by Max Brantley
Another day and the Arkansas Blog is back in business after an extended crash last night. Sorry. Batting cleanup this morning:
* CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS/LAWSUITS: I reported earlier the defeat last night after a protracted evening committee meeting of SJR 5, the business lobby's version of tort reform. It was a bitter defeat for big business and their ire was focused on Sen. Bryan King's defection to the opposition camp. What brought King on board the trial lawyer side of the fight? Hard to believe it was simply a trial lawyer pitch that the common injured man needs entry to the courthouse. Ordinary folks haven't been high on the dominant Republican agenda this session. UPDATE: I'm told King was motivated in large measure by a personal experience with a bad medical outcome for someone he knew. He is said to favor strong tort reform measures, but insisted on some fairness, as opposed to a bill drawn to make it difficult if not impossible to make claims in cases similar to the one with which he was familiar.
* CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT/KILLING THE REFERENDUM: The same committee last night approved SJR 16 to make it harder to qualify ballot initiatives. Canvassing committees would have to have 90 percent of the necessary legal signatures to qualify for an extension of signature-gathering. The gas drilling lobby, led by the Stephens financial empire, and the casino owners at Oaklawn and Southland, led the push for this amendment. Both had to fight ballot measures in 2012 and both were vexed by extended qualification periods after early petitions that qualified for extended consideration were full of invalid signatures. The same lobby groups are also pushing legislative means to strangle the petition process. Noted: lobbyist Julie Mullenix spoke on behalf of her big money clients on this issue. She's also been influential behind the scenes in watering down the legislative pay raise/term limit repeal/junket protection amendment that also is heading to the ballot. It includes as a sop a few minor ethics measures, mainly a ban on corporate contributions to individual political campaigns, though corporations could still shovel money into their own PACs and PACs of legislators that could do the same spending as cutouts for the same interests.
* CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS/LEGISLATIVE POWER: As almost an afterthought, the same committee gave quick and almost routine approval to SJR 7, Sen. Jonathan Dismang's little ol' procedural amendment that gives the legislature total control over approval of state executive agency administrative rules. As it stands, the legislature has only review power. Practically speaking, that can often by the same thing as approval power, given the other ways the legislature makes life difficult for — and controls pursestrings of — the various agencies. This consolidates power in a legislature that has already moved in other ways to strip power from the executive and give more to legislative leaders or select constitutional officers, such as the secretary of state, that happen to be Republicans. It's inside baseball, but power play legislative baseball, and Republican wonks were high-fiving the measure last night. The use of an amendment as one of three for the ballot in 2014 DOES mean that the slot can't be used for something even more odious.
* CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS/THE BIG PICTURE: The night's action brings us to the full complement of three amendments allowed to be sent to voters — counting an earlier positive vote on a special interest-watered down "ethics" amendment that would open the door to increased legislative pay and erosion of term limits, plus constitutionally protect legislative junkets. But the full House and Senate must yet vote and jockeying often continues to the very end.
* SUPPORT FOR PLANNED PARENTHOOD: I mentioned a poll that showed favorable feelings toward Planned Parenthood and opposition to legislative moves to punish it by taking away money for sex education programs. That poll was commissioned by Planned Parenthood, information I got after the crash. I still find the results of the automated polling credible. It's in keeping with national numberss.
* MARK DARR NO SENATE CANDIDATE: Lt. Gov. Mark Darr indicated yesterday he probably wouldn't run for U.S. Senate in 2014. Maybe Congress or again for his current office. I think U.S. Rep. Steve Womack's refusal so far to rule out a Senate race may have been a strategic move to keep Darr out of that Senate race. I still think Womack runs for re-election and that U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton is looking more and more like the consensus choice to run against Sen. Mark Pryor. That's the best Pryor could hope for. The question of the day: Could we hope for a primary match between Darr and Sen. jason "Vaginal Probe' Rapert for lieutenant governor? We can dream, can't we? UPDATE: I forgot. Of course Darr can run for Congress from the 4th when Cotton runs for Senate. Residency doesn't matter. Maybe that could create a dream matchup of Darr v. Nate Bell.