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Stands accused

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Is the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce "un-American," as Sheffield Nelson suggests? It's a close call; reasonable men might disagree. That the Chamber is unconscionable, on the other hand, was verified long ago.

Nelson is a former natural gas company executive now crusading to make natural gas companies pay their fair share of taxes in Arkansas. The Chamber vehemently opposes his plan. And so Nelson asked in newspaper advertisements this week, "Is the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce UN-AMERICAN?" He gave us a hint:

"The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce recently made the decision to participate in the most un-American activity I have ever seen in Arkansas politics. They are having their president and chief operating officer, Randy Zook, head an effort to keep the Natural Gas Severance Tax Act of 2012 off of the ballot, thus depriving you of the basic right to vote on the issue."

Nelson knows something of Arkansas politics, having run for office himself, though he had more success running a gas company. He's circulating petitions to put on the November ballot an increase in Arkansas's natural-gas severance tax, making it comparable to the taxes of neighboring states. The Chamber, working through Zook, is buying ads and using other means to keep the proposal from going before the voters. "Do they fear that Arkansas voters aren't smart enough to make a fair decision on this issue?" Nelson asks. "Or that maybe we are?"

Asking low-wage Arkansas workers to subsidize gas companies that take billions of dollars out of the state while ravaging city streets and county roads is, unnatural as it sounds, very much in the Chamber of Commerce tradition of smiting the underdog. On just about any issue one can name — tax policy, health care, public schools, workers rights — the Chamber takes the side of the profiteers against the people. And Arkansas remains near the bottom of the states in all economic measurements. Put the Chamber in charge of the scenery and that'll go to pot too.

(The state Chamber's little brother, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, has even persuaded Little Rock city government to pay the Chamber several hundred thousand dollars every year for the purpose of working against the interests of most Little Rock residents. Cheat them, and charge them a fee for doing it — if there's a Grifters Hall of Fame, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce belongs.)

Why not try a different approach, and let the people have a say on public policy? They could hardly botch it worse than the Chamber has.

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