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Two Coopers

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The House of Representatives Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee considers nursing home legislation, among other matters, and nursing home bills are often controversial, pitting consumers against the industry. Rep. Eddie Cooper (D-Melbourne), the new chairman of the committee, is a relative of Jim Cooper, a nursing home owner and frequent spokesman and lobbyist for Arkansas nursing homes.

Eddie Cooper told the Arkansas Times that his relationship with Jim Cooper, a first cousin, would not influence his actions as chairman. “I’ll be an unbiased chairman,” he said. “I’ll hear both sides of every issue. My interests are the best interests of the elderly.”

At least one advocate for the elderly is upset that Cooper was named chairman by House Speaker Benny Petrus of Stuttgart over Rep. Sandra Prater of Jacksonville, who was a member of the committee last session and was popular with the advocates. Cooper was not a member of the committee last session, when the chairman was Jay Bradford of Pine Bluff. Bradford has left the legislature because of term limits. Cooper said he asked for the chairmanship and Petrus gave it to him. Petrus said that Cooper had been a staunch supporter when Petrus was seeking the speakership.

Remediation needed

Speaking of legislative committees: We are indebted to the People’s Tribune blog for some research into the record of Rep. Mike Kenney, the Siloam Springs Republican appointed by House Speaker Benny Petrus to chair the Education Committee.

According to the blog’s roll call check, in addition to passing little substantive legislation in his time in office, Kenney: supported unlimited state funding for the Virtual Academy, a venture founded by national Republican insiders to sell services to home schoolers; sponsored a bill to force home schoolers into Arkansas Activities Association events; supported bills to require school prayer and to require textbooks to carry admonitions about gay marriage; voted against the Teacher of the Year program; supported Gov. Mike Huckabee’s veto of a bill to create a science specialist program; and now opposes the Education Department’s proposal to emphasize the Smart Core courses for high school students. Kenney has enjoyed Walton family financial support, which suggests he’ll be friendly to two education ideas — merit pay and charter schools.

Powerful voice

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor enlisted a powerful voice this week for his objection to how the Bush administration has made a change in the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock. The administration forced Bud Cummins’ resignation so it could appoint Tim Griffin, an Arkansas native and former top aide to Karl Rove, in his place. Bush used a new procedure in the Patriot Act to install Griffin by interim appointment, rather than putting him through the customary Senate confirmation process. This has prompted an editorial in the New York Times:

“It is particularly dangerous to put United States attorneys’ offices in the hands of political operatives because federal prosecutors have extraordinary power to issue subpoenas and bring criminal charges,” the editorial said. “The Senate should fix the law and investigate whether such offices in Arkansas and elsewhere are being politicized.”

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