by Max Brantley
Since Shane Broadway removed himself from consideration last week as a candidate for permanent director of the state Higher Education Department, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had an easy opening to finally issue his official opinion on whether Broadway could be appointed to the job. Republican critics argued that Broadway didn't have the higher education experience required by statute and that the department's coordinating board was required to perform a search first.
Here's McDaniel's opinion. It is not his place to be a fact-finder and apply those facts to law, he said. In other words, it's not for him to say whether a specific person is or is not qualified for a certain state job. But he added:
However, any person who fails to possess the statutory qualifications described above would be ineligible to serve as director regardless of other factors, including the preference of the Board members or university presidents. If the leaders of the State's higher education institutions feel that the statutory qualifications are no longer appropriate, then they are free to seek legislative changes. Short of that, no exceptions to the current framework reveal themselves.
In other words, McDaniel seems to signal that Broadway wasn't qualified — indeed, he wasn't by a straight reading of the statute — but he said it at a time when that no longer will harm Broadway. Incidentally, McDaniel thumbed his nose at all the college leaders in the state who signed a letter supporting Broadway for the job. Republican State Rep. Jane English, one of those who requested the opinion, seemed pleased:
"I thank Attorney General McDaniel for responding to the request made by Rep. Allen Kerr and myself. I further thank him for providing clarity to important statutory questions as the ADHE Coordinating Board moves forward in its search for a permanent director."
Rep. Allen Kerr, another Republican opinion requestor, adds:
Our request was not about whether Shane Broadway was able to do the job, but whether the law passed by the General Assembly was being followed by the executive branch. The opinion gave clear guidance as to the experience needed by a director of ADHE and that the ADHE board is legally required to conduct a search. I thank the Attorney General for it.
Broadway withdrew last week citing his wife's health. He said he'd be happy to stay as interim director as long as required. The interim director isn't covered by the statute.
UPDATE: Ziiiiiiinnngg. Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample says Republicans must prefer "a pricey national search at taxpayer expense." They would say, no, they simply want the law followed in that it specifies the director must have an advanced degree and experience on a college campus. But let's also agree to the obvious: this job is essentially political, Broadway knows his way around college campuses, the Republicans wanted to score some points at Beebe's expense. But finally — the law, however lame, is the law. Beebe thought he could finesse it. He couldn't.