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Credit the Republican Party with discipline. When they take control, they take control.
The Beebe era — perhaps the last Democratic gubernatorial administration in my lifetime — was laissez faire. Friends were rewarded, certainly. Mike Beebe was a Democrat, but he governed cautiously and generally from the center. There was relatively little ideological flavor in agencies under his control.
Not so Republican Gov. Hutchinson. His party's agenda is reflected in every political appointment, every legislative decision and the operation of every government agency. That's permissible, of course. What's interesting is the general feeling that Hutchinson is something of a moderate. That couldn't be more wrong, his willingness to continue the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion to preserve his budget notwithstanding.
He put down markers from the start: Income tax cuts that omitted 40 percent of low-income workers. Capital gains tax forgiveness for the super wealthy. An unconstitutional order to stop reimbursement for non-abortion medical services at Planned Parenthood. Tacit support for legislation aimed at protecting the ability to discriminate against gay people in employment, housing and public accommodations.
We saw more of the Republican ideology at work last week in Hutchinson-controlled state agencies.
The Public Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality, now controlled by Hutchinson appointees, said they'd quit working on plans to comply with the federal rule aimed at reducing emissions from coal-burning power plants. A court action has stayed implementation of the rule. Arkansas will dig in its heels until forced.
The ideology that puts business interest over cleaner air was illustrated again when Hutchinson's ADEQ Director Becky Keogh, whose previous job was working for a petroleum company and who is a sister-in-law of the GOP chair, told a U.S. Senate committee that she didn't like the way the EPA treated the states. She complained that an EPA official had told her mandates could be demanded "just because we can." Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was skeptical. She asked Keogh to name the EPA employee who said this. Keogh has so far not responded to my question of whether she's provided that information to Boxer.
Keogh also stood out when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked her: "Do carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning cause changes to our atmosphere and oceans that portend harm to people and ecosystems?"
Said Keogh: "I think you can find scientists that say both — yes and no." Pressed for her own opinion, Keogh responded: "Well, I am not an expert either ... ."
Indeed. Whitehouse closed by ticking off a list of scientific authorities who, if asked his question, would have responded with "a plain and simple yes."
Sensitivity to Republican political correctness gets very detailed. The Arkansas Times' David Koon reported last week that the deputy director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage ordered a Black Lives Matter T-shirt removed from the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the state-operated black history museum. The agency had concerns about "cultural sensitivity," the museum director said. In other words, there was concern about offending white people.
The agency at first insisted the removal was in line with gift shop policies on sale of shirts directly related to the museum, but department director Stacy Hurst was forced by questioning to concede that, yes, the sensitivity issue had been discussed. Hurst had a political reason to be sensitive. She was endorsed in an unsuccessful legislative race by the Little Rock police union. Little Rock cops are under legal fire for excessive use of force against black people. Black Lives Matter is a flash point in such discussions nationwide. But it is also a broad-based civil rights movement. When a Republican administration ordered removal of a civil rights T-shirt from a black history museum that sits at the site of Little Rock's last lynching, it was easy to be seen as a statement about the relative importance of white and black lives. The T-shirt ban was lifted in the face of an outcry.
The Hutchinson administration prefers to implement its agenda more quietly. It has generally been successful. Make no mistake: It's not a centrist movement.