Columns » John Brummett

Halter’s heavily illustrated report

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State government won't go broke from the $9,000 or so the office of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter expended to produce and mail about 18,000 copies of a full-color promotional newsletter titled “The Capitol Watch.”

And Halter is hardly the first politician to avail himself of the loose change in a taxpayer-bestowed budget to do something under the guise of public information that, to the rather obvious contrary, is purely personally promotional.

But he may be among the first to plaster 12 pictures of himself over six pages. That's two to a page. And these are small pages.

Here is Bill talking to children. Here he's talking to college students.

Here he's talking on the radio. Here he's announcing all the lottery petitions. Here he's speaking at the lottery bill signing. Here he's delivering a Wal-Mart check to the Boys and Girls Club. Here he is with his wife and two young daughters.

Oh, and here is a generic mug shot of him to illustrate the little item that he has been elected chairman of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association — not the full association, just the Democratic part.

The photo was vital. Otherwise we might have overlooked the 11 other photographs of him. We might not have had the foggiest idea what he looked like.

Halter is surely among the first public servants to make a report of his office's ongoing responsibilities to the taxpayers although his office doesn't actually have any ongoing responsibilities.

You can hardly fill a vital newsletter with “how I spent my winter presiding over the state Senate though I'm not a voting member” and “let me tell you about the several days Mike Beebe was out of state and I got to act like the governor though, of course, I wouldn't dare actually do anything while he was gone.”

Yes, Halter has done the lottery. Good for him. No — great for him. He has a place in the history books. But that's a personally adopted policy initiative, not a taxpayer-mandated chore of his altogether pointless public office.

Anyway, there's also this privately funded Web site — hopeforarkansas.org — that plasters yet another picture of him and reports on the lottery and all its essential particulars.

You didn't know Halter was the champion of the lottery? This must be the first time you've ever read a newspaper. I appreciate your reading this space on your maiden foray and I am flattered that you got all the way down this far.

Here's the point, for goodness sakes: Would a little discretion be too much to ask? A little modesty? A little restraint?

Oh how I long at times such as these for this kind of judgment:  “You know, let's not put out a newsletter. It's going to look like a personal ego trip and like make-work for staff, and, anyway, people know I did the lottery. I know the money is in the budget, but, heck, let's turn it back. Otherwise somebody might think I'm using taxpayer money to tout myself for higher political office, like Blanche Lincoln's. Which I'm not doing. Am I?”

Oh, by the way: Halter's office explains that Secretary of State Charlie Daniels and Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox put out these kinds of newsletters periodically. It stresses that this is Bill's first and maybe only.

Yeah, fine.

But at least Charlie's office has ongoing public responsibilities and at least his newsletter tends to report on those — voting, updates in the Uniform Commercial Code, Christmas decorating, Capitol roof repair. Wilcox reports on tax-delinquent land sales, which is the function that his office is constitutionally charged with performing.

Oh, and this: In these newsletters from these other offices that Halter's staff provided, there are only two pictures of Daniels and three of Wilcox.

As promotional puffery goes, that's pitiful, at least by the modern Arkansas standard established by Bill Halter, who, by the way, is the father of our state lottery. Did you know that?

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