Favorite

Cronies? But are they rascals? 

Pondering the tentacles of state Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow into the Lottery Commission's developing staff sent me to the dictionary. I sought a definition of “cronyism.”

Here it is: “Partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard for qualifications.”

So I looked up “crony” and found it defined as “long-time friend or political associate.”

Thus it seems that cronyism, by itself, is not quite as bad as it connotes — not as bad as it sounded, for example, in that Coen brothers' film, “O, Brother, Where Art Thou,” when one caricatured Southern politician accused another of assorted misdeeds he described as “rascalism and cronyism.”

It doesn't follow automatically that cronies engage in corrupt behavior that accrues to the ill-gotten gain of the benefactor. You can have cronyism without necessarily having rascalism. You see. Here's the thing: Years ago Ray Thornton was the Democratic congressman from the 2nd District. On his staff were Julie Baldridge, Bob Johnson and Bridgette Frazier.

Thornton went on to get elected to the state Supreme Court, and is now retired. Johnson got elected to the state Legislature, becoming speaker of the House and then president pro tem of the Senate. In each leading legislative office, Johnson borrowed Baldridge from a development job at the Little Rock law school to be his right hand during legislative sessions.

As speaker of the House in 1999, Johnson got a position of “House counsel” created, and Frazier, a lawyer, was installed in it, holding it until just the other day.

These are close, mutually admiring and mutually devoted people. So we got the lottery approved and it was to be governed by nine commissioners, with three apiece appointed by the governor, Senate president pro tem and speaker of the House.

Johnson, as Senate president pro tem, appointed Thornton, who got chosen by the other eight appointees as chairman and, in turn, championed the hiring of Ernie Passailaigue.

Then Passailaigue, more or less immediately, made Baldridge his first employee as his top administrative aide. She left the law school for a raise of about $30,000.

Last week Passailaigue hired his lottery staff counsel, and it was, you guessed it, Frazier.

So I was on the phone with Johnson, who, alone among state politicians, fervently defends the new lottery amid this political and public relations disaster over outrageous salaries. I recited those aforementioned connections to him and asked about the propriety.

It's all just “happenstance,” he said.

He explained it this way: During the last session he asked Baldridge to find somebody experienced in lotteries who might advise the Legislature on the implementing legislation. It was she who located and befriended the South Carolinian, Passailaigue, who made a purely independent decision to hire her. Frazier then came in and landed the lawyer's post without any help from him.

These are smart people and Passailaigue apparently saw that plainly for himself, Johnson said.

So what of it?

If Johnson wins a subsequent lottery drawing, our eyebrows will rise. If Passailaigue goes back to South Carolina and Johnson, who is term-limited on both legislative ends of the Capitol, gets hired to replace him, eyebrows will elevate further.

But Johnson only appointed three of the nine commissioners, and, anyway, he says he wouldn't take the job for 10 times what Passailaigue is generously getting.

There's one more consideration: The lottery will be handing out contracts for all kinds of services. We will be watching to see if entities with ties to Johnson — or Thornton, or even Baldridge or Frazier — land any.

“Fair enough,” Johnson said, adding, “Nobody should get favored treatment, but I don't think anyone ought to be excluded because of some incidental relationship either.”

Thus our job, as ever, is to be on the lookout for rascalism.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Facing closure, Wilson Elementary families deliver angry message to school leaders

    "Why do you guys not care about your community? You’re tearing it down, not building it up, especially in the black community … It’s just a simple question — do you care?" one mother asked the superintendent. "Ma’am, I do care deeply about this district, and I do believe wholeheartedly we are making a better district every day," Poore replied.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in John Brummett

  • Gone to the DoG

    We're now longer carrying John Brummett's column in this space.
    • Oct 12, 2011
  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • What? That was all made up? Oh my. Well, let's hope he gets busy on…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Pssst - Lyons plans to pen a column on why the donors stopped giving to…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • The funniest thing about all this is that Lyons never said that Russia invaded anyone…

    • on January 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation