that if all goes well will position the Quapaw Tribe as a premier minority contractor in the law enforcement and handgun training space for military, state and local law enforcement,” Berrey also noted in The Quapaw Tribal News. “It’s a very exciting mix.”

Redefining “Anti-Racist” [UPDATED]

22 Dec

[ORIGINAL STORY]

Wow.

Yes, it’s Arkansaw, so I get it. But it’s also 2013, folks, so pardon me while I’m still a bit shocked and dismayed by the following display of anti-enlightenment I recently had a chance to take in directly from our friends and neighbors to the north in A Place Called Harrison:


[STORY UPDATE]

From the Harrison Daily Times, November 29, 2013:

A Harrison Police report shows that a witness saw some people vandalizing a billboard on the Bypass early Friday morning and reported it to police. Now it’s under investigation as a criminal matter. The report shows the witness called police about 12:10 a.m. Friday to report seeing several people vandalizing the sign.

The sign, which has drawn much controversy since it went up, is bright yellow with the words “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White” emblazoned on it in black letters. The vandals had painted over part of the last two word and wrote the word “Love” on it.

Assistant Police Chief Paul Woodruff said the witness saw the act in progress and was able to give police the license plate number of a vehicle seen leaving the area Friday morning. He said the incident is an open criminal mischief investigation and no formal report had been finalized by Friday afternoon.

antiwhite_harrison

Hard to consider such an upgrade “vandalism.”

As loyal TWP followers and other newsies will recall, said billboard began causing a stir with local residents and travelers passing through along the busy U.S. 62/65 highway bypass when the sign went up sometime in mid-October, despite drawing the ire and condemnation of several city leaders. Since then, the company that owns the sign has refused to identify who is paying for this absurd public proclamation, only saying it was a “young man” who had agreed to pay $200 per month for a year.

For a growing town where most are eager to turn the page on an ugly history and want to promote commerce, investment, and be a place where young folks might stick around to raise their families, this has to be a very aggravating setback.

Hopefully the voices of “Love” truly do win the day for the citizens there and throughout our beloved, yet very racially-challenged Natural State.

[STORY UPDATE: PART TWO]

“The People’s Lawyer” (Campbell) doesn’t shy away from controversy, does he?

…and now: The Litigation.

A billboard located along Highway 62-65 in Harrison garnered national attention when it first appeared in October, as reported to you here on TWP.  The sign read, “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White,” until late November, when it was altered it to read, “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Love.”  Though sign owner Claude West has refused to say who rented the space for the bargain price of $2,400 per year, suspicions abound that the renter of the sign has ties to the Ku Klux Klan.  Only days before the sign went up, Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the KKK, posted on his Facebook page, “Anti-KKK is a Code Word for Anti-White.”

The suspicions that racist motivations were behind the billboard have only grown since this past Wednesday when a local resident, Chad Watkins of Harrison, was arrested and charged with defacing the sign.  Watkins’ friends created a Facebook page and fundraising website to call attention to the matter and raise money for Watkins’ legal defense.  Almost immediately, bigoted and hateful comments began appearing on both sites.

Watkins has retained none other than Matt Campbell of Pinnacle Law Firm in Little Rock to defend him.

“It’s incredible,” says Campbell.  “The majority of the people leaving hateful comments about Mr. Watkins online tout themselves as Christians, yet, only days from Christmas, they are angry because someone changed a hateful message to one of love.  They scream about constitutional rights, but they seem ready to condemn Mr. Watkins before he ever even has a day in court.  The cognitive dissonance is staggering.”

Watkins friends have created an online fundraising campaign to cover Watkins’ legal costs, and Campbell has stated that all money raised beyond actual costs and fees will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center at the close of the case.

“I’m doing it at no charge to him. He already has a fundraiser campaign set up for legal fees.  I told him I’d bill against whatever was raised, and, when the case was over, if there was excess money donated, we’d donate it to the SPLC.”

