Columns » Max Brantley

Vacation catchup

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Just back from a long vacation, I don't feel my usual dislocation. Internet connections were sketchy, but I read the Arkansas Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and stayed up with e-mail.

I mostly resisted interjecting cheers and jeers from afar, so in case you wondered:

• I was happy to see voters approved a renovation plan for Robinson Center. I'd have spent even more than the Advertising and Promotion Commission dared, adding a couple hundred million to convert the Broadway Bridge to a public plaza and build a new bridge upriver.

• Is the Lottery Commission serious? Add video bingo at bars and restaurants to shore up an already eroding scholarship base and make a bad idea worse?

• The University of Arkansas. Sheesh. Chancellor David Gearhart finally shut down legislative talk about the financial disaster in the advancement division under his so-called leadership. But he's forever stained by the mess in a division that continued to run as he ran it — on the come from the secretive UA Foundation. To rejoice that you haven't been charged with a crime is to damn yourself with the faintest of praise.

• Sick of the race for U.S. Senate yet? Will Arkansans really respond to an aloof extremist with weird ideas about women and poor people (Tom Cotton) because he utters Obamacare as tiresomely as a Chatty Kathy doll? Mark Pryor, meanwhile, keeps on being Mark Pryor. His mushy centrism aggravates ideologues like me at times, but it's almost refreshing in harshly partisan times.

• New polling indicates the governor's race between Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson will be tight. Republicans are spoiling to make the race about Ross' vague departure from customary pro-gun dogmatism. They think Ross is a sure loser for once saying we should talk about the necessity of 100-round killing machines. Are national polls that find this a reasonable idea really that out of touch with Arkansas? Maybe. Sigh.

• The state Board of Education decided to review a departmental panel's approval of the Quest charter school for West Little Rock. It's the least they could do after organizers first claimed with a straight face that a school designed to scoop up kids from a high-income white neighborhood would attract a population 78 percent poor enough to qualify for a subsidized lunch. Board member Diane Zook, a charter school advocate, wondered why the state board should even worry about skimming well-to-do white kids out of the Little Rock school district. Brown v. Board of Education is so 1954, I guess. As a supporter of Quest, Zook shouldn't even have participated in the discussion. Vicki Saviers, an eStem charter founder and another person intent on undermining the good left in the Little Rock School District, joined Zook. But others, notably Jay Barth, Sam Ledbetter and Brenda Gullett, won the day on a clear-headed call for a better examination of Quest's grandiose curriculum promises and its cockamamie enrollment numbers (counting children of wealthy Asian doctors as minorities is one ploy). With Walton billions behind them, they'll probably prevail in time. But the public might at least get some consciousness raising.

• Let me say this about 25 days at sea: 1) Have I got a fish restaurant for you in Tangier. 2) Pleasant surprises: Madeira, Honduras, Guatemala. 3) I didn't buy any of the ganja on sale roadside in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but I did go to the Jerk Centre. Best barbecued chicken ever, accompanied by a reggae band covering "Brown Eyed Girl." 4) Viva Mexico, even the tourist traps of Cozumel. Call for details. Or check my Facebook page.

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