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Hear Asa clearly 

Quote of the week, part 1

"So hear me clearly. We're going to continue the private option through 2016 and create a health reform task force that will make recommendations for the future."

— Gov. Asa Hutchinson in a long-awaited announcement on the health care policy now providing insurance to over 210,000 low-income Arkansans. Despite some opposition from the far right wing of his party, the Republican governor will push the legislature to keep the private option in place for at least another two years ... although he plans to call it something other than "the private option," since the name has become "politically toxic."

Quote of the week, part 2

"Gov. Hutchinson's decision to end the private option and to embark upon comprehensive Medicaid reform is exactly the right approach."

— Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, getting with the rebranding program in a press release immediately following the announcement above.

All washed up?

Boxer Jermain Taylor threatened a family at Little Rock's MLK Day Parade last week, firing several shots near a man's head after the man's 5-year-old son dropped one of Taylor's championship belts on the ground. The next day, Taylor posted a Facebook video delivered from his bathtub in which he gave a rambling apology to his fans and complained about the lack of candy for the children at the parade. Strange, sad stuff, and only the latest in a series of violent episodes involving the middleweight champion. A judge committed him to the State Hospital for a mental evaluation on Tuesday.

Cold feet

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced last week she'd asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to hold a second round of oral arguments on the same-sex marriage case currently before it. The unusual request is in light of the court's changed composition, said the AG. Two new justices have been seated on the court since the beginning of the year, Robin Wynne and Rhonda Wood.

The court has been delaying its decision for far too long. It first heard oral arguments on the case Nov. 19; a decision was reached in conference and a justice was assigned to write the majority opinion. Two months later, we've still heard nothing. What's the holdup?

Election? What election?

Speaking of Rutledge, the Arkansas Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against her concerning an election season TV ad aired by an independent conservative group. Such groups aren't supposed to collaborate in any way with the candidates they support, yet Rutledge herself appears on screen in this commercial to say, "I will stand up to Obama and fight for Arkansas values." This is permissible, said the Commission, because it never actually tells the viewer to vote for Rutledge and therefore doesn't count as a campaign ad. It doesn't even count as a campaign contribution, somehow.

That's right. A $400,000 ad buy in late September featuring a candidate plugging herself is not a part of her campaign. Remember all those hours of political ads you complained about last fall? Don't worry. They weren't actually political ads at all.

For whom the Bell trolls

Whether he's tilting at federal windmills with states-rights legislation or slinging provocative pro-gun tweets, Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) is not typically our favorite legislator. But he's pushing buttons on the right side of the issue of "Robert E. Lee Day," which embarrassingly enough is still labeled a state holiday alongside Martin Luther King Day. Bell has filed a bill that would remove recognition of R.E. Lee in January, earning him the online venom of white supremacists. The KKK issued a press release (seriously) saying it was "disappointed" in the bill.

Asa's tax cuts, by the numbers

The new governor's top priority is cutting taxes, par for the Republican course. To his credit, the cuts mostly benefit the middle class, and they're relatively fiscally responsible. Still, they conspicuously avoid helping the poorest Arkansans. The numbers that follow are still fluid.

$21,000 to $80,000 — The income group that will primarily benefit from Hutchinson's tax cut.

40 — The percentage of income tax filers in Arkansas who make under $21,000 and thus will see no relief under the plan.

$1,336 — The average expected increase in taxes for the top one percent of earners, due to a proposed repeal of a previous capital gains tax decrease. This amendment was added to the tax plan to help offset the cost of the middle class cut.

$80 million — The net cost to the state should the package pass the House as currently written.

3 — The number of senators, out of 35, who voted not to approve the cuts. Lowering taxes is popular, turns out.

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