, a former Benton County circuit judge making an uphill challenge of entrenched Republican incumbent Sen. Cecile Bledsoe
, has released a tough assessment — what he calls a "culture of corruption" — of the conflicts of interest in Bledsoe and her family's state employment. It's a good illustration of why recent talk of Senate ethics reform rings hollow.
Thanks to a quirk in the term limits law, Bledsoe is running this year for a term that will give her 20 years in the Senate. It's a powerful position. As Comstock notes
State law prohibits the hiring of spouses of state officials (such as Sen. Bledsoe) without a waiver from another governmental body. Bledsoe's husband James was hired out of retirement for an unadvertised job as a Health Department official. He's now paid more than $180,000 a year. Cecile Bledsoe voted on the Legislative Council approval of the hire, according to records Comstock obtained.
Comstock says Bledsoe has filed no notice with any agency of a potential conflict of interest in dealing with matters that affect the Health Department, though she is chair of the Senate Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. What's more, Bledsoe's son, Greg,
is the state surgeon general and has been a member of the state Board of Health. He makes more than $200,000 as a state contractor as surgeon general while otherwise working in private practice.
Among other records dug up by Comstock is James Bledsoe's financial disclosure filing that answers "no" to the question of whether he is a spouse of a constitutional officer. Comstock comments:
In apparent disregard of the legislative public policy that seeks to avoid nepotism, there is no written record discovered through Freedom of Information Requests which would explain or offer any rationale for why the public good is being served by not allowing other doctors in the State to even apply for the lucrative position filled by Dr. James Bledsoe.
If the current Senate has no objections to such rank nepotism — cumulative actions that are putting almost $500,000 in pay and benefits in the pockets of the Bledsoe family, who happen to be tightly connected to the Northwest Arkansas Hutchinson organization — it's hard to have much faith in recent pronouncements of a new day in ethics by the lakes of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's nephew, Sen. Jim Hendren.
Senator Bledsoe did not respond to my e-mail request for comment. Check the link to Comstock's release. It's heavily footnoted.
Comstock promises more on the culture of corruption in the days ahead. Sadly, he lives in an area where most of the Republicans including Bledsoe, participated in the unconstitutional diversion of public tax dollars to benefit a "Christ
ian" college outside Springdale. And not one of them has apologized or sought to reclaim the state's money, tens of thousands of which went to kickbacks to two legislators now convicted of felonies.