Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Quote of the Week:
"I wouldn't really say my dad helped me be comfortable with my sexuality growing up. He was who I feared the most regarding it. ... But once I came out to my dad — and I was dating a guy at the time — he was great about it. My boyfriends have always come over for family dinner, been on family vacations. And he was really nice to them and was interested in who they were. ... Everyone has accepted me and loved me for who I am. It is a non-issue in our family."
—Bobby Petrino Jr., publicly coming out as gay in an interview with an LGBT magazine in Louisville. (Bobby Sr. is now the head football coach at the University of Louisville.)
Child left in van at Justin Harris' preschool
Last week, the state Department of Human Services and the police investigated an incident at Growing God's Kingdom preschool in West Fork, which is run by state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife, Marsha. A 3-year-old girl was left in a van for about five hours, strapped in a car seat, evidently because the driver of the vehicle failed to notice the child had not gotten off the bus at the beginning of the school day. The child was thankfully unharmed when paramedics arrived — it was a cloudy day and the van was parked in the shade — but West Fork Police Chief Bryan Watts told reporters, "If it had been much warmer, I don't think she would have survived it."
Lights out in Orlando
After 20 years, Walt Disney World will end its annual Osborne Family holiday light show, the resort announced last week. The gargantuan Christmas stylings of Jennings Osborne were sent to Disney World in 1995, after the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the light display moved from the Osborne family home on Cantrell Road. Disney says it's closing the show after the coming holiday season to make room for Toy Story Land and a Star Wars-themed attraction.
Jennings Osborne died in 2011, but, apparently, enthusiasm for his lights lives on. To date, Disney's announcement has attracted almost 250 comments online, nearly all of them pleading for the lights to stay. In the words of "Sharon from FL": NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Planned Parenthood pushes back
On Friday, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced it was suing the state over Gov. Asa Hutchinson's efforts to block Medicaid patients from using its clinics for non-abortion services. The ACLU of Arkansas is representing Planned Parenthood in the suit. The organization is under intense fire at both the state and national levels — Republicans in Congress are threatening a government shutdown unless the health care provider's funding is yanked — following the release of undercover sting videos by anti-abortion activists regarding the use of fetal tissue in medical research. No matter that Medicaid only pays for services such as health screenings and contraceptives, not abortions.
A Democrat for U.S. Senate
Former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge announced last week he's running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican John Boozman in 2016. Boozman is an uninspiring, low-key candidate — after 15 years in elected office, a poll earlier this year found that four in 10 Arkansans had no opinion about the senator — but in today's Arkansas, a near-anonymous Republican is still the clear favorite when matched against a Democrat of any variety.
Eldridge, 38, seems to be running as a centrist (he's voiced opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, for example, and abortion rights). He hopes to capture the same independent voters who overwhelmingly returned former Gov. Mike Beebe to office, even while voting out other Democrats left and right. It'll be an uphill battle.
Judging on the merits
For all the talk of the failures of the Little Rock School District, Central High continues to produce more National Merit semifinalists than any other high school in the state: 16, out of 142 statewide. (In other Pulaski County schools, one semifinalist came from Jacksonville High, three from charter schools and 13 from private schools.)
Fairness in Fayetteville
And finally: Congrats to Fayetteville for a victory on civil rights. After the Times went to press last Tuesday, voters there ratified an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people, 53 percent to 47 percent. The measure still faces a potential court challenge, since its opponents say it conflicts with a state law passed in 2015 intended to stop localities from enacting such ordinances.