“Evildoer” graffitist, Chad Watkins

The Facebook page started on behalf of said vandalist, Watkins, includes the following formal description:

Let’s come together and raise money to help Chad Watkins with the legal fees he acquired when he “vandalized” an incredibly racist billboard with the word “LOVE”. If you’re from Harrison, I’m sure you’ve seen that hideous, racist sign on the bypass; It reads “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White”. It attracted lots of protestors, and made our entire town look bad to those passing by. Many of us locals were disgusted with the sign, and shocked that it was even allowed.

Several weeks after the billboard was put up, it was vandilized with the word “love”. We all silently cheered for the brave sole who did this! Surprisingly, we found out that the “vandal” was someone we all know and love- Mr. Chad Watkins. Sadly, he was caught!

Donate Here: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/9fHh3/ab/a2To93

(Southern Poverty Law Center ©)

Teddy? BALLGAME!

24 Sep

So I hear news of a “filibuster” and tune in only to find that smarmy, self-loathing hypocrite, the anti-immigrant Hispanic Canadian-Texan, Sen. Rafael “Ted” Cruz, reading children’s literature aloud to his  Senate colleagues, as he re-re-re-doubles down on his personal mission to somehow thwart a law long since advocated, enacted, and subsequently upheld by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, respectively. Picture me not impressed.

From C-SPAN:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) while speaking in opposition to #Obamacare, reads Green Eggs & Ham.

I guess we should all be glad he at least happened upon a certified medical professional with the moonlighting Dr. Seuss with his story time session. Hey, at least it wasn’t My Pet Goat. This is clearly what those (highly quotable) Founding Fathers envisioned with that whole democracy thing, right? It’s surreality, folks!

I do not like that Teddy Cruz,
I do not like his version of news.
He’s a vile man who will tell a lie,
And I do not like his hair or tie stupid face.

Hey, I’m no friggin’ poet. 😉

When Soldiers Go Social on Politics

29 Apr

File this one under “shameless self-promotion.”

My National Law Journal piece out today takes a look at the legal restrictions on soldiers’ political speech online — particularly making disparaging remarks about the commander-in-chief — in light of the popular use of sharing political views through social networking such as like Facebook and Twitter.

The National Law Journal (4/29/13)


Although the Uniform Code of Military Justice criminalizes a servicemember’s use of ‘contemptuous words’ against the president, some use social media to insult Obama.

Cotton’s Fuzzy Math

25 Apr

GOP golden boy, AR-04 Rep. Tom Cotton, added his voice to the recent media flurry of George W. Bush revisionism that has preceded today’s Bush Center opening ceremonies. Though Cotton’s remarks on the House floor yesterday were a clear attempt to score a few cheap political points out of the Boston Marathon bombing events by blaming them on President Obama, his brief diatribe revolved around the rather peculiar argument that President Bush actually had a pitched a perfect game when it come to keeping the country from being victimized from terrorism on our own soil . . . you know, except for that 9/11 thing.

From The Last Word (linked above):

A week after the Boston Marathon bombings, the first successful terrorist bombing on U.S. soil since 2001, a Republican freshman Congressman made an invalid argument that President George W. Bush did a better job keeping America safe from terrorism but failed to mention the 9/11 attacks.

What gall, huh? Now let’s take a quick trek down memory lane, shall we?

This since 9/11 rhetoric seems to be a pretty convenient starting point for rewriting recent history, especially considering the line of attack Cotton directed towards the current commander-in-chief. You know, the only POTUS out of the two being compared here that actually made it a priority to find Bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda’s leadership. Facts and irony being what they are, here is the most recent contribution to the annals of the Congressional Record and C-SPAN video archives from Arkansas’s freshman congressman:

“I rise today to express grave doubts about the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies and programs. Counterterrorism is often shrouded in secrecy, as it should be, so let us judge by the results. In barely four years in office, five jihadists have reached their targets in the United States under Barack Obama: the Boston Marathon bomber, the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and in my own state — the Little Rock recruiting office shooter.In the over seven years after 9/11 under George W. Bush, how many terrorists reached their target in the United States? Zero! We need to ask ‘why is the Obama Administration failing in its mission to stop terrorism before it reaches its targets in the United States?”

