Columns » Max Brantley

Election won't change key issues

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We went to press this week before the polls closed.

But I can safely predict that a change in the partisan balance in the Arkansas legislature, if Republicans triumph, won't have a dramatic effect on some of the most important issues of the day.

For example: Republicans in Arkansas have the votes, thanks to the Arkansas Constitution's requirement of a 75 percent vote on most financial measures, to block the expansion of Medicaid whether they are in the majority or not. They began flexing that rump veto tentatively last year. Expect more of this as their numbers grow.

Republicans, expecting to kill Medicaid expansion with or without a majority, have already begun to alibi by suggesting — inaccurately — that the state could choose to take just a little bit of Medicaid expansion, not all of it. The federal government has said it's an all-or-nothing proposition. Republicans also want poor people to pay tribute for new Medicaid services, they want drug testing and they want rigorous fraud investigations of poor people, though probably not of the doctors, hospitals and drug companies that are responsible for most Medicaid fraud.

Also consider so-called education reform. The Billionaire Boys Club, led by Jim Walton, has been slowly purchasing influence in the Arkansas legislature, to the point that it had a bipartisan majority for a loosening of the state charter school law in 2011.

The billionaires now want unfettered charter school expansion. They have a receptive audience in the Arkansas Republican Party, which favors private school vouchers, taxpayer-subsidized home schoolers and any plan that further cripples big city school districts with teacher unions.

A Republican majority would swell the votes for the Walton plan, but the billionaires' lobby is probably sufficiently influential without it. Republicans seem to be even more servile, however.

Sen. Michael Lamoureux, who'll lead the Senate if Republicans have a majority and who'll be part of a charter school majority vote no matter which party is in power, was quoted in the Democrat-Gazette over the weekend as saying charter school supporters don't believe that the current process for considering proposed charter schools is "very fair," but he doesn't know what "the exact solution would be."

I asked him what was unfair about the current system. We have a diverse, diligent state Board of Education. Its membership includes black people, white people, a Latina activist, former legislators and a pillar of the Little Rock charter school movement. It has rigorously reviewed charter school applications and existing charter schools. It has been generally supportive of charters (and tough on failing conventional public schools), but it has rejected some charter expansions and some new applications for cogent reasons. What's not to like? I wish that the Game and Fish Commission, to name one, had such broad viewpoints and dealt so openly and earnestly with competing philosophies.

Lamoureux's response:

"I guess by unfair I mean, we are not getting the desired result."

Wow. That's an honest answer.

Republicans don't want facts, fairness or due diligence. They want their way. Or the way of the fat cats who bankroll them.

I pressed Lamoureux on whether the state Board of Education review was somehow flawed. He responded to my specific question about the required review on finances, track record and the like.

"Yes, those issues should be considered," he wrote. "I think proponents feel the process is not yielding desired results. I do not know all the details."

Who needs details? It's enough to know the Waltons are unhappy with results. Republicans aim to please them. But so, too, do many Democrats. The election won't change that.

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