Governmentally speaking, the new year is a happy one, Arkansas’s elected leaders laying on purposefully to correct errors of the past in both Little Rock and Washington.
The new U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to free Americans from the iron grip of the pharmaceutical industry. Based on legislation sponsored by Rep. Marion Berry of Gillette in the last Congress, the bill would require the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate with drug companies to get the best price for all the elderly Americans enrolled in the Medicare drug program. Under the existing program, individuals must try on their own to make sense of hundreds of different drug plans offered by dozens of different companies. President Bush demanded this arrangement, so that all the drug companies — major contributors to his campaign — would have the opportunity to squeeze the elderly ill. The proposed procedure incorporates the principles of competition and the free market: the company that wants the Medicare business the most will submit the lowest bid. This is the way Wal-Mart operates; the company seems to be flourishing.
Meantime, Sen. Mark Pryor has joined other senators in introducing legislation to stop the administration’s sneaky practice of appointing U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. The Justice Department threw out a competent U.S. attorney in Arkansas so that it could install one of Karl Rove’s political thugs, without the scrutiny of the Senate. Senate confirmation is required for appointments made on the up-and-up. Down-and-further-down is the Bush administration’s style.
On the state level, the new governor has promised open government and evidenced that he means business by ordering the release of a Department of Community Correction file on a Parole Board member who resigned while being investigated for professional misconduct. The file said the former board member, Lary Zeno of Bryant, had drawn his $75,000 salary while being rude to inmates’ families; making vulgar comments to and patting the buttocks of female staff members, and keeping pictures of naked people on his state computer. Governor Beebe’s predecessor, the incorrigible Mike Huckabee, had resisted releasing the file on his appointee and appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court a lower court order that the file be made public. Huckabee never accepted the theory that people are entitled to know what’s going on in their government. Beebe dropped the appeal.
The people voted for change last year, and it appears the people will get what they voted for. Up to a point, anyway. Our pugnacious president still pledges to stay the course in Iraq, though the course gets bloodier and bloodier, the cause more hopeless.