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Our Arkansas Blog reported last week a story developed further Tuesday by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

It was that Gov. Mike Huckabee is using his Hope for America PAC — registered in Virginia, which has no limits on contributions to such committees — to raise money to explore a race for president.

We have his letter trying to solicit contributors of up to $100,000 for prime tables at his Christmas gala Dec. 16 at the Statehouse Convention Center. The PAC is nominally established to promote a healthy living message and, by law, may engage only in state and local politics. Huckabee, however, said he wants to use contributions as “seed money I will use to continue traveling to places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to see if my vision for our nation resonates with our fellow Americans for 2008.” Those happen to be important early caucus/primary states. If Huckabee operated a straight presidential exploratory PAC, he couldn’t seek corporate money or individual contributions of more than $2,100. His letter noted that his PAC “can take unlimited contributions.”

Gimmegate II

With Huckabee, it’s always better to receive. His final Christmas card as governor, in addition to a family portrait, included a solicitation for money, sort of like the Christmas card you get from your newspaper carrier. Except that Huckabee wanted a minimum $500 for a ticket to his gala (though much more is required for a good table, a copy of his new book and a place in line at his photo session).

Multiple Republican informants tell us that Huckabee used gubernatorial staffers to solicit contributions and said they weren’t bashful in citing past favors done by the governor. Contributors will be disclosed next month.

We hope to find out if anybody took Huckabee up on a proposal to sell “naming rights” for $15,000 to sponsor the after-party at the gala, hosted by Huckabee’s children and featuring the governor’s cover band, Capitol Offense.

Trash talking

Did you hear about First Lady Janet Huckabee at the weigh-in preceding Jermain Taylor’s successful middleweight boxing defense against Kassim Ouma?

A New York Daily News writer was there. Said the article:

“Janet Huckabee, wife of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, came out to whip up support for the fight even though she was hobbled and walking on a cane because of knee replacement surgery on both legs. Huckabee even engaged in some trash-talking with Ouma.

“ ‘Kassim, you’re a dead duck,’ the First Lady of Arkansas said. ‘Jermain, you promised me a knockout. So you better do just that, son. I’m forewarning you, Kassim.’

"Ouma, who was kidnapped from school and forced to be a child soldier for the Ugandan Army from age 6-19, simply smiled at the First Lady’s attempt to scare him. Ouma said he considered it an honor that Taylor offered to fight him in Taylor’s hometown. "

Taking it to the river

Real estate developers Flake-Kelley have filed plans with the city to build a multi-level townhouse development into the bluff above the Arkansas River just west of the Broadway Bridge. The development would be northeast of the intersection of LaHarpe and Gaines, a location Hank Kelley said would offer residents quick access to grocery and other stores to the west as well as downtown.

The development, whose name will likely make reference to the river views afforded and its position near the bridge, is planned to include in phases 41 townhomes 1,800 square feet in size and priced at $200 to $225 a square foot. That’s a price less expensive than River Market condo projects such as 300 Third but more upscale than downtown conversions. “It will fill a middle niche in the world of townhomes,” Kelley said.

The third tier of the townhomes will be at street level. The first tier, which will include parking underneath, will front the River Trail hiking-biking path. Kelley said he hopes the city will allow him to close Garland Street so that the development could be gated, but that access to the River Trail would be maintained.

Eventually, the development would be six stories, with stories above street level providing city views as well.

‘Modified’ sushi

A new Japanese-American fusion restaurant is set to open in February at 101 Main St., the now-vacant former home of the San Francisco Bread Co. Owners of the Wasabi Bar and Grill are husband and wife Michael Choi and Chong Mingus; Choi said he’s worked in Little Rock’s Japanese restaurants as a chef and manager for 29 years.

He admits he’ll have to work to distinguish his operation from the dozen or so other Japanese restaurants in the area.

“I’m going to mix it with a fusion type,” he said. “It will offer some tasty American food along with the sushi. And the sushi is very much modified, like the West Coast or the East Coast, with a lot of decoration. I hope it’s a brand-new concept of sushi in this town.”

Telecommuting at ASP

The Arkansas State Police have an employee who’s doing her job from Rapid City, S.D. Long arm of the law, indeed. An item in the alumni magazine of the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law created interest: “Alice Eastwood, ’04, has moved with her family to Rapid City, S.D., and is telecommuting to her job with the Arkansas State Police.” Some wondered why the lawyers living in Arkansas were insufficient to do the ASP’s legal work. Bill Sadler, a State Police spokesman, said that, first off, Eastwood is not working as a lawyer, although she has a law license. Instead, her title is “agency program coordinator” and her work includes revision of various State Police policy manuals and development of a new record-retention policy. She was a State Police employee working on these projects when she and her husband moved to Rapid City because his employer transferred him. The projects were “pretty much dead in the water” until Eastwood raised the possibility of telecommuting, Sadler said. State personnel officials authorized the arrangement as long as records were kept on hours of work and job performance. Eastwood makes $46,000 a year.

Higher profile

The Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, one of the top five private foundations in Arkansas, soon will move its offices from West Little Rock to a more visible location in the River Market District.

The organization will lease ground-floor retail space in the Capital Commerce Center, at the corner of Third and Commerce streets. (The spot is next to the Vermillion Water Grille restaurant and was recently occupied by an Arvest Bank branch.)

In addition to its use as an office for the foundation, Frueauff plans to devote some of the square footage to a non-profit incubator offering space and support to new charitable efforts.

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