Columns » Max Brantley

People vs. corporations

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Signature counting and legal challenges aren't done, but the November ballot is shaping up as a rich opportunity to side with your choice of people or corporations.

The potential ballot questions:

• Issue One: The legislature put this on the ballot at the behest of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, nursing homes, hospitals and doctors. It devalues human life and limits trial by jury by capping damages and legal fees in negligence and malpractice suits.

The amendment also strips the Arkansas Supreme Court of rulemaking authority and puts it in the hands of the legislature, corporate-controlled and often corrupt.

• Minimum wage: An initiated act would raise the minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021. The top figure would have been $12, but Attorney General Leslie Rutledge scuttled that version of the proposal in the course of trying, until the Arkansas Supreme Court stepped in, to block all people-oriented ballot proposals. The state Chamber of Commerce will fight a minimum wage increase, its members loaded with money from President Trump's windfall tax break for corporations and millionaires.

The corporate lobbyists also will enjoy taxpayer subsidies in fighting pro-people measures such as a wage increase. Local taxpayer subsidies to chamber of commerce employees ($300,000 worth in Little Rock alone) were legalized by a constitutional amendment put on the ballot under false pretenses in 2014 (economic development!) by the corporate-friendly legislature.

Voter ID: This latest ballot obstacle amendment is a national Republican device to suppress Democratic votes among the poor and minorities. The Republican-majority legislature likes it. Thus the corporate lobby that controls the Republican-majority legislature likes it.

Casino expansion: Oaklawn Park and Southland Park, existing casinos, have signaled support for this amendment, which would solidify their shaky legal status and give them expanded bookmaking power while permitting two new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties. Both racinos are major financial supporters of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Need I say more?

• Term limits: A people-initiated legislative term limits amendment qualified for the ballot last week. It would limit legislators to 10 years in office, not the current range of 16 to 22 years. It's a response to the legislature's dishonest term limits-loosening amendment in 2014, which hugely increased incumbent power with the ability to serve 16 years in a single chamber. But it also would serve as a check on the legislature's steady encroachment on executive (review power) and judicial power (rulemaking). We now have a full-time, well-paid legislature, including many members who have no other visible means of support. It's a far cry from the part-time citizen legislature envisioned by founders.

The state Chamber of Commerce doesn't like this term limits measure. It likes the current collection of puppets. Grooming replacements is expensive and sometimes unreliable.

Hypocrisy note: The Republicans once led the charge for term limits. No more. GOP Party Chairman Doyle Webb announced his opposition to term limits. He liked them when they promised to unseat majority Democrats.

Will the people rule in November? Or the corporations?

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