Columns » Max Brantley

More election choices

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The Arkansas Times this week rolls out its endorsement list and it is only that, a list. It's a long and important ballot that leaves us scant room for elaboration.

I'm going to continue last week's work of focusing some personal attention on various ballot issues.

• MEDICAL MARIJUANA: I confess some misgivings about medical legalization. The federal law against marijuana possession and sale is a complication, but other states have coped.

Any legal availability of the drug undoubtedly will invite illicit use.

But the possibility of illicit use is a straw man. The entire range of legal drugs — uppers, downers, painkillers — invites illicit use. We don't outlaw morphine, administered under a doctor's orders, for that reason.

This argument is as flawed as the "moral" argument against legalization from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and, in remarkably racist advertising, from the hateful Arkansas Family Council. If marijuana's use to ease pain or the nausea of chemotherapy patients is a moral issue, then so is the use of any prescription pain reliever. The Family Council practices a particularly mean and vengeful brand of religion regularly, but this seems a stretch even for them. In the final analysis, adopting a viewpoint opposite that of the Family Council is always a safe bet. Vote FOR medical marijuana.

• NORTH LITTLE ROCK MAYOR: Pat Hays is stepping down after decades of generally successful leadership on the north shore. His right-hand man, Joe Smith, stands ready to accept Hays' designation as successor. He is the safe choice. The far more politically adept Tracy Steele, a state legislator, is the other leading candidate in a four-man field. Steele, who is black, will enjoy near unanimous support from black voters in the city, now nearly a majority of the population.

Personality alone isn't enough to take the reins of a form of government in which the mayor has been nearly dictatorial. Steele's management of a state agency, the M.L. King Commission, was fraught with bickering, political conflicts and mismanagement. Worse than Steele's managerial shortcomings were how he used state government to advance his and his family's business interests. His schemes included a news organization with state government as a major revenue source and a private foundation that used contributions from important business interests in a venture that spent more on Tracy Steele's pay than any other charitable endeavor.

• LITTLE ROCK CITY GOVERNMENT: The old-boy system will work this year, as it always does. At-large directors blessed by the business establishment will be re-elected comfortably. They are Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson and Joan Adcock.

I'm inclined to a protest vote in all three cases, with a possible exception being Kumpuris, who is at least broken out with good intentions. It's time to send a message to end the at-large director system. Fortson holds office by a dishonest feint in which he made the public think he wouldn't seek the office by election if appointed to fill an unexpired term. His past championing of Tommy Robinson can never be forgotten. Adcock is a bully. If she wants to be mayor, let's have a mayor-council government and let her run for the job.

Willard Proctor, with whom we had differences before he was removed from his circuit judgeship, is nonetheless a smart lawyer who has a better grasp of Little Rock's diverse population than Fortson, whose at-large sensitivity ends, on the east, at about Cantrell Hill. Robert Webb, ousted from the City Housing Authority for opposing a city sales tax larded with cash bonuses for the business establishment, is a more believable champion of the forgotten inner city than Adcock.

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