Despite his best effort to deliver a soldier’s impassioned plea, Cotton’s selective memory and overly-prepared remarks sure have the feel of being just another dose of typical GOP template-politicscomplete with the standard list of talking points that have no doubt been distributed to Fox News & Co. to be subsequently repeated by every Rethug making the media rounds right now. And I’d venture to guess there’s a real good chance it’s Lil’ Billy Kristol behind this push as another way to raise the profile and national ambitions of his shining star from Yell, AR. Because otherwise it’s awfully hard to believe that one could claim Mr. Obama has been “failing” when it comes to protecting the American homeland, then attempt to “yada, yada, yada” the fact that on 9/11 that same homeland lost nearly 3,000 innocent people because of Al Qaeda reaching its targets. Presidential leadership amounted to some spoiled twit who had opted for “My Pet Goat” instead of briefings like “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside U.S.” that day, did it not?

Miss ME yet?On top of the blatant hypocrisy of ignoring that failing, this disengenious “since 9/11” count also leaves out the anthrax attacks that soon followed, the Richard Reid shoe bombing, dirty bomb schemer Jose Padilla, the shooting at LAX in 2002, as well as the horrific shooting spree of murderers Mohammed and Malvo, the two Beltway-area snipers.

You can watch the fuzzy math play out in Cotton’s screams of “FIVE!” and “ZERO!” from the House of Representatives below:

Mike Ross 2.0: Ladies’ Man?

22 Apr

Ross-kick-off_womenLook out, it’s Mike Ross 2.0! The reinvented version, who was brought out of a very short political retirement by the party establishment, is forging ahead with a campaign strategery where he’ll tout himself as a “champion” for the rights of women in this state. Someone who will be able to defend them against those wacky GOP social ideologues who wasted no time in coming to power and enacting an agenda that seemed to offend the otherwise practical and sensible nature of Arkansans from all political stripes. By sharing his outrage about these  legislative controversies to voters, he seeks to prove his bonafides as Arkansas’s new Ladies’ Man, one might conclude.

Yes, really. He’s going there.

What’s that, you say? Everything he’s done as an elected official prior to his announcement of campaigning for governor tells us something entirely different?

Oh, I agree. Because your claims of the rhetoric not at all matching the reality is the one thing here that actually is true.

Now wipe that completely confused (and slightly constipated) look off your mug and walk through this with me.

Over at Arkansas Blog today, Max Brantley discussed the move from Planned Parenthood to highlight some of the former AR-04 congressman’s controversial and disconnected votes concerning the rights of women to control their own bodies and the funding for programs that support their overall health needs, and to press him on how he squares those actions with his recent rhetoric that tries to make his votes appear different than those cast by Republicans (and some Democrats) in the General Assembly:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross made encouraging sounds about looking out for women’s medical services and the ability to choose abortion when he announced last week. But his past record has included votes to restrict abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, which recently survived a legislative attack on funding for its sex education work in Little Rock.

Republicans, who LIKED Ross’ past record, have been hooting about Ross’ pitch to women. Bill Halter, his Democratic opponent, has been beating up Ross as the next Jason Rapert. Ross himself has explicitly said 1) he’d have vetoed the abortion restriction bills Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed and 2) he would NOT support defunding of Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services in Arkansas.

An issue for the long-term? Republicans arguing that Mike Ross isn’t as liberal as he wants to you believe? Maybe not. But the Democratic primary is something else.

The facts: Mike Ross co-sponsored a controversial bill, long with Missouri’s infamous Todd “Legitimate Rape?” Akin, that sought to redefine the definition of rape and would have prevented women from obtaining important medical care, and has also twice voted to stop federal funds from going to groups like Planned Parenthood, who provide women with myriad health services beyond those related to pregnancy and abortion.

For his part, candidate Ross claims the legislation he helped put forth was somehow not the same as what was recently enacted in Arkansas, and that his position on abortion is actually “unchanged” from his time in the House of Representatives:

“Let me be clear about my position and what it has always been. I am personally opposed to abortion. I do not believe, I do not support government-funded abortions with state or federal dollars. But like Gov. Beebe, I believe, from a public policy perspective, it should be safe, legal and rare,” [Ross] said.

