Tweet of the week:
"Lots of military medals, mustache wax and riled up folks."
— Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Claudia Lauer describing the audience at a legislative committee considering a bill by Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) that would separate official state recognition of Robert E. Lee's birthday from that of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The mustache wax lobby won: Bell's bill failed on a voice vote.
Quote of the week
"She would fight for me simply because I was one of her babies ... . These are the stories you're not hearing about Hall."
— A University of Central Arkansas student and recent Hall High grad, speaking to the State Board of Education prior to its takeover of the Little Rock School District. The student, who is Latino, said he nearly dropped out of school after his father was deported, but was saved by the intervention of caring teachers at Hall. The high school is one of the LRSD's six campuses deemed to be in "academic distress," which triggered the takeover (see full article in this issue).
The private co-option
Remember when reauthorizing the private option Medicaid expansion was supposed to split moderates and diehard conservatives within the Arkansas GOP? Remember how the Republican wave in last fall's election placed the policy in imminent jeopardy? Pretty much every media outlet, the Arkansas Times included, said as much. Then Asa Hutchinson became governor, gave a speech and asked for a two-year reauthorization of the private option. He called for a task force to recommend major changes to Medicaid for later down the road, which opened the rhetorical wiggle room for former GOP opponents of the policy to claim they were actually voting to end it. And just like that, serious Republican opposition vanished: The appropriation for the private option sailed through the Senate last week, 29-2, and the House will likely vote later this week. It's a great start for Hutchinson as governor (see column, opposite page) and happy news for the 200,000-plus Arkansans the private option benefits.
Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) has filed a bill to prevent cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances, as Fayetteville attempted last fall. Hester, a legislator the Washington County Tea Party called "a treasure," purports to believe in local government, but he'll seek to quash it if a town does something he dislikes, such as prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender people. Kendra Johnson, leader of Human Rights Campaign Arkansas, called Hester's bill "an attack on liberty and democracy, pure and simple."
The Little Rock Zoo said that two maned wolf pups born in December are now moving around and soon will be ready for visitor viewing. Maned wolves, a species native to South America, are not true wolves, nor are they foxes, coyotes or dogs; they belong to their own distinct genus. Welcome, guys.
Elected official pay, by the numbers
Last fall, Arkansas voters approved an ethics amendment that created an independent citizens commission to set the pay of elected officials, including legislators, judges and constitutional officers. Here are some of the proposed percentage salary increases the commission has settled upon (the numbers will be finalized after a public hearing on March 2):
64 – For governor, from $79,132 to $130,000
77 – For attorney general, from $73,132 to $130,000
145 – For legislators, but with a caveat. In return for raising their pay from $15,896 to $39,000, lawmakers have promised to give up a big perk in the form of expense accounts. Those accounts have allowed some legislators to pad their meager take-home pay by an additional $14,400.
0 – For lieutenant governor, which would stay at $42,315. Evidently, the Mark Darr era convinced the commission that the mostly ceremonial office is already amply compensated.
Busy man. In addition to contemplating a 2016 run for president, Mike Huckabee has "officially signed on as a sponsor for 'the Diabetes Solution Kit' " in return for a "nominal fee," announced the product's manufacturer, Barton Publishing. The kit includes a video about healthy habits to fight Type 2 diabetes — good diet and exercise are the key, surprise — and a plug for herbal supplements, such as cinnamon. Huckabee, who reversed his own Type 2 diabetes with improved nutrition and exercise regimen, said in a Barton Publishing press release, "I've personally used many of the techniques in the Diabetes Solution Kit and I can tell you from firsthand experience that they work."