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February 20, 2014

Vol 21 • No 52

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A new day in the Little Rock School District

Enter Suggs, STEM, exit Reading Recovery.

It could be worse; Ted Nugent could be campaigning for the next Arkansas governor

Arkansas is trending conservative, but at least Ted Nugent isn't yet campaigning for the next governor (see Texas) and, so far, nobody has put a Confederate flag on the Little Rock Nine memorial at the state Capitol (see Mississippi).

Asa Hutchinson still dancing around private option

A YouTube video catches Asa Hutchinson in a Tea Party talk, dancing around where he stands on the state's private option expansion of Medicaid.

Follow the money in new report on drug spending

Something called the National Center for Policy Analysis has released a study (purely coincidental to legislative discussions of Medicaid expansion) that says Arkansas is overspending on drugs in its Medicaid program. Would it help if you knew this is another Koch Bros. front group?

Bitter-enders to unveil last gasp 'alternative' to private option

Tea Party dead-enders will roll out a bitter-end 'alternative' to the private option Medicaid expansion today, despite the fact the the plan already has 70 percent plus support and is headed to passage. The news conference is pure political posturing. It's also a handy photo op to get all the worst elements of the legislature in one place.

Darin Gray named president of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, the state's biggest ad and PR firm, has a new president. He's Darin Gray, former publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.

Little Rock proposes to expand recycling to larger apartment projects

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced today a proposed ordinance, supported by the real estate lobby, to require multi-family projects to provide for recycling beginning July 1.

State panel approves expansion of enrollment for Academics Plus charter school in Maumelle

Despite objections from the Pulaski County School District and a lackluster record, the Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle won approval from the state Education Department's charter authorizing panel to expand its enrollment cap from 650 to 850.

Capitol scuttlebutt: the legislature takes up the private option for Medicaid expansion

Check back here for all of the latest developments, rumors, and gossip as the legislature takes up the private option, the state's unique plan to expand healthcare coverage for low-income Arkansans.

UPDATE: French Hill opposes the private option, but Asa Hutchinson continues to dodge

What's Republican congressional candidate French Hill's position on the private option expansion of Medicaid? The question becomes interesting with opponent Ann Clemmer, a member of the state House, currently among the critical handful of legislators who flipped from support of Arkansas's version of Obamacare to a "no" vote this week. Answer: He's a no, too.

Kidnapping indictment returned in case of slain Gurdon woman

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas announced today the indictment of Kevin Bolton, 38, in a kidnapping that resulted in the death last year of Cassandra Carter, 20 of Gurdon.

Polling in statewide races: Edge to Republicans

The City Wire has results from recent statewide polling by Impact Management on races for U.S. Senate, governor and lieutenant governor. Republicans led two, with a dead heat in the race for governor.

Interview: Actress Barbara Bates Smith on her new play, 'Go, Granny D!'

On Monday night, the Weekend Theater will present a one-night-only production of "Go, Granny D!" a new play about the activist Doris Haddock, who famously walked 3,200 miles across the country back in 2000 to advocate for campaign finance reform. The play is a collaboration between the longtime Off-Broadway actress Barbara Bates Smith and the musician and manager Jeff Sebens. I spoke to Smith over the phone recently about Haddock's life and legacy, and about the importance of Little Rock to the play.

Tyson Foods under the microscope in book by former Arkansas reporter

NPR gives quite a treatment to "The Meat Racket," a new book by former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Chris Leonard on Tyson Foods. It praises the genius of Don Tyson, but raises familiar criticism of the poultry giant's relationship with contract suppliers of chicken.

Arkansas House again fails to pass private option Medicaid expansion, 68-27

The House voted again today on the private option expansion of Medicaid and, needing 75 votes, it failed for the second time — 68-27 with one present. It lost two votes from the first vote yesterday. Passage is still predicted.

Oxford American unveils Spring 2014 issue

The Oxford American magazine has released the cover for its Spring 2014 issue, which will be on sale March 1. The issue features Steve Featherstone on a python hunting contest in the Everglades, Jamie Quatro on Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal, Rachel Monroe on the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, and John T. Edge on the resurgence of potlikker, among other things. There will be a release party on March 5 at the Oxford American Annex at 1300 Main Street.

Announcing the Eat Arkansas Spring Photo Contest

Eat Arkansas is proud to announce our Spring 2014 Photo Contest, and we want your pictures! Photo submissions will be judged by our Eat Arkansas readership, and the winner will receive some nifty prizes. Submit your photograph today!

