Here are the five best and five worst performers in the recent legislative session. To accentuate the positive, we’ll begin with the best, in order.
1. House Speaker Bill Stovall — This pudgy, goateed mangler of grammar from Quitman, where he’s a quorum court alum and a convenience store mogul, ran the House fairly and boldly and with levels of savvy and efficiency uncommon even before term limits. He put the brightest and best in key committee chairmanships and used them as lieutenants in a well-coordinated leadership team. He killed Deltic Timber’s raid on Central Arkansas’s water supply. He’s some kind of Rain Man savant when it comes to the state budget.
2. Joyce Elliott — She didn’t pass everything she proposed, failing among other things on the immigrant scholarship bill that she’d filed even before Gov. Mike Huckabee decided to make it an administration initiative. But she managed through bravery and tenacity to earn the respect of colleagues even as she seldom missed a chance to aggravate them by espousing the lonely liberal view.
3. David Bisbee — This brutally candid former Marine is a throwback to days when Republicans were inclined to forge pragmatic, progressive, bipartisan solutions. No one worked harder on, or with greater command of, the budget and the school facilities challenge. For that he was betrayed by his own party, several members of which voted secretly against his seemingly automatic and seniority-based ascension to president pro tempore of the Senate. Modern-day Republicans want only a government that imposes religion and slops pork.
4. Will Bond — This young Jacksonville lawyer is smart and possessed of good instincts and responsible intentions. If he could somehow win the House speaker’s race, he might further the Stovall successes.
5. Jim Argue — He’d rank first on principle and competence but for the fact that the Senate fell out of control in his term as president pro tem.
Honorable mention — Doug Matayo of Springdale for filing no local pork bills and Shane Broadway for working hard on school facilities.
Now, for more vigorous competition, here are the five worst:
1. Charles Ormond — Everyone else was playing for second place after this Morrilton character proposed to put in the Constitution a state lottery with himself in charge of it.
2. Denny Altes — Only Ormond could deny first place to a senator with no more savvy than to run a bill and lose it by a vote of 1-to-17.
3. Bob Johnson — In a legislature without the two preceding extra-terrestrials, this king of the malaprop would win hands down. Motivated by an uncommon desire to seem important and by animus toward better-intended legislators who’d achieved leadership on merit, he forged a coalition of weak and petty senators to spend General Improvement money vitally needed for school facilities on local pork. He pretended to advocate even distribution of that fund per senator, then wound up advocating not equity, but ego and greed, all so he could take $400,000 to his tiny, out-of-the-way hometown of Bigelow for street lamps and such. Because he didn’t like Sen. Percy Malone of Arkadelphia, he and three pals kept bills bearing Malone’s name, no matter their value, blocked in the Public Health Committee. He tried to ruin Central Arkansas’s water supply.
4. Tracy Steele — He fell in with Johnson and wound up voting against the water interests of his hometown, North Little Rock. He took General Improvement money for PRIVATE colleges.
5. Gilbert Baker — He’s the Republican leader of the Senate and the state GOP chairman, yet he couldn’t and wouldn’t hold the Republican Senate contingent together to support the historic ascension of a party colleague, Bisbee, to the leadership of the Senate. He, too, fell in with Johnson to pretend to argue for equity but to end up fighting for ego and greed.
Dishonorable mention: Sen. Jim Holt of Springdale. You know it’s a bad session when he can’t crack the top five.