Quote of the week:
"Accordingly, this Court finds that the Jernigans and Austins have adequately described their asserted right to marry. Directed by Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit precedents, this Court concludes that the right to marry is a fundamental right."
— Federal Judge Kristine Baker last Tuesday in a written opinion striking down Arkansas's ban on same-sex marriage. Rita and Pam Jernigan and Becca and Tara Austin were plaintiffs. Baker stayed her ruling pending the state's likely appeal to the 8th Circuit, so gay couples are still unable to wed in Arkansas for the time being.
Split over civil rights
Normally, Northwest Arkansas legislators and the University of Arkansas administration are fairly cozy with one another, so what would provoke 18 conservative state lawmakers into writing a letter to Chancellor David Gearhart expressing their "disappointment"?
Rights for LGBT people, that's what. Gearhart attracted legislators' ire by speaking out against a resolution from the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce opposing the civil rights ordinance passed by that city's government (see column, opposite page). Behind the letter was a veiled threat from legislators: We control the purse strings, so the university should perhaps watch its mouth.
Having it both ways
A Democratic-leaning watchdog group called the American Democracy Legal Fund filed complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission about Mike Huckabee, who's built a new career as a popular Fox News commentator. The problem is that Huckabee is widely believed to be mulling a 2016 presidential run, though he won't say so outright. If he is indeed throwing his hat in the ring, he'll have to give up his lucrative talk show on Fox.
Instead, Huckabee has created an advocacy nonprofit called America Takes Action, which is hiring experienced political operatives in much the same way as a fledgling campaign might do. The complaint to the IRS says the nonprofit is an overtly political tool for the former Arkansas governor to "formally organize money and staff in preparation for his candidacy."
By the numbers
$6.5 billion — The amount by which national retail sales dropped from Black Friday weekend 2013 to 2014, an 11 percent decline. Online sales also declined by a similar amount over the post-Thanksgiving weekend last year. It's unclear whether that's due to shaky consumer confidence or simply fatigue with Black Friday hype; the National Retail Federation still predicts strong sales for the holiday season overall.
118 — The average caseload of an Arkansas parole officer, according to a report from the Arkansas Department of Community Correction (DACC) released this week. Some officers are responsible for as many as 130 parolees. The recommended national average is about 60. DACC officials say they'd need funding to hire about 201 additional probation and parole officers to reach that target.
5,000 — The number of Arkansas parolees released from behind bars in 2014, out of a total of 10,000, estimated to return to prison in the next three years. That's according to DACC Director Sheila Sharp, who testified before a legislative committee this week about badly needed reforms to the state's prisoner re-entry system.
As in other cities across the country, a crowd turned out for a vigil/rally in Little Rock last week in response to a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown after a scuffle in August in a St. Louis suburb. Around 100 people, white and black and otherwise, gathered in peaceful protest at the state Capitol on a chilly evening a few days before Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner attracted some criticism for a statement issued immediately after the grand jury's decision, in which he said police would "allow" peaceful demonstrations but would not "tolerate destructive unlawful behaviors." There was never any indication that violent protests might emerge in Little Rock. Adjoa Aiyetoro, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law, replied to Buckner with a letter of her own: "Your message was not supportive of the Little Rock community and rather came across as ... an act of intimidation of those who may choose to demonstrate."
Leveraging Duggar dollars
Lucie's Place, one of the nonprofits we profiled in this issue's cover story, received some much-deserved national attention thanks to a stroke of social media marketing genius. An illustration juxtaposed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have contributed heavily to the campaign against Fayetteville's civil rights ordinance (see column, opposite page), with Lucie's Place, which "ministers to the LGBTQ homeless youth population of Arkansas" with an annual operating budget around $7,500. "Which cause would Jesus support?" it asks.
The Internet answered. The Duggar illustration circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter, and Lucie's Place raised a remarkable $27,000 from donors across the country over the Thanksgiving weekend. Attention snowballed further when the story was picked up by nationally syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who gave the organization a generous plug. At this rate, Lucie's Place may finally raise enough funds to achieve its goal: building an LGBT-friendly shelter of its own.