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Insiders Sept 9, 2004

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Democratic dustup The worst-kept secret among Democratic party insiders finally found its way into the newspaper last week, when Jason Willett confirmed his intentions to challenge Ron Oliver for the chairmanship of the state party. The vote will come at the state committee meeting in January. Willett is the district director for U.S. Rep. Marion Berry. For an idea of his support, take a look at the sponsors of a party that Willett organized at the Legacy Hotel for the first night of the Democratic state convention in August. (Technically the event was a general reception for the arriving delegates, but everyone knew that Willett was in charge, and most people tied it to his bid for the chairmanship). Berry, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, Attorney General Mike Beebe and Secretary of State Charlie Daniels answered Willett's call for event sponsorship. Also listed as hosts were the Democratic committees from Benton, Craighead and Mississippi counties. Those personalities and areas are associated with a more conservative brand of Democratic politics. Willett will be under pressure not to appear to be dividing the party in the midst of an important election season, so he will campaign subtly until after Nov. 2. Wright won't resign Judge Susan Webber Wright's term as chief judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas federal courts will end in July, and she'll serve it to the end, which means that the district's newest judge, Leon Holmes, will succeed her as chief judge. Holmes was sworn in as judge last month. There had been speculation around the federal courthouse that Wright, who will continue on the bench after she ceases being the chief judge, might resign the chief judgeship early so that one or more of her colleagues who would otherwise be ineligible for the post could serve. This is something that chief judges sometimes do, but not always. The chief judgeship is considered something of an honor. The chief performs additional administrative duties, and in return he or she is given an extra law clerk and a 15 percent reduction in caseload. After turning 65, a judge is ineligible to be named chief judge. Both Judge William R. Wilson Jr. and Judge James M. Moody will turn 65 within the next few months. Judge George Howard Jr. is already over 65. That means only Holmes, 53, will be eligible for the chief judgeship in July. Like Wright, Holmes is a Republican appointee to the bench. Wilson and Moody are Democratic appointees. A spokesman for Wright said partisanship had nothing to do with her decision to serve a full term. What liberal media? The Republicans always claim public television is part and parcel of the vast liberal media. Don't tell that to Democrats in Arkansas. The Insider fielded a number of complaints about the fact that AETN cut off News Hour coverage of the Democratic National Convention at 10 p.m., while letting the Republican coverage run to its conclusion each night. It was an honest mistake, says AETN's programming director, Kathy Atkinson, who apologized profusely. The first two nights of the DNC, July 26 and 27, AETN switched to other programs by computerized instruction at 10 p.m. That deprived viewers of 18 minutes of coverage each night, including remarks from the night's top speakers. Viewers complained about the decisions the first night, but an effort to override the computer didn't get fixed until the third night. AETN coverage lasted until 10:14 and 10:22 on the final nights. AETN gave the Republicans full coverage all four nights, until 10:43, 10:12, 10:43 and 10:37 p.m. In all, public TV nationwide gave the GOP about an hour more coverage than the Democrats got, an hour-and-a-half more in Arkansas. Anti-smoking contributors At least a couple of drug companies that make smoking-cessation products contributed to Gov. Mike Huckabee's last gubernatorial campaign. Huckabee has recommended that the Arkansas Medicaid program provide smoking-cessation products (patches and gums) to clients who request them. The program will begin Oct. 1 if the federal government approves. GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures Nicoderm, a patch, and Nicorette, a gum, gave $1,000 to Huckabee's campaign. Novartis, which manufactures Nicotinell, a patch, and other smoking-cessation products, also contributed $1,000. A spokesman for Medicaid said that generic equivalents of the brand-name smoking-cessation products were available, and that in most cases, physicians would prescribe the generic form for Medicaid patients. The generic and the brand-name product may be made by the same company. Delay of game We told you last week about the formation of the Little Rock Touchdown Club, which will meet weekly during the football season to talk about pigskin topics. We'd said the first meeting was set for Sept. 7 and it was, but the logistics couldn't be worked out. The startup was delayed until Monday, Sept. 13 at 11:45 a.m. at the Little Rock Hilton. All comers are invited. The only requirement is to buy lunch. We predict Texas will be discussed. Sorry for any inconvenience caused by the premature declaration.

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