Heber Springs mayor Jackie McPherson sets 1st District congressional announcement

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson apparently will, as long rumored, enter the race for 1st District Congress as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Rick Crawford.

The open line: Walmart might back minimum wage increase. Food photo contest. Edwin is coming!

The midweek line is now open. The evening roundup includes Walmart's potential support for an increase in the minimum wage, an Arkansas Times food photo contest, an effort to fix a problem with absentee voting and 86-year-old ex-con Edwin Edwards' consideration of a race for Congress.

The Hive's Matthew McClure nominated for James Beard Award

The nominees for the annual James Beard Awards (the Oscars of the restaurant world) were announced today, and Matthew McClure, chef at The Hive inside the 21c hotel in Bentonville, is among those in the running for Best Chef: South.

Robert Earl Keen returns to Revolution

Also, Lord Dying at Vino's, John Paul Keith at White Water Tavern, Dick Gregory at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Denise Parkinson book signing at the Old State House Museum, Kari Faux at Revolution, Golden Dragon Acrobats at Walton Arts, 'Go Granny D' at the Weekend Theater and the Harlem Globetrotters at Verizon Arena.

People don't matter; business, industry do

The campaign to stiffen the spines of the handful of lawmakers who want to stop health insurance for 100,000 to 200,000 Arkansans who are in economic misery perfectly mirrors the hard-right crusade, the most successful political movement of our time.

Brave New still winning

Food is as good as ever at Peter Brave's classic.

Saved by Mad Nomad

Duped at the Showcase.

Errors in Mt. Judea farm's permit draw criticism

But no manure spread in wrong area, ADEQ says.

'Dallas Buyers Club' comes to Argenta Community Theater

Also, 'Jug Face' plays Ron Robinson.

We treat our dogs better

A couple of weeks ago we took Cork in to help him die. Quickly and free of pain. It strengthened my conviction that we should legally be able to do this for humans, too.

It was a good week for health care in Arkansas

It was also a good week for Hog memories, death penalty opponents and Jane Chu. It was a bad week for health care in Arkansas, Warren Stephens and Missy Irvin.

End minority rule

As the Arkansas Times prepared to publish on Tuesday, it appeared that, after months of bluster, Arkansas lawmakers would reauthorize funds to cover the state's private option to Medicaid expansion. That's good news.

The bird

It's a lovely day outside as The Observer writes this, one of those rare February days when we wish we still worked outside, or at least at some job that included outdoor naptimes on the list of employee perks. On days like today we can't help but recall tales from our days working a roofing crew.

Ask the Times: I got a drone for Christmas. What can I do with it?

Will the government come get me?

Hogs maturing

Saturdays have been equal parts heaven and hell for Arkansas basketball of late, and that's been aptly shown in February alone. The Hogs started this critical month in horrid fashion: They went to Baton Rouge to play a resurgent LSU team, limping after a home loss to Missouri, and did so without the services of the suspended Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris.


'RoboCop' reboot forgets what made original compelling.

Back in Clintonland

Back in 1993, a Washington Post reporter asked me which Clinton was smarter, Bill or Hillary.

Standing tall

Cypress trees in Hill Lake in North Little Rock.

Sleaze watch

You thought Republican control of the legislature would change things? Evidence to the contrary follows.

Walmart announces a dividend increase

Walmart announced this morning an increase in the company's stock dividend from $1.88 to $1.92 a share, or slightly more than a 2 percent increase. More than half of that increase will accrue to the benefit of the family of founder Sam Walton.

Blue Cross explains reversal on providing family coverage to same-sex couples

Possible explanations have emerged for the recent announcement by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield that it will provide insurance coverage to legally married same-sex couples. The law and shame played a role in a similar policy change in North Carolina.

Republican legislature reluctant to root out waste in lieutenant governor's office

Sen. Bruce Maloch of Magnolia introduced as promised yesterday a measure to reduce spending in the fiscal year beginning July 1 on the vacant lieutenant governor's office. It faces Republican resistance, including outright opposition from Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux. Republicans are serious about cutting spending except when it involves political cronies apparently.

Lottery sales continue decline

The state Lottery Commission heard another report on declining revenues yesterday and again lowered expectations on profits expected to put into lottery college scholarships. This was inevitable and the prospects for reversal of the trend are not bright.

New mixtape and music video from Kari Faux, 'Spontaneous Generation'

Today is Kari Faux Day here at the Arkansas Times, as the Little Rock rapper and producer has released both her new mixtape, "Spontaneous Generation," and her new video, for "House of Avalon." The tape features a handful of her best recent songs, like "Vince Carter" and "Rap Game Daria," plus guest appearance by Little Rock exile S.L. Jones and production by locals Malik Flint and Fresco Grey.

