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Week of infamy

None of that “best of times, worst of times” business last week. “Worst” was a clear winner.

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Every day brought a new outrage: Rats gobbled up food meant for the poor people of southwest Arkansas. A Mexican woman was locked in a Washington County jail cell without food, water or a toilet for four days. A convicted sex offender in North Little Rock sneaked his way onto the ballot as the only candidate for a state legislative seat. The Republican state chairman, and legislators of both parties, continued to oppose a much-needed increase in the severance tax on natural gas even after the gas producers who'd pay the tax agreed to support it.

Nor was there retribution, at least not immediately. In one case, things took a turn for the worse, as much as there was room to do so. The destruction of food for the poor proved only the tip of the rathole in Garland (Miller County). Legislative auditors also found that town officials can't account for $45,000 supposedly spent on fire equipment, that the same officials have received more than $8,000 in unearned payroll advances and undocumented travel reimbursements, and that the town owes $160,000 to the IRS.

To his credit, the Democratic state chairman is trying to prevent the election of his own party's unopposed candidate for state representative in District 39. Former Rep. Dwayne Dobbins gave up the seat in 2005 as part of a plea bargain after he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of fondling the breasts of a 17-year-old girl. His wife replaced him in a special election and was expected to file for re-election this year. Instead, Dobbins filed at the last minute. While most are horrified, Dobbins' mentor, state Sen. Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock, suggests that Dobbins is being criticized unfairly, and that only the people of the 39th District should have a say in the matter. But the members of the body that makes state law are everybody's business, and cheaters can't complain of unfairness. Dobbins could have run for the seat openly; an honorable man would have.

Tracy Steele's mentor is state Sen. Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, who vows to resist the severance tax. Special interests don't like fair taxes, and no one serves the special interests more devotedly than Johnson. He's so accustomed to betraying the public interest that he does so even when his patrons don't demand it.

Someone is sure to ask, can we blame George Bush for this mess? Not exclusively. (Though the Little Rock daily and other Clinton-haters like to blame the former president exclusively.) Bush sets a bad example, certainly, but Johnson, Dobbins et al didn't have to follow it. Most Arkansans don't. At the moment, that's our only comfort.

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