Quote of the Week:
"Everyone get out of pulse and keep running"
— A message posted to the Facebook page of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday morning soon after a 29-year-old man named Omar Mateen began shooting into the crowd and taking hostages. By the time police stormed the building and killed Mateen, 49 people were dead and over 50 wounded, most of them members of the city's Latino LGBT community. Mateen, a U.S. citizen, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State when he spoke by phone to law enforcement officials during the standoff, but there's no evidence he was ever in contact with the terrorist group itself. Mateen legally purchased the AR-15 rifle he used to carry out the massacre.
For those whose political brand thrives on fear and division, the mass killing in Orlando represents an opportunity. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wasted no time in renewing his call for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States and appeared to accuse President Obama of being complicit in terrorist acts such as the one committed by Omar Mateen. "Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind," Trump suggested ominously during an interview with Fox News on Monday. "There's something else going on." Such comments raise the question once again of whether Arkansas Republican leaders such as Gov. Hutchinson will stand behind their party's man no matter what he says. Last week, after Trump impugned the impartiality of a federal judge because he is of Mexican descent, Hutchinson said "trying to disqualify a judge because of the judge's ethnic heritage is antithetical to everything that is true and good about America," but that he would nonetheless "support the nominee of the Republican Party." How far down the rabbit hole will pragmatic conservatives like Asa let themselves be led?
Change coming to DHS
Cindy Gillespie, the new director at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, announced last week that she will centralize many of the vast agency's business functions — such as finances, procurement and information technology — in a handful of new "chiefs" who will report directly to her. DHS is composed of a thicket of subdivisions with over 7,000 statewide employees, a sprawling mandate (the agency handles everything from foster care to Medicaid) and a record pockmarked with scandal. Centralizing control of business functions under the director could result in greater efficiency and accountability, two things DHS sorely needs. Or, it could be a pointless reshuffling of bureaucracy; only time will tell. Gillespie next turns her attention to a review of the agency's programs and personnel.
Tackling teen tobacco
The Helena-West Helena City Council last week passed an ordinance to increase the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21; it takes effect Sept. 1. Nationwide, 134 other cities — and two states, Hawaii and California — have passed such laws, but the ordinance will be the first of its kind in Arkansas. It was forwarded by Keisha Grigsby, the program coordinator for an anti-smoking advocacy group based in Helena-West Helena, who noted that public health statistics show the average life expectancy in Arkansas Delta towns is almost 10 years lower than it is in Northwest Arkansas.
Big bucks to zoo
The Little Rock Zoo has received the largest donation in its 90-year history: a trust worth almost $3 million established by Jayne Granoff Jackson, an animal and zoo lover who died in December. The trust establishes the Jayne and Fletcher Jackson Foundation to benefit the nonprofit Zoological Foundation, which underwrites various displays at the zoo. An estate sale to be held at Jackson's home at 1 St. Charles Court on June 16-18 will also benefit the zoo. Jackson cared for eight Yorkshire terriers and two dozen birds until her death, according to the Arkansas Zoological Foundation.
JJ no more
The Arkansas Democratic Party has landed former President Bill Clinton to speak at the party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, the last to be named for the former presidents because of objections to their legacies (including slave-owning and the Indian Removal Act). Many other state Democratic Party offices across the country have made similar moves. This year's event — to be held Friday, July 15, at Verizon Arena — is billed only as the "35th Annual JJ Dinner." Tickets range from $200 to $1,500.