Tweet of the Week:
"Let me show you what we deal with in Arkansas. Harrison, AR, 2016. National anthem that."
— From Twitter user @DjWalt_, sharing pictures of billboards from Harrison in recent years that advertised "WhitePrideRadio.com" and declared " 'Diversity' is a code word for #whitegenocide." An African-American resident of Arkansas, @DjWalt_ was commenting on the controversy over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand during the pregame national anthem as a protest against racism in America.
The secretary of state's office certified a proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would legalize casino gambling in three counties in the state — Washington, Miller and Boone — after determining its backers had gathered enough signatures. (Those backers include several investors from Missouri and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.) The committee formed to promote the measure, Arkansas Wins, has begun advertising: "Help us bring jobs, tax dollars, and tourism back to Arkansas!" its new website says. A committee formed to fight the casino amendment, Protect Arkansas' Values, is mounting a PR campaign of its own, and the proposal could well be challenged in court before Election Day. Expect big spending and a slew of ads in the next two months.
The war on drugs
A second proposal to allow medical use of marijuana also qualified for the November ballot last week. That means Arkansans will likely face the prospect of voting for both the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment this fall (unless a court challenge should disqualify one or both measures). The "cannabis act" would allow for a limited grow-your-own provision for some patients and allow for cultivation at designated nonprofit "cannabis care centers"; the "marijuana amendment" would establish a more centralized cultivation and distribution model and does not include a grow-your-own provision. Will pro-pot voters tend to support both, or will the presence of two competing measures result in defeat for both? Meanwhile, with the state's prominent (Republican) elected officials lining up against medical marijuana, the cannabis act is facing two lawsuits attempting to strike it from the ballot before Nov. 8. Now that the proposed amendment has qualified for the ballot, it is sure to face legal challenges as well.
On the Saturday morning before Labor Day, an earthquake centered near Pawnee, Okla., was felt across much of Arkansas. Thousands of smaller tremors have shaken parts of Oklahoma in recent years, but the 5.6 magnitude Pawnee quake was almost the strongest in the state's recorded history (it tied with a 2011 quake). Scientists believe the increased seismic activity is caused by the use of disposal wells that inject vast amounts of wastewater generated from oil and gas fracking back into the earth. Concern over increased earthquakes led Arkansas to limit the use of disposal wells in years past, and in the wake of the Pawnee tremor, Oklahoma has now ordered dozens of wells in that area shut down as well.
Three strikes against unlimited school choice
Should parents be able to choose which school district their children attend, no matter what? For the third time in the past month, the federal courts have said "no" — at least not if a district is under a desegregation order.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey sided with the El Dorado School District in its claim to an exemption from Arkansas's 2015 "school choice" law. The El Dorado district, which has a 49 percent African-American student body, had prevented the transfer of a student to the neighboring Parkers Chapel School District, which is about 9 percent black. In July, the state Board of Education — composed mostly of staunch advocates of school choice — ignored El Dorado's insistence that a 1971 desegregation order should prevent the transfer. But Judge Hickey disagreed with the state board: "[El Dorado School District] has a continuing constitutional obligation to avoid taking any action the natural and probably consequence of which would be a segregative impact," she wrote.
Earlier in August, U.S. District Judge Price Marshall slapped down a similar attempt by the state board to allow a student transfer from the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District to neighboring Cabot. And the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals made a similar ruling about schools in Garland County. The message to the state board is clear: Desegregation orders still matter, and "choice" does not trump all else.