Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Who said the Civil War is over? See Arkansas legislature

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 10:03 AM

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It's a busy day at the legislature, a day that will find the Civil War and its vestiges at the forefront.

* ROBERT E. LEE — Another committee fight is scheduled this morning over legislation to decouple Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the holiday that now, in most of the United States, honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Neo-Confederates dominated the debate at the bill's first hearing, when it failed to receive a do-pass. Supporters are expected today.

* VOTE SUPPRESSIONSen. Bryan King has filed a proposed constitutional amendment to require a photo ID when voting in person. A law to accomplish that was held unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The legislation is part of a national effort by Republicans to institute such laws because they have been shown to discourage voting among constituencies that tend to vote Democrat — particularly black people. It wasn't long ago that Martin Luther King led marches to win the vote for black people in the South. Today, the ruling Republican Party clings to Robert E. Lee (Rep. Nate Bell being one exception) and vote suppression. King may face some difficulties getting this measure on the ballot given the makeup of the Senate committee that will consider constitutional amendments — it's half Democratic.

* LOTTERY BILL DISCRIMINATION — A Senate committee agenda includes Sen. Jimmy Hickey's bill to signifcantly raise the standards to qualify for a lottery scholarship — to a 3.25 GPA and 22 ACT score. Others can get a scholarship after successful completion of a year in college. Given the direct correlation between poverty, race and standardized test scores, you can reliably predict this bill will reduce the percentage of poor and minority recipients of lottery scholarships. The delayed scholarship will be of little use to someone who needs the money to start college in the first place. It will make the lottery even more of a middle-to-upper-income entitlement program. They won't complain.

* THE NEW DISCRIMINATION: While race bubbles on as a major issue in Arkansas, the class at the forefront of modern discrimination in the legislature was the focus of a House committee hearing the pro-gay-discrimination legislation already passed in the Senate to prevent local governments from passing laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. UPDATE: Despite repeated objections about legal consequences from the Arkansas Municipal League, the bill cleared committee 12-6. Sponsors think it will override a Eureka Springs non-discrimination ordinance passed hurriedly on Monday. A lawsuit will determine if the U.S. Constitution overrides a state effort to protect legal discrimination against gay people, which is the plain intent of this bill. I think it does.

UPDATE ON LEE HOLIDAY: Bell opened his presentation of the Lee holiday bill with a recording from someone identifying himself as a member of the League of the South and promising "consequences" if "traitorous" legislators remove Lee from the holiday observation.

One more bit of irony. Bell, joined by former AEDC Director Grant Tennille, talked about how the state's holdout as a place that puts Lee on par with King is damaging to the state in business development. The current overt legislative efforts to discriminate gay people are equally out of step with the times, when virtually all Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that the Republican majority opposes in law.

Tennille said the bill sends the right kind of message. Rep. Richard Womack, sitting as chair, questioned Tennille closely on whether he could demonstrate companies that had not come to Arkansas because of the law. Resistance seemed evident in many other questions, particularly questioning whether Arkansas's honor of Lee harmed business location. Rep. Charlotte Douglas suggested moving a Lee recognition day to its own day a week following King. Rep. Josh Miller said it was "pretty neat" Arkansas was able to recognize both men. He questioned whether there was racial division as a result.

Outlook poor for this bill based on committee questioning. Womack turned over the mic on Kelly Duda after he testified about Lee's support of slavery — a comment that brought loud grumbling from the room. Robert Edwards of Benton, an opponent of the bill who's active in the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, said a Lee holiday had not kept auto factories away from Mississippi and Alabama and said the bill was a "racist" bill. Philip Kaplan, chair of the King Commission, supported the bill and applauded Bell for his courage in introducing it. Womack cut Kaplan off as he tried to explain why it was inappropriate to honor King on the same day with someone who broke his oath and worked to destroy the union in war. A Hot Springs witness called the bill "bovine effluvium." A Mountain Home lawyer, John Crain, said the bill went "against my ancestry." Rep. John Walker said it was insulting and a relic of slavery for Crain to make a reference to his "colored brothers." Bell closed for the bill in part with a plea that he meant no disparaging of Lee. But he also noted that the three states that still have such a day are at the bottom in most economic indicators.

The bill failed on a voice vote and the roll call. The vote was 7-10 with 11 needed for passage. The roll call, compiled by Gavin Lesnick of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: For: John Walker, Chris Richey, Stephen Magie, Jim Dotson, Eddie Armstrong, Camille Bennett and Nate Bell. Against: Kelley Linck, Jeff Wardlaw, Charlotte Douglas, Josh Miller, Mike Holcomb, Jack Ladyman, Trevor Drown, Michelle Gray, Dwight Tosh, Lanny Fite.

click to enlarge TELEPHONE TESTIMONY: Bell plays tape of a phone call promising "consequences" if the Lee holidayis ended.
  • TELEPHONE TESTIMONY: Bell plays tape of a phone call promising "consequences" if the Lee holidayis ended.

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