At South on Main, even the pork skins are mind-blowing

We never thought we would recommend a place based on pork rinds, but leave it to South on Main to cook some up that leave us wanting more.

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson enters 1st District congressional race

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson announced this morning as a Democratic candidate for 1st District Congress, a seat now held by Republican Rep. Rick Crawford.

Arkansas Senate expected to vote first today on Medicaid expansion

The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. this morning and is expected to take its first vote on the private option version of Medicaid expansion under President Obama's Affordable Care Act. See here for notes from the Senate floor debate...

Senate approves bill to bypass election for lieutenant governor

Without dissent this morning, the Arkansas Senate approved SB 139 to allow Gov. Mike Beebe not to call a special election this year to fill the office of lieutenant governor, vacated Feb. 1 by Mark Darr's resignation over misuse of taxpayer and campaign money. The bill goes to the House. For now, the deadwood four-person staff in the office still can look forward to a year's pay for doing nothing.

Senate passes private option for Medicaid expansion 27-8

As expected, the Senate voted 27-8 to approve the budget which includes the appropriation for the private option for Medicaid expansion. Our wrapup of the vote includes comments from key swing vote Sen. Jane English, plus a preview of the coming House vote.

Sen. Mark Pryor to join campaign to raise the Arkansas minimum wage

Give Arkansas a Raise, the grassroots group hoping to raise the state minimum wage by an initiated act from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour says U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor will join the group for a news conference endorsing the increase at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bullock Temple CME Church.

Sibling Rivalry Press previews its Spring 2014 lineup

Sibling Rivalry Press, the independent publishing house based out of Alexander, Arkansas, home to Assaracus, the "world's only print journal of gay male poetry" (named a "Best New Magazine" by Library Journal in 2012), has announced its Spring 2014 lineup, which will go on sale on March 14.

More screenings announced at the Little Rock Horror Picture Show

The Little Rock Horror Picture Show continues to leak details about its 2014 festival, which will be held March 20-23 at the Ron Robinson Theater. The latest additions: Ti West's "The Sacrament" and Jesse T. Cook's "Septic Man." West is the filmmaker behind "Cabin Fever 2" and 2009's great "The House of the Devil," and Cook was a producer on "Exit Humanity," which won the Grand Jury Prize at the first Horror Picture Show.

House vote on private option could be delayed

Democratic Minority Leader Greg Leding told reporters that he believes the votes are there to pass the private option by the needed supermajority, but it might not be possible today because of concerns over procedural issues. 

Thursday To-Do: Lord Dying

Lord Dying will be at Vino's tonight, 8 p.m., $10.

What are friends for? Lamoureux kills bill to cut spending on lt. governor's staff

David Ramsey reports that Senate President Michael Lamoureux has killed the effort by Sen. Bruce Maloch to curb spending on the lieutenant governor's office staff. We'll apparently continue to spend $267,000 a year on people with nothing to do because they are political cronies of Lamoureux

Chili with a Kick returns to Dickey-Stephens

The sixth annual Big Red Ball Charitable Foundation’s Chili with a Kick returns to Dickey-Stephens Park from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22. The event includes a kickball tournament, local music, kids activities, a jalapeno-eating contest and a chili cook-off.

2nd District GOP candidate Reynolds jabs opponent French Hill

The Republican primary race for 2nd District Congress is about more than posturing on the private option by Rep. Ann Clemmer, who voted for it in 2013, and Little Rock banker French Hill, who's declared his opposition to all things Obama-related.Tea Party Republican Conrad Reynolds interjects some points from Hill's record that he think might resonate to his advantage — Hill advocacy for a tax increase, his occasional financial support for Democratic candidates and his wife's work as a lobbyist for the health care industry.

Johnny Moore resigns as president of Philander Smith College

Philander Smith College, the historically black institution in Little Rock, has announced by news release today the abrupt resignation of President Johnny Moore to pursue "other personal and profesional opporutnities." He'd been president only since July 2012. Lloyd Hervey will be interim president.

Thursday To-Do: Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen will be at Revolution tonight, 8:30 p.m., $30.

Back when we put nekkid ladies on the cover

For Throwback Thursday, read an entire issue of the Arkansas Times from 1977.

House again falls short on private option, but expected to pass on next vote

The House today fell short of the needed supermajority for the private option, but today's 72-25 vote, with 75 needed for passage, was essentially meaningless as to final passage, for reasons explained here. Leaders still predict the measure will be approved in the near future.

