Quote of the Week
"It's time to officially suspend the campaign, but not because of the votes. It's because of illness — obviously, the voters are sick of me, and I need to acknowledge that."
— Mike Huckabee, bowing out of the 2016 presidential race on Monday night with a final punch line. With about 2 percent of the vote, Huckabee failed to pick up a single delegate in the Iowa caucus.
Out of Iowa
Besides bringing about the quiet demise of the Huckabee campaign, the Iowa caucus moved the 2016 election into a volatile new phase. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz locked up 27.6 percent of the vote, with Donald Trump finishing second at 24.3 percent and Marco Rubio close behind at 23.1 percent. For Rubio, the third-place finish is a victory: He now seems likely to consolidate his position as the only legitimate alternative to Trump and Cruz, two candidates determined to blow up the GOP establishment. Meanwhile, the Democratic contenders fought to a virtual tie, with Hillary Clinton taking 49.9 percent and Bernie Sanders securing 49.6 percent. On to New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Feb. 9.
Child welfare director departs
Cecile Blucker, who heads the Division of Children and Family Services, announced last week that she will leave the position at the end of March. In 2015, DCFS came under increased scrutiny for a number of reasons, including an unprecedented rise in the number of children in the foster system statewide and the rehoming of two young girls adopted from state custody by Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork). Last spring, sources told the Arkansas Times that Blucker personally intervened in the Harris adoption in 2012, pressuring local DCFS staff to recommend the adoption proceed despite caseworkers' concerns over the family's ability to raise two young children. Also, Harris himself later asserted that Blucker was aware he and his wife gave away the children to another family a few months after the adoption was finalized (one child was then sexually abused at the new home). At the time, Blucker refused to comment on her role in the Harris case, saying confidentiality laws prevented her from discussing the details of any adoption.
Trustees of the University of Arkansas System voted last week to give the Fayetteville campus the go-ahead to get more detailed designs and cost projections for a renovation of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium that the university said would add some 3,200 seats at a cost of $161 million. One trustee raised concerns: former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, who told UA athletic director Jeff Long, "This is going to take a lot of work and a lot of study on your part, and a lot of decision-making on our part." Pryor wondered if the university's plans to pay for the renovation with a bond issue would ultimately be passed along to students. He also pointed out that a 2001 expansion of the stadium, which added 21,000 seats, cost $110 million. Compared to the new proposal, that's about $5,200 per seat, vs. close to $50,000 per seat, though the proposed renovation does also include redoing the Broyles Athletic Center and other infrastructure projects. The trustees will still have to grant final approval for the project to move forward.
Teach for America's expansion, by the number
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at a press conference last week a new public/private partnership that will invest a total of $6 million in Teach for America-Arkansas. TFA is a national nonprofit that places recent college graduates into teaching positions in high poverty school districts; its supporters say the program is a boon to struggling schools, while its detractors say TFA teachers are undertrained and usually leave the profession after a couple of years.
$3 million - The amount of public money to be paid to TFA over the next three years from the governor's discretionary fund.
150 - The number of new TFA teachers funded by the governor's commitment, to be placed in districts in southern and eastern Arkansas.
$3 million - The amount of private money dedicated to TFA from members of the Little Rock business community, led by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman.
65 - The number of TFA teachers to join the Little Rock School District over the next three years, paid for solely with the private funds raised by Hussman and co.