by Max Brantley
A morning report as Arkansas watches the stormy skies:
* THE STATE TREASURER WATCH: Can Martha Shoffner really return to work today as state treasurer, overseeing billions in state investments, after admitting to FBI agents that she wrongfully accepted a pie stuffed with a cash kickback from a securities salesman she inordinately favored with state business?
Her first appointment today will be with her attorney, Chuck Banks, who's already indicated he thinks her best choice would be to resign, but the decision is hers. Facts of the case indicate she's broke, which might make her want to hang onto her $53,000-a-year job. She presumably has some Social Security to fall back on. She's accumulated some state pension credits, too. (I've looked but can't immediately find if my memory was correct about legislation being introduced this year to require forfeiture of retirement benefits by public officials convicted of crimes.)
Meanwhile, multiple sources of extremely high credibility assure me speculation on the FBI's confidential informant has not been off base.
It's worth highlighting what federal officials said yesterday. Until Saturday, when the wired informant delivered a hot money pie to Shoffner at her Newport home, they didn't have a case against the treasurer. Some overheated Republican commentators confuse suspicion with evidence. Evidence and probable cause to believe crimes have been committed are customarily necessary to undertake criminal investigations, not partisan innuendo. In this case, that arrived when the securities salesman began talking to federal investigators, long before the legislature got involved. Even then, it took months before they could get the goods on the treasurer.
Ready as I am to presume Shoffner's guilty, it's worth remembering that we have a Constitution. For example, if Shoffner doesn't quit, agitation will grow quickly for a special session to impeach her, an expensive process and also one that would require some period of time to stage, with lots of procedural problems. If she really is planning a criminal defense, she might argue that it would harm her defense by being forced to defend essentially the same charges in a trial for removal. She could do everyone a favor by going quietly, of course.
PS: I am reminded that there's an easier course provided in the Arkansas Constitution. The governor may remove the treasurer by "address," requiring only a two-thirds vote of both houses. That could be quick work. Some, but probably only a few, might be reluctant to essentially declare a guilty verdict without trial for someone protesting their innocence. But it certainly could be done. Again, the better course is for Shoffner to hang it up.
* ARKANSAS: IT COULD BE WORSE: We had a lamentable legislative session if you have a progressive, or even a centrist outlook. But, yes, it could be worse. Get a load of what a Virginia senator and candidate for attorney general wants to do:
If a woman in Virginia has a miscarriage without a doctor present, they must report it within 24 hours to the police or risk going to jail for a full year. At least, that’s what would have happened if a bill introduced by Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) had become law
* THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS BOARD AND HOSPITAL COMBINATIONS: The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meets tomorrow. The agenda includes an "information" item about a clinical integration agreement. That's not an action item on the discussion of UAMS and St. Vincent merging their operations. The agenda also includes a new affiliation agreement between UAMS and Arkansas Children's Hospital. UAMS pediatric faculty staffs Children's. They've had an agreement since 1982 that has been amended several times. It's not clear what drives the latest amendment, though I note that the divesting of power by the UA Board to the UAMS chancellor on overseeing the arrangement and a joint governing board made up equally of UAMS and Children's representatives is similar to what's been discussed for UAMS-St. Vincent. The Children's deal refers to autonomy of decisions in the respective institutions and the like.
* NICE WORK BY THE LEGISLATURE: You see the report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the lawsuit filed over Blytheville's decision to exempt itself from the new school choice law, presumably to prevent segregative transfers from a district with a history of court action over segregation? The go-to lawyer for the Billionaire Boys Club and their pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-conventional public school agenda, Jess Askew, is leading the legal charge naturally. It's an opportunity to frontally combat the theory that all of Arkansas, with its well-documented past of support for segregation, has a duty not to contribute to resegregation and thus can take racial outcomes into account in allowing school choice. But the real wrinkle is a technicality to beat all technicalities. Askew is arguing that the law is without exception, at least this year, because the deadline to ask for an exception for the next school year, as written in the law, occurred April 1 before the law was signed. The state Education Department imposed a new deadline so districts could have a meaningful opportunity to opt out, but the lawsuit argues that's not legal. Nice trick, Johnny Key. Maybe if they have that special session to impeach Shoffner, they could clean up that bad piece of legislative drafting. Unless it was intentional.