I'm at anchor on a ship lying off Grand Turk Island, and I should have known better than to pick up the digital Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, particularly given the painfully slow download time on the ship's satellite Internet. But I did and began a slow burn.
It was good to see John Brummett write about the ethical trampling that's been given newly passed Amendment 94 by legislators who simply cannot and will not give up freebies from the lobby. But the rationale from Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Bald Knob) and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) on laundering lobby money through the Republican Party so they could have their baronial tributes last week was a bit much.
If the leaders are not much for parties, don't have one. If these parties are vital for "stretch-run bonding," as Dismang and Gillam told Brummett, it tells me all I need to know about how much the legislature cares to bond with the unwashed public. They were pointedly uninvited to the affairs.
If the governor did it, too, does that mean the Speaker and president pro tem would jump off the Stephens Building? (Don't answer.)
But Brummett firmed up a piece of information circulating for weeks, that Gillam will take advantage of the term limits expansion given legislators — along with higher pay and free swill by Sen. Jon Woods' sneaky change of the "ethics" amendment — to become Speaker for life, or least his life as a legislator.
He's a friendly fellow. He'll even return my phone calls. Many Republicans won't.
But it's time for the Democrats to ask themselves a question: Just what exactly has making nice done for them?
Yes, Rep. Joe Jett (D-Success) got to be chair of Revenue and Taxation. But neither he nor any other Democrat gets to pass anything of substance (meaning something that is both worthwhile and marked by a measure of controversy.) Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) was allowed a vote on a state earned income tax credit bill to give a tiny bit of help to working poor, but it failed on a voice vote. Just like Rep. Clarke Tucker's (D-Little Rock) campaign finance reform proposal. And protection of landowners from pipeline damage, Sabin's comically mistreated pro-private-property owner bill. Or any of the other small pieces of good government Democrats put forward on the margins of Arkansas's slide into Oklahoma.
Do you think making nice with Gillam and Dismang has allowed Democrats to even play good defense? Only where, on House Education and Senate Judiciary, some careful husbanding of Democratic forces produced the only thing that counts in the legislature: votes. A smile and pat on the back aren't worth much after your pocket has been picked.
Rep. Deborah Ferguson, a Democrat and dentist from West Memphis, sponsored a sex ed bill that didn't mention contraceptives? Democrats stood by as more barriers were put between women and a safe and effective pill that ends pregnancy in the very earliest stages. Civil rights have been sneered at. Robert E. Lee remains more powerful than Martin Luther King Jr. in 21st century Arkansas. Millionaires got tax breaks while the working poor got not one red cent. Unemployment compensation was reduced and shortened. And on and on.
If being allowed a token vote on help for the most struggling working Arkansans is the best Democrats can get out of throwing in some with somebody who otherwise gives the Republican Party its wish list, really, what's the point? To get a free meal through money laundered through the Republican Party of Arkansas? Would the big results really have been any different if Justin Harris or Bob Ballinger had been Speaker?
Oh, and did you see the mention that there may be some little old constitutional amendments after all? The leadership said last week they didn't think so. I said then I'd believe it when the session adjourned without any. Beware of Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) bearing gifts. It's the kind of thing that arises in late-session "bonding."