It was a good year for ...
HEALTH COVERAGE IN ARKANSAS. Early in the year, it looked unlikely that anti-Obamacare Republicans would allow Medicaid expansion to come to Arkansas, but in late February, the feds gave the state the go-ahead for a unique approach, which came to be known as the "private option." The innovative policy — which passed by a bipartisan supermajority in the General Assembly — brought national attention to Arkansas and, more importantly, eventually projects to bring health insurance to more than 200,000 low-income Arkansans (not to mention billions in federal stimulus money). While the rollout of Obamacare was rocky, the implementation of the "private option" in Arkansas has been a major success, with more than 70,000 enrollments to date.
A MASSIVE SETTLEMENT. Parties representing the Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District, Pulaski County Special School District and two intervening parties, the Joshua Intervenors and the Knight Intervenors, all agreed to settle a 30-year legal battle over desegregation payments that have totaled $1 billion. A judge will consider final approval of the deal early next year.
LEONARD COOPER. With a little luck and a lot of style, the eStem senior won Teen Jeopardy.
COMPETITIVE CONGRESSIONAL RACES. Rep. Tom Cotton will challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor in one of the most closely watched races in the nation. To take Cotton's seat in the 4th Congressional District, state Rep. Bruce Westerman is duking it out with newcomer Tommy Moll in the Republican primary. Congressman Tim Griffin decided not to run for another term in the 2nd, setting up a battle in the GOP primary between state Rep. Ann Clemmer, banker French Hill, a former official in the Papa Bush administration, and Col. Conrad Reynolds. Meanwhile, despite a reddening state, Democrats are offering up strong candidates: former Clinton administration official James Lee Witt in the 4th and former North Little Rock mayor Pat Hays in the 2nd.
HUNGRY DOWNTOWN WORKERS. Data has not yet been released on the productivity impact of the opening of Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken in the River Market, but Times staffers appear noticeably well-fed and happy.
It was a bad year for ...
CORRUPT POLITICIANS. Martha Shoffner, charged with receiving thousands of dollars in kickbacks in a pie box, resigned as state Treasurer in May. August brought the resignation of state Sen. Paul Bookout, under investigation by a special prosecutor for using tens of thousands in campaign funds for personal use. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has thus far refused to resign, but admitted to tens of thousands of dollars in misused funds — both campaign money and taxpayer dollars.
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS FOOTBALL. Again. No one got caught with their pants down, but the Hogs were even worse on the field than last year, stumbling to a 3-9 record and going winless in the SEC for the first time since joining the conference in 1992.
MAYFLOWER. An ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured on March 29, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of tar sands oil. The spill flowed through a neighborhood, into a drainage ditch and finally into a cove of Lake Conway, leaving aerosolized toxins in its wake. Many area residents have complained of sickness, dozens of residents have been displaced and the cove appears to be permanently damaged. Cleanup and legal battles are likely to continue for years.
ARKANSAS WOMEN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE. Overriding the vetoes of Gov. Mike Beebe, the Arkansas General Assembly passed an abortion ban at 12 weeks (currently enjoined while a lawsuit by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights is tried) and another at 20 weeks, which has not yet been legally challenged and is the law in Arkansas.
THOUGHTLESS TWEETING. Twitter was more popular than ever in the political world, bringing up-to-the-minute news and more accessibility to lawmakers. But twitchy tweet fingers led local politicos to show their ass from time to time: During the manhunt for the Boston marathon bombers, Rep. Nate Bell tweeted that "Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes" wishing they were strapped with an AR-15, and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin offered a bizarre indictment of President Barack Obama and other Democrats for "violent rhetoric" during an unrelated incident of gunfire outside the U.S. Capitol. Both Bell and Griffin, after embarrassing the state, offered non-apology apologies.
ACCOUNTABILITY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS. The stench of a cover-up hovered over UA Chancellor David Gearhart and other university officials, with accusations of aggressive non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and destroyed documents regarding the school's deficit-ridden Advancement Division. Though a prosecutor found no evidence of a crime, the Arkansas legislature (despite an apparent whitewash at an Audit Committee hearing) will continue to dig as may another prosecutor.
It was the best of years, it was the worst of years for...
ATTORNEY GENERAL DUSTIN MCDANIEL. No Arkansas politician had a more successful year than McDaniel, who earned acclaim for his role as the state's strongest critic of Exxon's role in the Mayflower oil spill, masterfully handled the successful negotiation of the Pulaski County school desegregation case and several other big settlements for the state. McDaniel might have been a formidable candidate for governor, but dropped out of the race after news broke of his inappropriate relationship with a Hot Springs lawyer, Andi Davis.