by Max Brantley
* EL DORADO IS OK: I love El Dorado and not just because my gifts for speaking to the Rotary Club included a box of Spudnuts, (shown) probably the state's best doughnuts, and a box full of incredible looking stuff from the Elm Street Bakery, including a King Cake for tomorrow. Thanks to Sherrel Johnson and John Talpas.
The many Republicans in the crowd politely endured my usual liberal rant.
El Dorado School Superintendent Bob Watson gave me a tour of the new $43 million high school after lunch and it's a stunner. Lots of sunlight, broad hallways, thoughtful arrangement of space and gorgeous pine beams (cheaper than structural steel and true to the surrounding piney woods, Watson told me) distinguish all the major venues — basketball arena, theater, central atrium and lunchroom.
Here's the greatest thing about the school. Perhaps it's becoming commonplace, but it was unheard of in my own schools and those I'm familiar with. The library, theater, arena and bandroom, among others, can be locked off from the rest of the building. This means many of them — the library nightly — are open for use after normal hours. Great idea. As I told Rotary, they have a high school worthy of the state championship football team.
* A DAY OF LEGISLATIVE REST: I checked in briefly by phone a couple of times and saw Republican House Minority Leader John Burris used the holiday to good effect by providing hungry news reporters with something to cover. He explained how his arbitrary $21 million budget cut — including an arbitrary 3 percent cut for agencies Republicans don't like — won't hurt a fly. There'll be no lost jobs, and no lost services, he said. The Department of Human Services has already provided a report that suggests otherwise, but in a brief Twitter colloquy with me Burris dispensed with that detailed report by saying, "They're wrong." Noted: Among the cuts Burris has identified as worthwhile are the legislature's dues payments to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a non-partisan organization that provides study and research. Republicans prefer the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, which gins out mostly cookie-cutter corporate legislation much favored by Republicans. No mention of ITS dues. Burris response to my question on that point: "Dues can be paid for by member if desired, as is done with ALEC now." Funding of trips for each is a separate matter, he said. A Republican House majority will provide whatever's necessary to go to ALEC, though ALEC's corporate funding makes it possible for them to come here, which they have done, repeatedly. Pretty tricky stuff in Burris' bag, I must admit. If his minority blockade works, he'll force the governor to accept a 3 percent budget cut on a group of state agencies, but the governor will have to choose the specific cuts. Beebe will get the blame for harm to services; Republicans will get credit for budget cutting. In other words, Burris doesn't care what Beebe cuts, so long as SOMETHING is cut. That's the very definition of arbitrary, political sports fans.
* FOURTH DISTRICT: Nobody in El Dorado had insight into the race for 4th District Congress, or much outward enthusiasm for anyone so far firmly in the race. I still haven't heard back from Gene Jeffress on whether he'll follow through with his threat to run as a Democrat, though the party seems to be counting on it. D.C. Morrison had a sign up at a convenience store on Highway 167, so somebody claiming, without much believability, to be a Democrat apparently will be on the ballot. He's one candidate against whom I could see a vote for Mike Ross, were he running again.