I’m taking a mid-election season vacation and glad of it.
The gubernatorial TV debate last week typifies my seasonal weariness.
Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson trotted out rehearsed talking points. Ross won on points. He’s committed to the private option, a minimum wage increase and a phased-in restructuring of the state income tax. Asa Hutchinson is dodgy.
But even Ross supporters concede that, after three losing statewide races, Hutchinson has achieved more ease before the camera. Ross tries too hard. Fifteen debates won’t alter this landscape.
The race for U.S. Senate? Mark Pryor is a nice guy, a centrist who has cast occasional tough votes in the public interest. Tom Cotton is a right-wing ideologue. If you want to strangle government — and some poor people with it — he’s your man. If you’d like to bomb a bunch of countries, particularly those inhabited by Muslims, Cotton is again your man.
I can stand a two-week respite from the barrage of their TV ads.
Lost in the shuffle are races and issues worthy of closer inspection.
Nate Steel is far more qualified to be attorney general than political-patronage-job-hopper Leslie Rutledge, who was judged unworthy of rehire after a short stint at the Department of Human Services in 2007. She refuses to allow release of records that could explain why she’s unfit to work in juvenile court but qualified to be the state’s top lawyer.
The ballot is loaded with bad legislative ideas. Beebe Republican Sen. Jon Dismang’s proposal to require legislative approval for all agency rules would consolidate still more power in an already-too-powerful legislative branch.
Then there’s the so-called ethics amendment. It would restrict lobbyist bribery of lawmakers with meals and drinks, but it contains a well-hidden kicker. It loosens term limits substantially.
By giving a legislator the ability to serve 16 consecutive years in House or Senate, it will bring back the day of despotic dinosaurs. Imagine what Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) could do if given 16 years in the House.
Judicial politics also encourages flight. Will judges follow law — or tailor rulings to the perceived popular will — in a raft of pending cases?
The court must decide:
If voters can decide whether all counties should allow alcohol sales, or whether checkerboard prohibition can be kept in place to enrich county- line liquor stores.
If voters can decide on raising the minimum wage, or whether an 11th-hour challenge by Jackson T. Stephens Jr., one of the state’s richest men (thanks to inheritance, not personal toil), can kill a few extra pennies for working people.
If the Arkansas Constitution means what it says — NO additional restrictions may be added to voting. Or will the court approve the Republican Voter ID law, meant to discourage votes by the poor, elderly and minorities?
From campaign spending, you’re encouraged to believe the court listens more attentively to special pleaders than precedent. Nursing home magnate Michael Morton has now bought a piece of a significant chunk of Arkansas judiciary.
Then there’s Justice Cliff Hoofman, who hopes to get yet another patronage appointment to the Court of Appeals from his former Senate pal, Gov. Mike Beebe, when his Supreme Court term ends this year.
Hoofman, we’ve just learned, chatted recently on several matters — including the pending same-sex marriage case — with Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway). Rapert has been trying to intimidate judges by threat of recall to uphold discrimination against gay people.
Rapert’s approval would be necessary if Hoofman is to get another appointed paycheck when his Supreme Court term ends. Can you add 2 plus 2?
Many questions. The likely answers aren’t encouraging. I’ll be in Budapest.