by Max Brantley
It's open. Final thoughts:Please note an update on my earlier post about Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce control of Little Rock government. You already know about their annual $200,000 taxpayer handout. I mentioned this morning that one seat on the seven-member Central Arkansas Technology Park Authority will be owned by the chamber. What I didn't know then is that — even before the city board voted Monday night to call on election on a $22 million handout to this unelected, autonomous board — the members had been appointed.
The chamber fix is in, my friends. And Stodola wonders why I think the chamber has so much influence over City Hall.
Former Chamber president Ed Drilling, phone company exec., holds one of UAMS' two seats on the board. The head of UAMS' bioventures outfit holds the other spot. From UALR, there's retiring dean Mary Good and former state Sen. Bob Johnson, enemy of clean water in Lake Maumelle and king of special interest pork barreling. For the city of Little Rock, there's chamber bigwig Dickson Flake, who was used by the chamber to write the report that served as the blueprint for this publicly financed project. There's also C.J. Duvall, the minority board member, a wireless telephone executive. And finally, for the chamber's seat, there's none other than the mayor's Parisian dining partner on the pricey Little Rock National Airport junket, Jay Chesshir, chamber CEO and enemy of public accountability on chamber spending. This authority is, in short, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. It will be handed the passbook to $22 million dollars, voters willing, in September. It will be spent in accordance with chamber wishes. Average people — working class stiffs — need not bother to attend or complain. They will not be heard. The city and enablers at UAMS and UALR should be ashamed at putting together a board with such an absence of diversity of outlook, not to mention five white guys, one woman and one black man.
* GHOST OF TIM GRIFFIN: The Republican Party is busily challenging absentee ballots cast in Crittenden County in the special House District 54 election, where Democrat Hudson Hallum faces the GOP's John Geelan and former Democrat D'James Rogers, running as an independent. The first two dozen challenges were claims that voters were ineligible, though no reasons were offered for the claims. UPDATE: GOP now says it has questions about whether some voters live in proper precincts to vote and it is also challenging validity of some signatures. Republicans love to find ways to block ballots of likely Democratic voters, which the Democratic Party has noted in charging voter intimidation a la Florida "vote caging." Tensions are running high and the count seems likely to last well into the night. The Democratic candidate is apparently a doofus. The Republican candidate is a terrible Tea Partyer. The independent is a Democratic minority spoiler. Voting procedures in Crittenden are sloppy. Racial politics there are ugly. The Republicans are right to demand vigilance, but their complaints haven't yet produced evidence equal to their decibel level. Hustling absentee votes is, however problematic in appearance, not illegal on its face. Safe prediction: Whatever happens tonight won't be the end of it. UPDATE II: Democrat Hudson Hallum won the election handily, both in election-day counts and a huge absentee margin. More will — and should — be heard about his tardy campaign finance report and absentee voting procedures.