Quote of the Week
"I flew out of bed, loaded my car and covered that hate speech as fast as I could. ... I'm aware of legal ramifications and will cross that bridge if it comes to it."
— Fayetteville artist Olivia Trimble, after painting "Love always wins" over a piece of racist graffiti that appeared on an abandoned building after the election (see Reporter, page 14). Trimble has vowed to do the same with any other racist tags she finds in Washington County.
Arkansas voted for Donald Trump by an overwhelming 26-point margin, which boosted Republican candidates down the ballot and spelled further disaster for the Democratic Party in the state. In the Arkansas House of Representatives, 10 Democratic seats flipped to the GOP, meaning 26 out of 100 members will be Dems in the 2017 legislative session. One of those losses came about after the election, when nominal Democrat Rep. Jeff Wardlaw of Hermitage jumped ship to the Republican Party. House Democrats did, however, eke out an important win on Thursday by nailing down 11 out of the 20 seats on the Revenue and Taxation committee, which means Republican tax cuts could face a potential roadblock.
In the state Senate, Democrats now hold just 9 out of 35 seats after losing two rural districts in Tuesday's bloodbath. Both Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress were easily thrashed by Republican incumbents. And, just eight out of the state's 75 counties (Pulaski among them) supported Hillary Clinton over Trump. It's lonely here in the wilderness.
At least there's weed
Almost the only bright spot in Arkansas's election results was the passage of Issue 6, the constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, by a comfortable 53-47 margin. Pot is on the march around the nation: Florida and North Dakota also passed medical marijuana measures, and several states legalized it entirely.
The big question now is implementation (see more on page 15). Governor Hutchinson said the state's regulatory agencies will move to comply with the will of the voters — but the social conservatives at the Family Council are vowing to fight implementation "tooth and nail," including with legislation. Expect a lobbying fight, with the big money on the side of weed: The advertising campaign for the amendment was backed by investors smelling a business opportunity.
Razorbacks will stand
The Razorback women's basketball team told the University of Arkansas's student newspaper the players will all stand during the playing of the national anthem for the rest of the season. An angry public outcry — including some truly shameful tantrums from legislators threatening the UA's funding — followed the decision of six young women to kneel during the national anthem before an exhibition game to protest racial injustice and police shootings of African Americans. UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz has announced a new community program, "Project Unify," intended to provide a platform for discussing such issues.
The new state budget, by the numbers
The world changed Tuesday night, but there's still a government to run. On Wednesday, Governor Hutchinson presented the legislature with his proposed budget for the next two years. Among the most significant developments:
$50 million -The governor's proposed tax cut, to go into effect in 2019. Some conservative legislators want even bigger cuts. The state cut $100 million in taxes during the last legislative session.
$27 million - A proposed increase in next year's budget for the Division of Children and Family Services, which has seen an unprecedented surge in foster care numbers. The DCFS budget would rise by another $12 million the following year.
$75 million - The general revenue the state is expected to chip in next year for Arkansas Works, the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion program that provides health insurance for low-income people. After Trump's victory, the future of the entire program is now in doubt.
$0 - The amount set aside for the General Improvement Fund, which legislators have long used for local pork barrel projects. The governor said the state has higher priorities; he's right.