Despite his politically-expedient “evolution” on these issues, and his accompanying public display of “outrage” towards the likes of Sen. Jason Rapert and the rest of the ARGOP’s in leading the Arkansas Legislature to enact these sorts of restrictions, Boss Ross has an accessible voting record we concerned citizens can review which paints a very different picture of where the man actually stands. Indeed, his was a very shameful showing of bi-partisanship at its worst when it comes to siding up with Republicans in their “War on Women” crusades.

As you would expect, Bill Halter’s campaign wasted no time weighing in on the almost Mitt Romney-esque level of flip-flopping hypocrisy shown by the recently self-proclaimed “frontrunner”:

After announcing that he would not run for reelection to Congress and less than two months after saying he was not going to run governor, Mike Ross showed his true colors and voted for this ban. Only now that he is running for governor, has he chosen to flip-flop to suit his own political ambition. Mike Ross’s statements are not consistent with his own previous actions.

Mike Ross talks about believing in Arkansas values, but yesterday he demonstrated a determined willingness to ignore those values when it served his own political ambition.

With Bill Halter, Arkansans know where he stands. He would have vetoed the abortion bills and he never would have supported the attacks on women that Mike Ross promoted by cosponsoring and voting for legislation that would have restricted women from receiving important medical care.

Mike Ross’s record of denying women access to medical care is only one of many aspects of an overall record that Arkansans will find troubling. I am confident that the Arkansas press corps will do their homework and hold Mr. Ross accountable for his own record, rather than allow him to run on someone else’s record.

Democratic_Party_of_Arkansas_LogoThis state — and the floundering state party who, by any reasonable account, have been unable to regroup and come to grips with how to still have some relevance while in the minority, needs a leader with authentic convictions that understands how to build support for real reform so we can move ahead. In my mind, Democrats here should be lining up to support someone who is, at the very least, a consistent “D” in the way they generally approach policy. Hell, one day we may even learn to raise those expectations enough to get beyond some of the same unresponsive establishment do-nothing-ness that has allowed the party to  drift aimlessly into the political wilderness.

bill-halter-glowMore inspiring would be to see the calls for real reform led by someone that is not only bold enough to offer innovative ideas, but also has the conviction and know-how to effectively rally the masses against GOP priorities that thwart Arkansas’s economic and social progress. For my money, Bill Halter is the only person that provides a chance for this to happen.

We’ll never be able to truly move this state forward if we accept anything less than the best we have to offer. The days where we are able to collectively say “Thank God for Mississippi” may be dwindling, you know.

(You can watch Roby Brock’s full interview with Mike Ross from last night’s Talk Business show below.)

AR Medicaid Expansion: Dems’ Playbook?

20 Apr

Make no mistake, Arkansas Republicans campaigned on, almost exclusively, an anti-Obama platform, mostly premised on the promise to prevent implementation of his most notable legislative initiative — the Affordable Care Act — here in Arkansas.

Then, they had to actually govern and come up with justifications in rejecting federal Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act while still helping to subsidize its implementation to other states via tax dollars.

Next, here came the powerful hospital and insurance lobby, long eager to find a way to be able to capitalize financially on Medicaid patients. What’s an Arkansas Republican to do???

Obamacare, as the law is popularly known, once seemed doomed in Arkansas, where Republican candidates ran hard in the 2012 election campaign on the promise of stopping reform, and won majorities in both state legislative chambers for the first time since the Civil War era.

Then [Representatives] Dismang, Sanders, House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman and House member John Burris started sounding out whether the Obama administration would allow Medicaid expansion funds to be used to purchase private coverage through an online healthcare exchange that Arkansas will run in partnership with Washington beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

Under Obamacare, people earning from 100 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for Medicaid. But they could also receive federal premium tax credits to help purchase private coverage through an exchange. States such as Wisconsin have already opted for that route.

The Arkansas plan would utilize Medicaid funds instead of tax credits and cover everyone who qualifies for the expansion, including those living below the federal poverty level – currently $23,550 for a family of four.

