Quote of the Week
"It's fundamentally the wrong thing to do."
— Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock), speaking in the Arkansas House of Representatives against Senate Bill 202, which will prevent cities from protecting gay people with anti-discrimination ordinances. The bill prohibits local governments from extending civil rights protection to classes not protected in state law. Tucker said his grandfathers had taken unpopular stands as school board members in support of school desegregation in Little Rock and Fort Smith and urged his colleagues to stand "on the right side of history" in regard to LGBT rights as well. The bill passed anyway, 58-21, and went to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk. He says he will allow it to become law without his signature. (See columns, opposite page.)
The pen is mightier
The state House approved a bill by Rep. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette) to require that cursive writing be taught by the end of the third grade. Supporters such as Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) said research shows writing in cursive "creates synapses in the brain" and lamented a hypertext-filled future in which children are unable to read the script of the Declaration of Independence.
Opponents said the bill infringes on local control of school curriculum, which it does, but the commonsense argument against the bill was best summed up by Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena). "Communication evolves," Bell said. "How many of you can read the Bible in the original language as a manuscript? I can't."
State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) took a break from legislating to offer some helpful advice to the U.S. military last weekend about how to combat ISIS: Create a mushroom cloud over Syria. "A strategically placed nuclear weapon would save the lives of our soldiers and quickly turn things around," Rapert wrote on Facebook. "It is time for the insanity to be stopped." When he was widely ridiculed for the remark online, Rapert said he was calling only for the use of "small" tactical nukes and complained that "liberal bloggers" were trying to make his words "look outrageous."
The shame of the state
Once again, the bill to separate Robert E. Lee from the Arkansas state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. failed in committee, despite the best efforts of its unlikely sponsor, Rep. Nate Bell. Lawmakers of both parties bowed to slavery apologists such as Mountain Home lawyer John Crain, who said the bill went "against my ancestry." No racism there, though: Crain said he was "proud to call my colored brothers, my brothers."
African-American Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock), who has fought racial discrimination in Little Rock for decades, condemned Crain's insulting phrase as "a relic of slavery." He got little sympathy from committee chair Richard Womack (R-Arkadelphia), who told a reporter after the meeting, "I'm not sure what he heard that was a racial slur, honestly. I didn't see any malintent there at all." It's been a painful week to watch the legislature.
Finding common ground
A few weeks ago, Gov. Asa Hutchinson miraculously neutralized the toxic debate over the private option within the GOP by creating a task force to study the issue. Now he's trying to replicate the same magic trick on the issue of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which many conservative activists (and some nonconservative ones) badly want to ditch. Establishment GOP figures such as Jeb Bush staunchly defend the standards.
Last week, Hutchinson created the "Council on Common Core Review" and appointed Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin to head it; the governor has created an application form online for interested citizens to apply to serve on the group. Hutchinson and Griffin repeatedly emphasized that they're not yet passing judgment either for or against the Common Core. Griffin said, "I want to listen to Arkansans all over the state, from every part of the state, from every background. Whoever has an opinion on this, I want to hear about it." We're guessing he'll get his wish.