by Max Brantley
Here's an update on my item earlier today about how Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson had directed $5,000 in General Improvement Fund money from the state legislature to a July 4 fireworks show at the Saline County Fairgrounds to be promoted as an event co-sponsored by Hutchinson, the Saline County Tea Party and the Saline County Republican Committee.
I've learned since that Benton Alderman Kerry Murphy, secretary of the Saline Republican Committee, has been a driving force in the scheme. He's running for a vacant county judge seat next year and believes a fireworks promotion that he can take credit for is a sure vote-getter.
This is looking more and more like an illegal exaction of public money for partisan purposes. And new questions are raised, too, about the honesty and accuracy of the grant application under which the $5,000 in public money was received. Did Gary Webb at the Fairgrounds apply for it? He told me yesterday somebody else arranged it and directed me to Murphy. Who did the dirty work, in addition to Jeremy Hutchinson?
Here's the e-mail that went with the photograph above to Saline County Republlicans:
From: Saline County GOP
Date: June 29, 2013, 8:00:08 PM CDT
To: Saline County GOP
Subject: July 4th Fireworks - I need help with putting out Flyers this week and parking cars on July 4th
Hi everyone this is the fireworks flyer to post on facebook and send to all your friends. We will be shooting the fireworks on July 4th starting at 9pm. They will be shot from the Saline County Fairgrounds. The radio station KEWI 690am will play patriotic music from 8:30pm to 9:15pm. To get a good parking spot on the fairgrounds you need to be there by 8:30pm. We have $8,700 to shoot off and it should be a great show.
I need help handing out the flyers around town inviting people to come. Tammy Schmidt will have the flyers on Monday. You can call her at 501-515-088 and she will give you some flyers.
I also need to get help parking cars on July 4th at the Fairgrounds. Show up around 7:30pm and stay till 9:30pm. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help park cars.
Saline County Republican Committee
Still waiting to hear from the Tea Party about this waste of GIF money, which could have gone to needed work at the Fairgrounds itself, the local historical museum and other places that typically cry out for state help.
I won't hold my breath for a call from Hutchinson. He knows my questions are potentially loaded with fireworks, but not about July 4. How much money has he made in legal fees working with John Goodson, the prime driver behind efforts to stifle the tort reform amendment with a competing measure Hutchinson introduced? How much money has he made from a furniture dealer objecting to sales practices of used matttress retailers, a practice that led to legislation Hutchinson introduced? How much money has he made from Tennessee doctors who planned to open a medical clinic in West Memphis once Hutchinson passed legislation that eased a limit on ownership of Arkansas medical clinics by people not licensed in Arkansas?
UPDATE: Interesting how Benton Courier phrased its cheerleading article on the event:
Alderman Kerry Murphy independently raised donations to fund a Fourth of July light show at the Saline County Fairgrounds.
"I asked the Saline County Fair Board to allow us to do this and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson helped us get a grant from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District to apply toward the cost," Murphy said.
Independently if you mean the taxpayers of Arkansas paying the majority of the cost under coercion from a state legislator.
ALSO: Hutchinson has been quoted in local press about the economic stimulus of this spending on a fireworks show. Government spending stimulates the economy? Didn't the Tea Party have some opinions on that at the federal level?
PS — The money has been delivered to the Saline County Fairgrounds, according to Rodney Larsen, director of the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. It's the first grant completed based on 2013 General Improvement Fund money. That money has not yet even been received by CAPDD. Larsen said he'd borrowed the money from an agency operating account to make the payment and would replenish the account when the GIF money arrived.