Columns » Max Brantley

The spoils system turns thuggish

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Rep. Bob Ballinger - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Rep. Bob Ballinger

Republicans' smashing victories in the last two election cycles in Arkansas have had the usual results.

More than governors Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and Mike Huckabee, a Republican, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has moved to stock state government with political supporters and soulmates. A losing Republican candidate or former party functionary needs work? Hutchinson has installed them high and low, no previous experience necessary.

No big deal. Government runs most days on autopilot through its permanent staff. A new agency director can do as much or as little as she chooses, delegating operational duties to deputies and maybe just occasionally dipping into business to change the stationery or order new furniture or change a building's architectural features.

But there's a discipline and even a brutality to the Republican control that beats previous administrations (and Mike Huckabee was not exactly known for a generous spirit.)

You see it particularly at the legislature. Just last week, Republican state Rep. Bob Ballinger moved to kill a $153,897 contract between the state Department of Workforce Service and the Arkansas AFL-CIO. The contract has existed for 38 years. It helps dislocated workers return to work.

The contract was shortened to end in January. Then the state will decide whether the agency will do the work itself or hire an outside provider. I wouldn't expect the eventual alternative to include the AFL-CIO. This punitive action will be taken even though no one has complained about its work, not even during 12 years of Republican-led administrations.

The difference now? Pure ideological vengeance. Ballinger was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "The AFL-CIO has got a very negative reputation amongst a lot of people. They have used thuggery tactics in other places. Here in Arkansas, Alan [Hughes] has done a great job. But across the country they've got a very bad negative reputation."

Ballinger cited no specifics of thuggery, which the dictionary says means to treat others violently or roughly. His aim is clear enough. It's implementation of the Republican anti-labor policy in a right-to-work state where labor is already marginalized. Who's a thug?

We'd seen this ideological thuggishness at work already. Gov. Hutchinson ordered an end to Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood, a trifling sum of $50,000 or so that provides essential medical services to poor women and a few men. Why? Unverified allegations that a distantly related Planned Parenthood affiliate in another state that participated in a legal program to provide fetal tissue for medical research. This offends Republican values sufficiently that innocent parties in Arkansas should suffer, beginning with telling women which doctors they can and cannot see. A federal court has ruled this illegal here, as it has in other states.

The world is full of bad actors — thugs, if you will. By the Ballinger standard, we should disqualify Republicans from holding public jobs in Arkansas on account of Richard Nixon, Dennis Hastert, Mark Darr, Dennis Milligan or whichever Republican miscreant you care to name.

I feel a little of the pain firsthand. Arkansas Republicans are moving systematically to strip state advertising from those with differing viewpoints. That's politics to a degree. But the ruling party is, in theory, serving everyone in the state.

Is it the Republican view that public money contributed by all taxpayers should be put to use only with and for those with whom the ruling party agrees? Recent actions by Ballinger and Hutchinson provide clues about the answer.

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