Columns » Max Brantley

Notes from the basement

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I got a little nutty over the weekend, hunched over a computer on the dark lower floor of my house, warmed not a bit by the glow of the computer screen or the messages it related.

My thinking became even more binary than normal — 1/0; yes/no; good/bad. Nuance and subtlety and layered reasoning were impossible. Some 1-0 shutouts of this last weekend:

Gov. Mike Huckabee — Did he really scold former Democratic gubernatorial opponent Jimmie Lou Fisher for — maybe, just maybe — getting a few thousand dollars worth of impermissible repeat contributions in a long effort to pay off her campaign debt from THREE YEARS AGO? If the bookkeeping did fail a few times, Fisher should refund the excess, of course. But do we really have to endure preaching from The Huckster, who failed to report tens of thousands in campaign income he paid himself for rental of his own airplane? Who tried to take $70,000 worth of gifts from a cotton baron until somebody pointed out it was illegal? Who presided over a Republican Party campaign finance apparatus so corrupt that the party paid the biggest federal fine in Arkansas history for its transgressions? Spare us the sanctimony, Bro. Mike.

Asa Hutchinson — Did he really say it took courage to be an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton? When he was a congressman for the most Republican district in Arkansas? When he was subsequently rewarded with a high federal job that he is now trading for instant riches in lobbying and stock market speculation? (Maybe he has polled this message and found it works on gullible Arkies. We’ll see.)

Tailgating — It was a glorious fall weekend and the new parking crew at War Memorial Stadium ruined it with bad traffic handling at the first Razorback football game. It’s another example of why we need a strong, directly elected mayor in Little Rock. He’d fix this nonsense quick; maybe even prevent it in the first place. Didn’t anybody stop to think how unpopular it would be to tell early birds who arrived at 5 a.m. that their enterprise didn’t entitle them to the worm of a choice parking spot?

Strong mayors — North Little Rock’s Pat Hays is one of them. The power is not always attractive, but it is considerable. Insiders are now saying Hays engineered a two-month delay last summer in Central Arkansas Water’s decision to condemn timber property on Lake Maumelle. Fearing (stupidly) that a popular decision to protect the lake could cause some backlash (From whom? Polluters?), Hays got stooges on the water commission to delay their vote until after his sales tax election for a baseball park.

Corporate welfare — We told you so. How bad are Tax Increment Finance Districts, in which private developers capture school taxes for subsidies of their projects? Look at Paragould. Taxpayers there, one of the state’s most prosperous cities, are already subsidizing a new movie theater. Now developers want to take $1.4 million in school tax money to expand an existing shopping center. They call this fighting blight. The gospel according to Arkansas bond daddies, developers and the local officials beholden to them: Shopping centers deserve taxpayer subsidies. Retail clerk jobs and popcorn poppers are that valuable. You’re going to see a lot more of this until the law is fixed or struck down.


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