Disingenuous is a handy word for political discussions. Look it up or, better still, for a perfect definition, read last Sunday’s op-ed article in the statewide newspaper written supposedly by state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville), a Northwest Arkansas Republican who is hoping for elevation to the Senate in November.
He reassures you that God-fearing Republicans like him have finally got a handle on the recent flood of corruption in state government that he says was brought on by Democrats. You must be bothered by all the convictions and sentences of legislators, a judge and their consorting consultants and lobbyists in the past couple of years, but now you can feel safe because government is finally in the hands of people like him.
“With the help of God,” Ballinger wrote, “I am personally resolved to go beyond merely being an honest man.” Bob is going to personally clamp down on the crooks. He is going to be “proactive,” even if it means not being civil to a few people, presumably Democrats.
Except … except nearly all the guys heading off to prison are Ballinger’s close friends and collaborators — Republicans — and Ballinger profited from the very schemes that put a bunch of them behind bars. But, see, Ballinger is a lawyer and his payments were not bribes and kickbacks, but consulting and legal fees.
Ballinger’s treatise in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on behalf of his party was really about that. Arkansas is a solidly Republican state, but there is concern that if many people put all the clues together and conclude that it actually is a Republican crime wave, a few more legislative and executive seats could tip to Democrats. The torrent of national scandals —the nearly weekly collapse somewhere of Republican congressmen, governors, White House officials, cabinet members or other executive officials for assorted crimes, expense cheating, ethical lapses or sexual peccadilloes — has raised fears of a Democratic tide in the midterm elections. It must not happen in Arkansas.
Whatever the appearances, all of the corruption, Ballinger explained, is actually the work of Democrats. Democrats wrested power in Arkansas from the liberal Republicans in 1874 and, except for the four-year liberal governorship of Winthrop Rockefeller, they ran everything until six years ago. It culminated in the 12-year-rule of Bill Clinton when, according to Ballinger, “corruption permeated the entire system.”
The evidence of the corruption is … what? No legislator, judge or official of state government was charged with or convicted of any crime in Clinton’s tenure.
The only conclusion, Ballinger seems to reason, is that Clinton’s secret crookedness set a bad example for all these crooked Republicans who came to power in Arkansas in the electoral revolution during the presidency of Barack Obama, although Ballinger did not identify even one of the crooks as a Republican. In fact, the word “Republican” does not appear in his article.
The party could have chosen a more credible scribe.
Avarice knows no party but it is abetted by loyalties and friendships.
The government crime spree may be said to have begun with the guilty plea of Republican Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, who slashed $4.2 million from a jury verdict against a nursing home magnate in 2013 after taking bribes in the form of campaign gifts that were funneled through sham political committees set up by a former Republican state chairman and Republican leader of the Senate. Ted Suhl, who flew Gov. Mike Huckabee to political events around the country, would soon go to prison for using a church to bribe a state official and former legislator to send millions of Medicaid dollars to his behavioral facility, The Lord’s Ranch. About that time, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (yes, GOP) had to resign over ethical slips.
The cascade of scandals hastened with the audit and subsequent investigation of the regional planning agency in Ballinger’s area, where legislators funneled state tax money to favored groups away from the prying eyes of state auditors. Ballinger and his legislative friends — Jon Woods, Micah Neal, Cecile Bledsoe, Justin Harris, Stephen Meeks, Charlie Collins, Bart Hester, Randy Alexander, Jim Dotson, Jana Della Rosa, Debra Hobbs, (Republicans every one) funneled $700,000 of your tax dollars to a tiny Bible school called Ecclesia College, in violation of the state Constitution’s prohibition against supporting a religious institution. Ecclesia’s pitch was that it turned out reliable Republican voters. The college also was given a big grant from state general-improvement funds by legislators in the West Central Arkansas Planning District at Hot Springs, but records of which legislators dedicated the money have not surfaced.
Harris said last week that he never intended to earmark any money for the college. Planning district records show that the now convicted president of the school, Oren Paris III, notified the Northwest Arkansas district on June 18, 2015, that Harris had pledged $10,000 of his GIF allotment for the college’s workforce scholarships, but Harris said that when a reporter called him about it later that year he called the planning district and had his name taken off the list of donors. He said he had chilled on the school, which his twin brother had attended when it was a Youth With a Mission training school, and had not intended to give it any state funds. Paris told the district in another memo that another Republican representative, Grant Hodges, would pledge $5,000 of state funds for the school, but he, too, was not listed as a donor.
Woods and others connected to the scheme, including the college’s president, are going to prison for bribery and fraud. Neal confessed instantly and gets to stay home. Ballinger represented the college and its crooked president, perhaps owing to his own legal troubles. Banks started foreclosure proceedings on Ballinger’s home five times in seven years. Ballinger is a sponsor of Issue 1, the constitutional amendment that will end people’s constitutional right to full redress for their injuries and give legislators power over judicial proceedings. Look up his campaign donor list.
Space does not permit a recitation of the 15 or so other legislators and collaborating lobbyists and consultants — a couple are cooperative Democrats — who have been convicted, charged or implicated in schemes to siphon your tax dollars for personal advantage or for collaborating companies or “nonprofits.” See Max Brantley’s Sunday post on the Arkansas Blog for a tight summary of them or the almost daily issues of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for two years.
Then read Bob Ballinger’s official version of events.