Columns » Max Brantley

An unpalatable week

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It was an appropriate week for the annual Gillett Coon Supper, a hoary political rite full of fake bipartisan bonhomie and bad food.

Coon manages to make wild duck, one of the night's side dishes, look good, particularly if the duck is wrapped in bacon and stuffed with jalapeno. Field dress these "duck bites" and you're left with something palatable (I say as a veteran of Southwest Louisiana duck blinds and the ensuing gumbo of gamey, heavy metal-laden waterfowl.)

The bipartisanship is so insincere that Republicans feigned dismay that Sen. Mark Pryor wished for passage of a farm bill when greeting the farmer-heavy crowd. He made no dig at opponent Tom Cotton, lurking nearby. It was unnecessary; Cotton has distinguished himself as a singular foe of farm legislation broadly supported in Arkansas.

Pryor's cheer for farmers couldn't have been less controversial in this setting. The only thing more welcome would have been an honest politician proclaiming he preferred a Tyson's Buffalo wing to a coon haunch.

The coon supper came amid a backdrop of uncountable social media photos from Arkansas politicians blasting away with shotguns and displaying their duck slaughters — birds soon to add to the archaeological layers of uneaten birds in many an Arkansas deep freeze.

Coon and duck are just about as palatable as the week's political news.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr did say he was going to resign Feb. 1 for illegal expense account and campaign spending. But he hasn't gone yet. And he blamed his predicament on politics. Meaning, I guess, that Arkansas isn't yet sufficiently in control of Republicans to excuse GOP plunderers.

Republicans manipulated the messaging. They managed to sound like good government advocates in saying Gov. Mike Beebe should ignore the law and work with them to avoid an expensive special election to fill Darr's seat this year. Yes, it would be to Democrats' political advantage to have a special election that could be won by their general election candidate John Burkhalter. Leading Republican candidates, as legislators, may not run in a special election. But this only means Republicans opposing the election also have political advantage in mind.

Last Friday, the state Board of Education approved a taxpayer-funded middle school for a white upper class neighborhood in Chenal Valley where parents don't want to go to school with poor black kids in other Little Rock middle schools. Why not approve it? The highest court in the land has made it clear race no longer matters in school enrollment in post-racial America. If schools are separate in terms of race and class and unequal in terms of achievement, well, that's just freedom of choice.

Three days later, a federal judge signed off on an end to the Pulaski County school desegregation case. In four years, a 1989 agreement that caused the state to spend a cumulative $1 billion will be officially over. The state had to pay for encouraging white flight school to the Pulaski County Special School District that surrounds Little Rock and other segregative actions.

The lawsuit didn't end racial disparity in test scores nor did it end white flight. North Little Rock is now majority black and Pulaski County has grown ever blacker and smaller as whites have fled to more distant suburbs. And how's this for irony? The much-lauded "historic" settlement doesn't really end the case. Pulaski County and eternal civil rights champion John Walker will continue to wrangle over the county's continuing effort, after 24 years, to end disparities in disciplining of black children and equality of school facilities. PS: The state will spend another quarter-billion before it's done.

Pass the coon.

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