But yesterday, as Medicaid expansion (via a private health insurance exchange) in Arkansas became a foregone conclusion one step closer to being reality, for the betterment of our state, however ironic this notion may be considering the rhetoric of the past couple of years. From ThinkProgress.org:

Arkansas came one step closer to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare on Thursday after the state senate advanced a modified expansion bill by a 27-8 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Mike Beebe (D), who is expected to sign it promptly.

In March, Beebe and the Obama Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) struck a first-of-its-kind deal that would allow Arkansas to expand Medicaid while also privatizing the state-federal partnership program. Under the tentative deal, the federal government will subsidize the entire cost of Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion, but allow the state to use that federal money to buy poor people private insurance, rather than expand the existing public program. The compromise — which has been dubbed “the private option” — was appealing to both Beebe and the Obama Administration, since conservative Arkansas legislators are skeptical of public entitlements, but the state has a high number of poor and uninsured residents who will benefit from expanded access to health coverage.

The development is particularly significant since the private option could serve as a template for Republican-controlled states. Conservatives who are adamantly opposed to public health entitlements like Medicaid are being fiercely lobbied by hospital associations and advocates for the poor, who are warning them that safety net hospitals and state budgets could buckle under the weight of uncompensated medical care costs barring expanded insurance access for the poor. The private option could allow Republicans to heed those warnings without endorsing a program they have historically slammed.

Rep. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, left, and Rep. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, helped lead the GOP’s change of heart.

Funny how things once undebatable can quickly change when faced with reality, isn’t it? But at least this time it was for an improved way of doing things, even if it might’ve not necessarily been the ideal way of doing them.

But now I have to ask, what of the politics of this moment? How can Arkansas Democrats both take credit for the enactment of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion AND still remind voters of the political posturing and subsequent flip-flopping on the issue by their anti-all-things-fed counterparts on the other side of the aisle?

My take is that Ark Dems generally have a small window to do something creative and positive with this. While I’ll admit to you readers that the more idealist “Third Way” notions in me find it a bit disingenuous that Democrats would now be snarking about a GOP flip-flop on the ACA’s Medicaid implementation here, when we should really just be making the most of this seemingly grand compromise and revel in the fact that SOMETHING got done in this otherwise nutty legislative session to improve the lives of thousands of needy Arkansans. I say this primarily because these same Democrats played no real part in the substantive debate in the legislature — the entire discussion and associated compromises — at least once the general blessing for a “private option” was granted by Kathleen Sebelius to Governor Beebe — was controlled by Arkansas Republicans. The whole thing hinged on whether or enough of their members would toe the line on often ridiculous campaign rhetoric, or would give in to a common sense and get the legislation passed.

That being said, I figure Dems going on the offensive with this outweighs the risk of some people having a reaction like mine and backfiring.  I mean, Dems haven’t had much part in any debate because these Republicans have been passing whatever they want and blocking whatever they want.  So turn that on it’s head.  “You clearly could pass anything you wanted, so thank you for passing Obamacare.”

As I was talking with a friend last night about the passage of healthcare expansion, it dawned on me that this moment actually presents a great opportunity for the ArkDems to seize control of the discussion, attempt to take the moral highground, and define the debate going forward.  Rather than letting the Republicans tout how they “avoided Obamacare” by passing the “private option,” I think you guys could turn the whole thing on its head by embracing the term “Obamacare” and literally thanking, by name in a press a release, all of the Republican legislators who voted for the expansion “and made healthcare available to 250,000 Arkansans that did not have it before the passage of Obamacare.”

If they want to scream and holler about how it’s not Obamacare, then they are going to have to be able to explain how the private option is appreciably different than what would have happened under the ACA anyway.  That’s like trying to explain why French vanilla ice cream is completely and totally different from regular vanilla, or why scallions are not the same as green onions.  It’s a distinction without a difference, and most Arkansans will see through it.  This is great on two levels for our side.

First, by embracing the term “Obamacare,” if the Republicans can’t satisfy various constituents that there is a difference in the private option, then they run the risk of being primaried, almost certainly by someone even more crazy and right wing, which should help moderate Dems have a shot in those areas.

Second, if you control the message, the attempts in 2014 by House and Senate members to campaign on having “avoided implementation of Obamacare in Arkansas” will ring hollow and will have about 18 months of rebuttal messaging to contend with.

