by Max Brantley
They're a rough bunch, those Republicans.
Chase Dugger, the state Republican Party executive director, has apparently (according to a good source) covered up state agencies with FOI requests related to phone records, email and other employment data on two people — both state employees — who contribute to the Blue Hog Report. The authors, Matt Campbell and Jeff Woodmansee, work in the criminal coordinator's office of the state Supreme Court and the Pulaski Law Library at UALR, respectively.
Surely you read the Blue Hog Report. The name says it all — partisan Arkansas Democratic politics. But that's not what has Republicans upset. It's the Blue Hog reporting. They blew the whistle this week on Federal Election Commission problems for Doug Matayo, the former Republican legislator and congressional candidate who now is Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin's chief of staff. They've exposed Mark Martin's slipshod car expense practices. They've caused upset for Republican and Democratic legislators alike with writing about blatantly unconstitutional expense reimbursement practices (though some of the Republicans REALLY looked stupid in this.)
OK, so you know the drill. Don't get mad get even. Of course, it's better — looks less like a vendetta — if you have evidence to go on. It's not a given that, just because Campbell and Woodmansee are state employees, that they do political activities on state time. But Republicans expect others to be as corrupt as they are. See Mark Martin's staff, where employees did lots of workday political tweeting, for example, until I called them on it.
But ... it's absolutely legal for the Republicans to see whether state employees are confining their political activities to their private hours. I think — and hope — Campbell and Woodmansee are smart enough to have done that. We'll see in due course. If not, let the chips fall.
It is also absolutely legal for Campbell and Woodmansee to engage in political speech in their off-hours. And, unlike, say, Mark Martin's chief spokesperson, Alice Stewart, they have no duties, even remote, in oversight of elections or other partisan activities where their political activities after hours might appear in conflict with their writing briefs on criminal law or shelving law books.
But the state Supreme Court is sensitive. The justices undoubtedly won't be happy when the Democrat-Gazette's story about the Republican investigation hits print. They depend on the legislature for funding and pay raises, after all. They'd just as soon an employee not be stirring political news. A justice wouldn't even have to say that aloud for an employee to be sensitive to this.
I'm afraid, even with clean hands, the Blue Hog Report will go dark. I hope not. Because I think that's what the Republicans really want — to stifle critics by intimidation and implied threat of retaliation against the people they work for. The ghost of Tricky lives.
UPDATE: Even as I wrote this, I'm afraid my fears came true. Blue Hog Report seems to have gone dark. I have a note of inquiry out, but my source indicates it's no technical glitch. Too bad. And it's a mistake of undue deference to employers if hands are clean, which evidence so far indicates they are.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: The Republican Party is apparently not only going after work e-mail and work product, but personal e-mail and private accounts. The law doesn't allow that, if Supreme Court precedent means anything. But you know the law and Republicans.
UPDATE II: Count on it. A classic Republican smear campaign is coming. Because no evidence was produced that Campbell did wrong, THAT will be proof that Campbell did wrong. He's hiding the goods in his personal account, see. These are sleazy folks. But just try to get THEIR personal accounts.
PS — The Supreme Court won't produce Campbell's office e-mail because it amounts to judicial working papers, exempt from the FOI. In other words, it's business, not partisan activity.