A Visit to Ugly Mike's Records

Yesterday after work I stopped by Ugly Mike’s Records, on 12th Street between Holy Cross Baptist Church and the Family Dollar. People prone to hang out in record stores are probably plenty familiar with the Arkansas Record & CD Exchange and Been Around, but Ugly Mike’s occupied a different sort of role in its heyday, and I went yesterday wondering what exactly that role is today.

The open line: Bella Vista bypass in trouble; Tom Cotton's phone records sought; prosecutor seeks re-election

The open line includes a report on a money hangup on building the long-sought freeway bypass around Bella Vista. Also: Questions about electioneering by Tom Cotton in U.S. Capitol and a re-election announcement from Prosecutor Larry Jegley.

Food Feedback Friday: pork chops, prego, and picatta

And now it’s time for Food Feedback Friday. That time of the week in which we turn the blog over to you guys. We want to hear about all your eating excursions around Arkansas.

Who's needy? The hypocrisy of Obamacare opponents

The National Journal highlights the hypocrisy of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who decries health subsidies for poor people under the Affordable Care Act, but enjoys a fat subsidy from taxpayers of Georgia courtesy of his service there as a state legislator. There are undoubtedly similar hypocrites in the current and retired crop of Arkansas legislators, but taxpayers are not allowed to know which ones receive subsidies.

The University of Arkansas's PR show on 'transparency'

The University of Arkansas at Fayettevile, buffeted by a financial scandal and efforts to cover it up, has now launched a public relations offensive to prove it's committed to open dealings with the media and everybody else. It's doomed to failure without some fundamental changes at UA.

Quapaw Tribe hints at Little Rock casino

Channel 4 reports on an interview with chief of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, which has purchased 160 acres near the Port of Little Rock and is doing anything but ruling out the possibility that it could be considered for a casino someday.

Arkansas Tech unveils new theater

The road was rocky, featuring a faculty/administration dispute, but Arkansas Tech University is touting its renovated theater and facilities for teaching drama at the Russellville campus.

Remembering the stakes in the debate over the Arkansas private option

Amid all the shouting and the political maneuvering, it's worth taking a step back from time to time. Let's remember the real stakes in the private option debate.

A handout or a hand? House has another vote on private option

House leaders continue to believe 75 votes are committed to another year of the private option version of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Uncertainty continues to exist about when the planets will align. Growing consensus seems to be that it won't occur until Tuesday.

Duckstronaut wins Round 4 of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase

Little Rock's Duckstronaut took Round 4 of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase last night with washboard and dulcimer in tow. They'll go on to the finals with Peckerwolf, John Willis, Mad Nomad and next week's winner.

Blue Hog: Nate Bell amendment is a potential private option killer

Could Rep. Nate Bell's amendment to prevent publicity about expanded health insurance programs be a poison pill to kill Obamacare in Arkansas? Blue Hog Report develops the theory.

House falls short of supermajority for fourth time on Private Option for Medicaid expansion

Four the fourth time, the Arkansas House failed this morning to pass the private option version of Medicaid expansion. Needing 75 votes, it got 71, with 18 opposed and 13 not voting . The House adjourned until another vote Tuesday morning. Two Aye votes were out of their seats, putting the count at 73. Leadership continues to believe it will gather the 75 votes, but the hunt for two last votes goes on...

Interview: Arkansas hip-hop pioneer Ty "Tenta B" Burns

Last week I posted a video on this blog by a Little Rock rap group from the early '90s called Tenta B and the R.T.P. I knew nothing about them, so I asked for help tracking them down, and after a series of emails I found myself on the phone yesterday afternoon with Tenta B himself, whose real name is Tyrone Burns. He now goes by Ty Burnz, and is still making music and managing other artists. We talked about his career, about the Little Rock rap scene that he belonged to and emerged from, and about what happened to it all.

Judge issues written order invalidating new lethal injection law

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen today issued his written opinion on a decision he'd announced earlier from the bench that struck down a new Arkansas law on lethal injection as an unconstitutional delegation of power to the Correction Department.