I think this is a golden opportunity for the party.  Heck, it even allows you to praise the “bipartisan effort that brought the benefits of Obamacare to Arkansas.”  But selling that idea probably requires getting out front with this message almost immediately.

We Noticed.

6 Mar
SB134_vetorollcall (2)

House roll call Re: SB 134 Veto

Very disappointing to see so many Arkansas House Democrats (six, to be exact) jumping on board and/or calling in sick to work today (a total of seven didn’t even bother to vote) regarding the vote to override Governor Beebe’s appropriate veto of holy rolling Sen. Jason Rapert’s controversial Heartbeat Protection ActSenate Bill 134, which would place a ban on all abortion procedures at the point of 12 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter.

Unfortunately for the women and taxpayers (here come the lawsuits) of this state, the House GOP steamrolled the party of presumed common sense on this one, with so little public pressure extolled from Dem leaders in the legislature that they even picked up a few of the more spineless ones along the way.

Moral convictions are one thing.

This issue is settled law.

From the New York Times coverage:

Arkansas adopted what is by far the country’s most restrictive ban onabortion on Wednesday — at 12 weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can typically be detected by abdominal ultrasound.

The law, the sharpest challenge yet to Roe v. Wade, was passed by the newly Republican-controlled legislature over the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who called it “blatantly unconstitutional.” The State Senate voted Tuesday to override his veto and the House followed suit on Wednesday, with several Democrats joining the Republican majority.

The law contradicts the limit established by Supreme Courtdecisions, which give women a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and abortion rights groups promised a quick lawsuit to block it. Even some anti-abortion leaders called the measure a futile gesture.

[. . .]

“As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies,” said James Bopp Jr., a prominent anti-abortion lawyer who opposed the Arkansas law. Mr. Bopp, who lives in Indiana, is general counsel of National Right to Life.

He said that lower courts are virtually certain to affirm existing Supreme Court rulings and, like many other legal experts, he predicted that the Supreme Court was very unlikely to agree to hear such a case.

Mr. Rapert originally proposed setting the Arkansas ban even earlier, at about six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. But the nascent fetal heartbeat can be detected at that point only by using intrusive technology like a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

Wary of the national firestorm that erupted last year after Virginia tried to require the intrusive procedure, Mr. Rapert and his allies revised the bill to specify that a fetal heartbeat should be detected by abdominal ultrasound or other external methods, which are not feasible at six weeks.

[. . .]

The state currently has only one clinic, in Little Rock, that performs surgical abortions; a second, run by Planned Parenthood, offers medicinal abortions, which are done only within the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

The final approval of the bill on Wednesday was a surprisingly unemotional event, with the House consideration of the override taking only moments — less time than it took just before to recognize a college volleyball team.

With the outcome, at 55 votes to 33, a foregone conclusion in a state that has turned steadily to the right in recent years, two House Republican leaders spoke briefly in favor of the bill, and not a single legislator spoke against it.

 

Profiles in Courage, Mr. Wardlaw? Hardly.

“Not a single legislator.”

Wow. And after all that public outrage. It almost seems…I don’t know…phony? Lazy? What do you think? Regardless of how you answer that right now, let’s be clear: House Dems should fully expect some fallout:

Yes, we noticed. And we’ll definitely remember come primary election time, or even if you try to take credit when this thing gets overturned later on.

Timmywatch!

31 Dec

“Tim Griffin should be in jail.”–Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
[Source: Truthout.org, August 27, 2012]

In 2010, Koch interests dumped $167,183 into Griffin’s campaign for Congress.

[. . .[

In Congress, he’s Rove-bot No. 1, owned and operated by Koch Industries.

Said Ernie Dumas in his piece entitled The Real Tim Griffin (Arkansas Times, July 2010):

Griffin made the group’s list of delinquent aspirants for his part in a sleazy scheme to keep blacks and other potential Democratic voters in Florida away from the polls in the 2004 presidential election when he was an operative for the Republican National Committee and for his unsavory role in the U.S. attorney scandal in 2006, which forced the resignation of seven top Justice Department officials, including the attorney general of the United States.

