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Appomattox at Southside 

Quote of the Week

"The idea of this redemptive process afterwards, we have certainly seen that powerfully ... President Carter set a very high standard, which President Clinton clearly continues to follow. ... His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear."

— Former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, praising Bill Clinton's post-presidential philanthropic work. Starr, whose dogged pursuit of Clinton in the '90s took partisanship to toxic new heights, expressed regret for the "unpleasantness" of that era and added "there are certain tragic dimensions which we all lament." Starr's remarks came days before his removal as Baylor University president, which was prompted by a report condemning his administration's response to sexual assault allegations directed at members of the school's football team.

Quote of the Week 2

"I have been crying ever since I read the article ... . Those words brought back memories of the Clinton years in the White House that were all a very dark period for me, not because of anything the Clintons did, but because of Mr. Starr's witch hunt. ... There was no acknowledgement by Mr. Starr of the countless numbers of us who were Starr's collateral damage."

— Betsey Wright, former gubernatorial chief of staff to Bill Clinton, responding to the New York Times story that carried Starr's statements.

Those damn emails

Speaking of Clinton drama: The U.S. State Department's inspector general issued a report last week that added fuel to the fire over Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state. The report states Clinton should have sought permission from the department before conducting official business with her personal email account. The Clinton campaign brushed off the criticisms, with some Democrats saying the inspector general's investigation was politically motivated. There's no evidence Clinton committed any crime, but the report declares the secretary's actions posed "significant security risks."

Rate hikes on the horizon?

State Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr said last week that he expected to deny rate increase requests from some of the carriers on the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace in Arkansas. QualChoice requested a 24 percent rate hike, while Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield requested a 15 percent jump. Arkansas is not alone: Carriers in other states are also seeking steep increases. Might that mean the ACA is unraveling, as its foes have warned (and hoped for)? Not quite. For one thing, because of federal subsidies, consumers won't bear the full brunt of any increase in the sticker prices; they can also switch to less costly plans during open enrollment of each year. For another, rising premiums have been a fact of life for decades. The ACA's implementation actually has slowed that growth in recent years — and more importantly, it's provided coverage to millions who didn't have it before.

Appomattox at Southside

Maybe the Civil War is finally over in the Fort Smith School District. Last week, continuing controversy over the school board's 2015 decision to retire the Rebel as the Southside High mascot (and "Dixie" as its fight song) prompted the resignation of the district's longtime athletic director, Jim Rowland. Rowland supported the adoption of the new mascot — the "Maverick"— which made him the target of pro-Rebel zealots led by local attorney Joey McCutchen. "In all of my years as a coach and as an administrator, I've never seen such a poisonous atmosphere as there is in our school system at this time," Rowland said.

But the resignation turned the tide against McCutchen's crusade: Later in the week, a school board member who was elected last fall in favor of reinstating the Rebel announced he'd tired of the controversy and would no longer support the lost cause of Confederate-flavored symbolism at Southside. McCutchen announced on Friday he, too, was abandoning the fight.

The smell of bacon

Former legislator Mike Wilson last week filed a motion for summary judgment in his lawsuit seeking an end to pork barrel spending by state legislators. The Arkansas Supreme Court declared in 2007 that legislators can't designate state surplus money for local pet projects in their home districts, as had been common practice before. But pork-hungry senators and representatives found a work-around: Money is appropriated in bulk to "regional planning and development districts" and then quietly divvied up locally. What Wilson has uncovered are troves of emails sent to employees of those planning districts by legislators specifying where "their" money should go. Sometimes the projects are probably worthy enough (parks, child welfare) and sometimes not (Chambers of Commerce, "crisis pregnancy centers") but they're all an unconstitutional use of state taxpayer dollars for local largesse.

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