Arkansas National Guard member suspended over spoof casket photo

The Arkansas National Guard has announced that a member of the Arkansas Guard has been suspended for taking part in a joke photograph featuring an empty flag-draped casket. The photo, posted on social media, was taken at a training course at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

The open line: Whistling Dixie; Windstream job cuts; UCA bans e-cigarettes; a call for Democratic surrender

The Friday evening open line and news roundup includes suspects, but no charges, in Meredith statue stunt at Ole Miss. Sure. Utter stupidity isn't necessarily a crime. Also: Windstream announces job cuts. Hot Springs lawyer Andrea Davis' law license suspended. UCA bans e-cigarettes. David Brock returns to Arkansas. Finally, a call for surrender of Democrats working with Republicans on a half-measure Medicaid plan. Let the GOP win. See Kansas, where a taste of Sam Brownback governance turned out to have an unpleasant taste to voters.

The Tyranny of the Minority Edition

How much we hate the Arkansas legislature and minority rule, what Asa Hutchinson and French Hill think about the private option, a new congressional candidate, whether a casino might be in Little Rock's future and the vocal stylings of Warren Stephens — all covered on this week's podcast.

Dick Gregory in Little Rock, with DIGNITY

Activist Dick Gregory was in Little Rock for a talk tonight, but he met before hand with a community group known as DIGNITY. Gregory had worked with the group in 1991 to fight inner city crime and the scourge of crack cocaine.

The private option beat goes on: can the House get over the supermajority hump on Tuesday?

A roundup of today's shenanigans at the Capitol as the Arkansas House continues to debate the private option. The policy fell a handful of votes short of a supermajority for the fourth time today. What will happen when the House votes on Tuesday?

Quest charter school changes locations; question remains on enrollment policy

The Quest charter school in western Little Rock has moved to a new site, close by a Little Rock middle school. An absence of neighborhood alternatives was one argument presented for approval of the school. Other questions linger about the startup, including whether some parents will enjoy a preference in what has been described as an "open enrollment" school.

FOI shows scant e-mail for lieutenant governor staff member

An FOI request shows little in the way of e-mail crossing the desk of the $51,000-a-year director of government relations in the office of the Arkansas lieutenant governor. But it was a good week for Josh Curtis. He announced for Saline JP and the Senate president pro ten protected his paycheck for the year.

City, state propose to help pay for utility relocation costs on downtown development

The state and the city are planning to pay $248,500 of the cost of relocating electric lines for develop of two hotels and an apartment project on blocks catacorner from each other at Fourth and Rock Streets. The government contribution is described as a spur to $58 million in investment that would contribute to downtown development.

The private option: minority of lawmakers try to force the end of a policy, working as intended, supported by overwhelming majority

Two things to keep in mind on the "private option" for Medicaid expansion, currently blocked by 27 representatives in the Arkansas House...

Tough talking Tom Cotton puts finger to wind on minimum wage increase in state

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor participated today, as previously announced, in a press conference by a grassroots group hoping to win ballot approval of an increase in the state minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour. A development today is U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, Pryor's extremist Republican opponent, going wobbly on the state wage increase proposal. He's not for it. But he's not against it. He's studying it.

Arkansas: The Land Ethics Forgot. Plus an open line

For Saturday's open line, yet another example of the Arkansas legislature's lack of propriety. Sen. Johnny Key, who presides over higher education budgeting (and helped them considerably most agree), says he will apply for the job of University of Arkansas lobbyist. There is a law that Key helped adopt that prevents direct movement from the legislature to the lobby — EXCEPT for people who were in the legislature when the law was passed. Like Key.

Does Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna really deserve a James Beard award?

In the early part of 2012, Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna became the first (and to this day, only) restaurant in Arkansas to receive a prestigious James Beard Award. Jones was honored by the Beard Foundation as one of its “American Classics,” and praised for their commitment to quality and respect for their heritage. In their press release, The Beard Foundation praised Jones as a “beacon of community pride and continuity. But does it really deserve such an honor?

The elephant in the Capitol: You ain't seen nothing yet on Medicaid expansion

The as-yet-unresolved fight over continuation of the Obamacare-provided expansion of Medicaid in Arkansas has been tough this year. In a regular session in 2015, it will be worse, maybe impossible.

The Sunday open line: Ethical vacuum and Libertarians in the news.

It's an open line. But news includes Sen. Johnny Key's refusal to talk about the ethical implications of his effort to get the $200,000-year publicly financed lobbying job for the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. Also: Libertarian Party nominates candidates.

Political filing season opens; Elvis is in the building

Election filing begins at noon today, with state office candidates filing at the Capitol, and local candidates going to county courthouses. One famous name is already in the mix. Elvis Presley is a Libertarian candidate for state land commissioner.

Obamacare horror stories fail fact-checks; so what about Tom Cotton's 'Elizabeth'?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes today about Obamacare scare stories being churned out by the Republican Party opposition. On closer examination, they fall apart, false or not nearly so dire as portrayed.Which raises a question: What about the vaguely cited Obamacare victim U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton cited in his response to President Obama's weekly address Saturday? Will he give reporters a name so that it can be fact-checked, too?