Wild allegations from the always-reliable Dumas? Hardly.

TIMMYWATCH brings you a more in-depth look at both of the unsavory ordeals that was directly involved with prior to launching his new political empire as Congressman from Arkansas’s Second District.

EPISODE 1: Voter Caging Scandal

As Dumas notes in the above-linked article, Griffin’s antics in the 2004 election did not get much in the way of airtime from Arkansas media, so let’s begin at the beginning.

Voter caging is the act of getting voters bumped from voter rolls if they were unable to sign for registered mail marked “do not forward” and sent to addresses where they were not present (including, say, those absent because they are in college or in the military).  The returned letters are then used as “proof” to prevent the voters from obtaining a ballot at their respective polling places or to prevent absentee voters ballots from being counted.  While there is nothing per se illegal about this act, it is illegal under the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.

Which brings us to Griffin.

In 2004, when Timmy was a Karl Rove sycophant research director for the RNC, he sent out an email to other Republicans, the subject line of which read simply “Caging,” and attached to which were excel spreadsheets full of voters’ names and addresses.  How do we know this?  Because Timmy sent them to addresses ending in “@georgewbush.org,” rather than “@georgewbush.com.” GeorgeWBush.org was a parody site, and the owner forwarded the emails to BBC Television Newsnight, where Greg Palast broke the story.

Here is one of the emails (click to enlarge):

Here’s where it gets sticky (and theoretically criminal): if you plot the addresses in  the attached Excel spreadsheet, you quickly realize that there’s a racial component involved.  As TPM explained (emphasis added):

The result? Our comparative analysis of the spreadsheet with Duval County voter rolls shows that most names were of African-Americans. (For more on the analysis, see below.) Such a finding, voting rights experts told me, strengthened allegations that Griffin, working for the Republican National Committee, was involved in an effort to target African-American voters. “It is difficult to explain other than an effort to target Democrats and by extension, minority voters,” Toby Moore, a former political geographer with the Justice Department, said.

Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor at George Mason University and an expert on elections statistics, said that the chance that the list is randomly so different from the population is less than 1 in 10,000. It is illegal to target voters based on their race under the Voting Rights Act. Griffin resigned earlier this month as the U.S. attorney for Little Rock after a six-month stint.

Griffin’s defense against these allegations falsely claimed that there was “not even a scintilla” of proof, did not explain the emails bearing his name, and basically attempted to attack the message by attacking the messenger.

Astute readers will note that Griffin claimed not to even know what “caging” meant, despite the fact that he sent emails with “Caging” as the subject and “caging-1.exl” as an attachment. Weird, that. I generally don’t title emails and Excel files with words that I don’t know the meaning of, but my methods may vary.

As mentioned above, this story didn’t get a lot of play in Arkansas for whatever reason. That said, I would not go so far as to claim that it was “debunked.” Timmy never explained the emails, nor did he even claim they were forgeries or were sent by someone other than him, and he did not offer an explanation for the racial bias inherent in the caging lists. All he did was offer a ridiculous and implausible denial in which he cast himself as the martyr.

EPISODE 2: George W. Bush, Karl Rove, and the U.S. Attorney Scandal

In Timmy’s denial, he mentioned that the caging allegations did not come to light until he “became embroiled in the U.S. Attorney thing.”  That “thing,” as he puts it, was the sudden firing of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Bud Cummins, and his replacement with Timmy Griffin as “interim” U.S. Attorney.  (Similar firings and replacements in other states occurred around the same time, which is what the whole thing noteworthy.)  These new appointments came after the USA PATRIOT Act was re-authorized with changes to the appointment process — the 120-day limit on “interim” U.S. Attorneys was removed and was replaced with a provision that would have let Griffin remain in the post for the remainder of President Bush’s tenure without ever being confirmed by the Senate — and this timing was no coincidence.  Even Timmy knew that he was appointed in this way so as to avoid confirmation hearings, according to Bud Cummins.

Alberto Gonzales and others at the Justice Department have been desperately claiming for months that they’d never intended to circumvent the Senate in the confirmation of U.S. attorneys.

