Sen. Johnny Key, the Mountain Home Republican, told his hometown newspaper, the Baxter Bulletin, that he would not seek re-election this year. That indicates he expects a favorable look by the committee that will choose from dozens of applicants to be the next lobbyist for the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. Rep. John Burris filed for the seat, but so, too, did Scott Flippo of Mountain Home, who owns an assisted living facility in Bull Shoals.
Rep. Kelley Linck of Yellville, a Republican, had also been interested in running for the seat if Key did not, but I believe he’ll cede the race to Burris, the Harrison Republican and one of the architects of the hotly debated Medicaid expansion plan currently being contested at the legislature.
Key said earlier he’d make a decision based on his expectations of how the UA selection process would work out. Does his decision to not run mean he’s received the requisite signals (which most believe to be true) that he’ll be hired? It’s long been believed he was the pick of the powers that be. As legislator, he presided over the higher education budget subcommittee. He’s also a close friend of the powerful Walton fortune, which holds great sway over decisions at the UA. Key has been a key player in the push for “school choice,” which means more charter schools, the end of racial consideration in school transfer decisions and other matters. Just last night he cheered the Little Rock School District for objecting to the neighboring Pulaski County School District’s insistence on keeping some limits on school transfers in the workout of the Pulaski County desegregation case. He also was honored by a school choice group.
The UA and Key apparently see no appearance of impropriety in hiring a lobbyist from the halls of the legislature, where a state law nominally requires a one-year cooling off period from moves straight to lobbying jobs. There is an exception for people hired from state jobs. Key has said he’ll be further exempted from lobbyist registration as long as he doesn’t spend $400 in a quarter. It remains to be seen how he can do that and do his job. Retiring UA lobbyist Richard Hudson, for example, reported spending $5,600 on entertainment expenses in the fourth quarter of 2013, to name just one report. I guess someone else will hold the credit card for Key.
At least 32 people have applied for the lobbyist job. The UA has said the committee reviewing applications to choose finalists to interview won’t make those choices until later in March. As a result, said Key:
It would be unfair to my constituents and to other potential candidates for me to file now, then to step aside later should I be selected for the position,” Key said. “I will not file for re-election.”
I’ll bet you the price of a newly legal beer in the club section of Razorback Stadium that Key will soon be schmoozing his colleagues in such environs.
Does he really intend to stay in the legislature once the white smoke arises from the UA selection committee? Will he continue to sit in budget hearings later this year for the next session of the legislature?
These questions would have relevance if ethics were relevant in Arkansas. Clearly they are not.