Roby Brock and Talk Business changing partner from KARK to KATV; now two Sunday shows

Roby Brock announced today that his Talk Business and Politics was changing TV partners, from the Fox 16/KARK-4 combined news operation to KATV. Brock had been with Fox and Channel 4 for 15 years.

82 Arkansas legislators covered by state employee insurance

A solid majority of the members of the Arkansas legislature enjoy low-cost state subsidized health insurance. But, state officials say, federal privacy laws prohibit identifying the recipients. It would be otherwise interesting to compare the recipients with the roll call on the private option Medicaid expansion vote.

Beebe: Two votes shy on private option, but says two House members undecided

Gov. Mike Beebe, attending a national governors conference in Washington, told reporters today that, by his count, supporters of private option Medicaid expansion were two votes short of the 75 needed in the House. But he counted two House members as undecided, enough to get the job done if they come over by tomorrow's vote.

Editorial educates private option opponent Farrer, a hospital administrator of all things

An editorial in the Arkansas Leader, written by our Ernest Dumas, provides some arithmetic, public policy and hospital economics education to Republican Rep. Joe Farrer of Austin, a dedicated foe of the Medicaid expansion. He's an administrator at a Jacksonville hospital if you can believe it.

Porter Fund to honor Charles Portis with Lifetime Achievement Award

The Porter Fund, founded by Little Rock novelists Jack Butler and Phil McMath in 1984, gives a Lifetime Achievement Award to an Arkansas author every five years, and this year's honoree will be Charles Portis, author of "Norwood" and "True Grit" and "Gringos" among others. Portis, notably uncomfortable with attention or public spectacle of any sort, will be celebrated with a $200-per-ticket gala at the Governor's Mansion. The night will feature readings by Jay Jennings, writer and editor of "Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany," Roy Reed, the great journalist and nonfiction writer (and former Porter winner), and Roy Blount, Jr., who once said that Portis "could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he'd rather be funny."

UPDATE: Arkansas federal judgeships before Senate today

The theoretically non-controversial nominations of Judge Jay Moody of Little Rock and Timothy Brooks of Fayetteville to judicial vacancies are the U.S. Senate agenda today. They've been delayed for months by Republican obstructionism and even the final votes could take two days because of cloture vote and time-consuming "debate," all part of the GOP plan to squelch as many Obaman appointees as possible.

Asa Hutchinson announces; continues to duck private option preference; emphasizes minorities

Asa Hutchinson announced as a Republican candidate for governor today and he continued to dodge stating a preference on the private option expansion of Medicaid, perhaps due for a climactic vote tomorrow. Whatever happens, it will shape budget decisions dramatically — for good or ill — for the person who takes office as governor in January. Hutchinson chose instead to emphasize his outreach to minorities — black and Latino.

Open line: Election filings begin; Cotton scores well with Club for Growth; bank branch robbed; Arkansas in spotlight on Medicaid

An open line: The news roundup includes election filings, Tom Cotton's work for the Club for Growth, national attention to Arkansas for the private option vote and a bank robbery.

Lieutenant governor's staff to resign June 30, Lamoureux Tweets

Arkansas Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux sent the Tweet above moments ago, signaling a resolution of the matter of employing a four-person staff for a non-existent lieutenant governor. They will all quit June 30.

Government shutdown raised in Arkansas Medicaid expansion debate

The possibility of a government shutdown has been raised in the context of the Arkansas House's failure so far to adopt the state human services budget with its continuation of the Obamacare-enabled expansion of Medicaid. Who gains politically from a shutdown? In Arkansas, the answer might not be so clear as it seems.

No severance pay for lieutenant governor's staff? Really?

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quoted Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux this morning as saying there'd be no severance package for the four-person staff of the lieutenant governor's office. As reported yesterday, they've decided to resign effective June 30. No severance package? They had a great one. Six months of pay and benefits for very light labor.

Thousands in Arkansas would benefit from minimum wage increase

An increase in the minimum wage is not an abstract economic policy debate, but a subject with real meaning to working people. or example; New government statistics show that 44,000 Arkansas workers are paid at or below the $7.25 federal minimum wage. What's more, 14,000 of those workers are paid less than the federal minimum wage, which means they have only the protection of the state's $6.25 an hour minimum wage.