But apparently Timothy Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock, didn’t know it was so taboo.

In written response to questions from Congress made public today, Griffin’s predecessor Bud Cummins says that Griffin had been telling a number of people in Arkansas that he would remain as the U.S. attorney there for the remainder of Bush’s term whether he was confirmed by the Senate or not. An obscure provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill, of course, had made just such a thing possible.

Cummins writes of a conversation he had with Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, in late January, the day after Alberto Gonzales had testified to the Senate. Gonzales had said, among other things, that the Justice Department would seek a presidential nomination for the U.S. attorneys in every district. Cummins had called Elston to contest this idea, because “it appeared to [him] that there was no intention to put Tim Griffin through a nomination.” Elston disagreed…

Elston rejected that notion and assured me that every replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. I told him if that was the case, then he had better gag Tim Griffin because Griffin was telling many people, including me, that officials in Washington had assured him he could stay in as USA pursuant to an interim appointment whether he was ever nominated or not. Elston denied knowing anything about anyone’s intention to circumvent Senate confirmation in Griffin’s case. He said that might have been the White House’s plan, but they “never read DOJ into that plan” and DOJ would never go along with it. This indicated to me that my removal had been dictated entirely by the White House. He said Griffin would be confirmed or have to resign. I remember that part of the conversation well because I then said to Elston that it looked to me that if Tim Griffin couldn’t get confirmed and had to then resign, then I would have resigned for nothing, and to that, after a brief pause Elston replied, “yes, that’s right.”

Remember that emails show that Kyle Sampson didn’t want Bud Cummins testifying to Congress because he worried that Cummins would testify that Griffin had been blabbing about the Patriot Act provision.

Griffin took over the post from Cummins in December 2006, though the caging-related whispers continued.  Senator Pryor said that he was concerned with how Griffin was appointed sans confirmation, as it was nothing more than a ploy to avoid having Griffin’s legal and political background thoroughly vetted.  Other blurbs about the incident, especially as it related to the attorney firings, continued to bubble up from time to time thereafter.  However, in May 2007, the wheels really began to come off for Timmy.  First, Monica Goodling, who had worked alongside Griffin at the RNC before taking a position at the Attorney General’s office, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty had not been 100% accurate in his testimony to that same committee.  Goodling stated:

Despite my and others’ best efforts, [Deputy Attorney General, Paul McNulty]’s public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects. As explained in more detail in my written remarks, I believe that the Deputy was not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision, failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of the White House’s interest in selecting Tim Griffin as Interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, inaccurately described the Department’s internal assessment of the Parsky Commission, and failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of allegations that Tim Griffin had been involved in vote “caging” during his work on the President’s 2004 campaign.

[***]

I don’t … I believe that Mr. Griffin doesn’t believe that he, that he did anything wrong there and there, there actually is a very good reason for it, for a very good explanation.

So, in sum, Goodling said that Griffin had possibly been involved in vote caging, that she thought Griffin thought that his actions were legal, and that Dep. A.G. McNulty both knew and misrepresented to the House committee about Griffin’s actions. This led John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to request the aforementioned caging emails from the BBC as part of the Committee’s investigation.

Less than 24 hours after learning of Conyers’s request, Griffin announced that he was resigning as interim U.S. Attorney, noting that going through confirmation would “be like volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad in the middle of a three-ring circus”. Maybe it’s just me, but those sound like the words of someone who knows that some questionable stuff would come out during his confirmation. But I digress.

Anyway, despite ongoing looks into caging as well as who knew what, and when, vis-a-vis Karl Rove and any voter caging plans, little has ultimately been done about the firings. Thus far, Griffin’s quick resignation has managed to save him from the scrutiny he so clearly hoped to avoid. Yet, again, I don’t know how anyone can say that allegations against Griffin and his role in the U.S. Attorney scandal have been “debunked.” Because, as Donald Rumsfeld told us in the run-up to an unnecessary war, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Decision 2010: Tim Griffin and Allegations of Voter Caging [October 2010]

KARKvideo
Who is Tim Griffin?
 [March 2007]

BBC Newsnight Report on GOP Voter Caging [October 2004]