UPDATE: 32 applications for UA lobbying job that Sen. Johnny Key seeks

Will Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home file for re-election to the Senate this week? Or will he decline to do so as he pursues the job of lobbyist for the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, a $202,000 job from which Richard Hudson is retiring July 31? In theory, the job is wide open, hotly contested and won't be decided until well after the filing period is over, based on information I've received from the UA through FOI requests and other questions.

Thai meatballs and provolone "bacon" with the NWA Foodie

Blogger Lyndi Fultz of shares with us a recipe for "bacon" made from provolone cheese and some Thai-inspired meatballs that are sure to spice up your next cocktail party.

Mark Darr applies for UA lobbyist post

My apologies. I got the batch of UA lobbyist applications late and posted them before a thorough review, in part because I suspect it's an academic exercise. But, among the applicants is someone who needs work, former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr.

Searching for two more votes for a private option supermajority

Will the House vote this afternoon on the private option for Medicaid expansion? House leadership says it's a "game-time decision." The measure has already passed the Senate and has 73 votes in the House, but needs two more for the needed supermajority. Can the last two votes be found to re-appropriate the private option, or will the session end without a DHS budget at all?

Jay Moody gets Senate confirmation to federal judgeship

The U.S. Senate, after months of delay, has finally taken up the confirmation of Circuit Judge Jay Moody for a federal district court judgeship. He will be approved by the Democratic majority, with at least one Republican vote, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.

Senator proposes to cut pay of Securities Commissioner Heath Abshure

Arkansas Securities Commissioner Heath Abshure, a target of the state's biggest investment house, Stephens Inc., found himself today targeted for a pay cut by Republican Sen. Bryan King.

State puts $575,000 into Argenta innovation center

Gov. Mike Beebe was on hand today for the announcement of a $575,000 Arkansas Economic Development Commission grant to the Argenta Regional Innovation Hub. A building at Broadway and Poplar, North Little Rock, will house the center, which is aimed at encouraging tech startups, STEM education and after-school and summer programs for students.

Say hello to The Main Cheese

In the spirit of reinvented and restructured comfort foods, The Main Cheese, Little Rock’s first (and for the time being, only) “gourmet” grilled cheese restaurant opens today. We were invited to a “soft opening” yesterday evening, an opportunity we jumped on in order to see exactly what this hotly anticipated establishment had going for it.

Judge issues written order on contempt fine in Josh Hastings case

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has now put in writing his contempt finding of defense attorney Bill James over his actions during the manslaughter trial of former Little Rock patrol officer Josh Hastings. Feb. 5, the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed James' appeal of the finding and a $25,000 fine because there wasn't a written order for the court to consider. He reduced the fine to $5,000.

North Little Rock gets a new goose dog

Remember the great Burns Park goose problem? Geese are again fouling the otherwise fair ways of North Little Rock's Burns Park and the city has bought a new dog to control the problem.

Ending private option would take away coverage from 100,000 Arkansans, whether opponents like to admit that or not

100,000 Arkansans (and counting) would lose their coverage if the legislature defunds the private option, and around 100,000 more eligible people would never gain coverage at all. That is the policy outcome that the hardcore defund group is fighting for, even if they're loathe to admit it.

New music-themed film series coming to Ron Robinson Theater

The Little Rock Film Festival will be bringing a new monthly film series to the Ron Robinson Theater highlighting music-themed films, "both new and classic, documentary and narrative," starting March 1, with Chris Terry and David Lipke's sludge metal documentary, "Slow Southern Steel." The film delves deeps into the Southern metal scene, featuring interviews with sludge metal icons from Eyehategod to Dark Castle, and narration by Weedeater frontman “Dixie” Dave Collins

ACLU warns North Little Rock School District about creationism teaching

The ACLU's Arkansas affiliate has sent a warning to the North Little Rock School District about teaching of creationism in public school classes. It wants a response in 10 days showing the district has corrected the practice.

No House vote today on private option

The House did not take a vote on the private option today, which likely means proponents are still a vote or two short of the needed 75-vote supermajority. Check here for all the latest on the ongoing legislative debate...

The open line: Election filings continue; private option enrollment tops 105,000

The Tuesday line is open. News of note includes the continuation of election filings and the latest count on the number of people who'll be out of luck if the legislature doesn't re-authorize the Medicaid expansioni — 105,000.

The end game continues on Medicaid expansion

This morning, the situation looks dire on winning conventional House approval — 75 votes — of the Human Services appropriation bill that includes money for the private option expansion of Medicaid. Proponents haven't given up finding the two missing votes but a letter from 27 Republicans (of 51 in the House) demanding negotiations complicates matters.

Quapaw Quarter halfway house continues to occupy zoning agency

The Capitol Zoning District Commission will have a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to adopt findings of fact relative to the commission's denial of a permit for a rooming house at 2000 Broadway for former first-offenders recovering from substance abuse.

Contrary to what Johnny Key said, his hiring as UA lobbyist would require immediate resignation from Senate

Sen. Johnny Key says it's unclear on whether he'd have to resign from the Senate to take a job as lobbyist for the University of Arkansas, a deal that appears to be in the works. Actually, it couldn't be clearer, if ethical standards mattered to him or the University of Arkansas.

Johnny Key wouldn't have to register as lobbyist? Hmmm

One more thing about the plan for the University of Arkansas to pluck Sen. Johnny Key from the higher education budget subcommittee and make him a $200,000-a-year lobbyist. He wouldn't have to register? Hmmm.

Your last chance to help fund the Little Rock-based card game, 'People-Person'

Adam Hogg describes himself as a "401(K) record-keeper, tax accountant, singer, musician, magician and comedian." This is being modest: He is also the inventor of a card game, "People-Person," which he says "replicates life, its situations and its interactions." He's worked on the project for about two years, and is currently crowd-funding the game through the site Indiegogo. He only has five days left, but he needs less than a hundred bucks to reach his $4,000 goal.

Corporate tax rates don't necessarily mean big tax bills

A new report from the Citizens for Tax Justice of the country's biggest corporations shows that many don't pay anything like the top 35 percent corporate income tax rate. Many pay nothing at all.

Help us track down Arkansas Times Academic All-Star alumni

For 20 years, the Arkansas Times has highlighted 20 of the best and brightest high school students in Arkansas. For our anniversary edition in April, we're hoping to track down as many alumni as possible.

Appeals court requires contempt finding for mother unable to marry same-sex partner

The road to equality for same-sex couples remains bumpy in Arkansas. The Arkanas Court of Appeals today for the second time remanded a case to Sebastian Circuit Court and directed a contempt finding against a woman who lives with a same-sex partner while teen children are present.

Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn and Bobby Bare to perform at 4th Annual Johnny Cash Music Festival

This year's Johnny Cash Music Festival will be held August 15 at Arkansas State University's Convocation Center in Jonesboro. Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire and Bobby Bare will perform, and Mark Lowry will host. Tickets go on sale this Friday.

Sign of a growing Republican Party — division

There's no surer sign of the growing strength of the Republican Party than meaningful division in the ranks, both personal and political. We've seen it in the deep split in the Republican delegation on the private option Medicaid expansion. And now it's my pleasure to pass along this remarkably lucid warning from Secure Arkansas — an extreme right group — that decries the influence of money, the Koch brothers and outside organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council on an issue dear to Secure Arkansas, fluoridation of water.

From the left: 'Democrats are stupid.' The reference includes Mark Pryor

Daily Kos, the unapologetically liberal blg, is unimpressed by middle of the road Democrats like U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor who are attempting to finesse the minimum wage issue — opposing it on the federal level, but supporting a smaller increase on the state level. His Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, doesn't support either increase, despite broad voter support, and he's leading in most polls.

Mike Ross officially begins campaign for governor, criticizes Asa Hutchison on private option

Mike Ross completed the paperwork this morning to file as a "conservative Democrat" for governor. He voiced full support for private option Medicaid expansion and faulted Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson for avoiding a position.

Texas judge rules state ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional

Add Texas to the growing list of states where judges — this one federal — have ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

No vote today on Medicaid expansion

The bills to fund private option Medicaid expansion have again been passed over in the House today. Here's all the latest from the Capitol.

The Ozark Foothills FilmFest announces 2014 lineup

The Ozark Foothills FilmFest, held each Spring in Batesville, has announced its 2014 lineup, which will include a new, free panel and sidebar called "Breaking Through," made possible by a festival grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (only 23 such awards are give out each year). In addition to screenings of narrative and documentary features, shorts and animation (a full list of which can be found on their site), the festival will host visiting filmmakers and offer a screenwriting workshop.

Sen. Hutchinson files to suspend operation of radio station

Radio KEWI-AM in Benton suspended operation Feb. 7, according to an FCC filing. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is managing member of Saline River Media, which operated the station.

Where things stand in the legislature on the private option for Medicaid expansion

The last few weeks have featured all manner of legislative drama over the private option. Today was a little quieter, so it’s a good time to step back and look at the big picture on the political lay of the land. The House remains at an impasse. Is there a way out?