A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
Quote of the week 1
"We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity."
— Mike Huckabee on a conference call with pastors last week, laying out what he believes is at stake in the same-sex marriage question now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Quote of the week 2
"Based on recent events, I don't know if I could win again down there."
— Bill Clinton in a post-speech Q&A session at Georgetown University last week, laying out the reality of Democrats' near-term prospects in an Arkansas more likely to embrace the rhetoric of Huckabee in 2016 than Hillary Clinton.
Speaking of Huckabee, he's been adding staff in preparation for an expected May 5 announcement of his presidential bid. Among his advisors: Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. Griffin evidently will be a volunteer (for now, at least — no word on whether his work will remain unpaid as the race heats up later in the year) but his advisory role with Huckabee raises an interesting question about Griffin's chairing of a gubernatorial task force on the future of Common Core education standards in Arkansas. Huckabee, once a proponent of the standards, has now declared them to be "a good idea gone bad."
Marching on the River Valley
Over the weekend, a Tea Party-sponsored rally against same-sex marriage in downtown Russellville was dwarfed by a counter-protest of LGBT equality supporters, including a number of students from Arkansas Tech University. A reporter from the Russellville Courier on the scene estimated there were perhaps 30 on the anti-equality side, compared to around 200 rallying in support of same-sex marriage. Beautiful.
Hogs v. Buffalo
The Buffalo River got two pieces of good news last week. First, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he supported a continuation of a 180-day moratorium on issuing permits to new medium-to-large-scale animal feeding operations in the river's watershed. That won't affect C&H Hog Farms, the operation which sparked the controversy, as it already has such a permit. But on Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said it would drop its appeal of a federal court's suspension of loan guarantees to C&H, which effectively means a new environmental assessment must be conducted on the impact of the farm within the year.
Purple, gold and red
Public colleges in Louisiana are preparing for a drop in state funding of up to 82 percent as the state legislature there faces a $600 million shortfall in spending for higher education. That's led LSU to begin drafting plans for declaring "financial exigency," which is basically a form of bankruptcy, if lawmakers can't patch the hole in the state budget. Bobby Jindal: Now that's the guy we need for president.
Entergy rate increase, by the numbers
Entergy Arkansas asked the state Public Service Commission for a major annual electric rate increase to pay for system improvements and a new gas-fired plant near El Dorado. That's not categorically wrong, but let's remember this particular hike the next time Arkansas power companies (joined by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge) express their outrage at federal carbon pollution limits. EPA rules will increase rates for your customers, you say? Well, so will your decision to bump up your profit margin.
$167 million — The total size of the annual rate increase requested by Entergy.
70,000 — The number of Entergy customers in the state.
13 percent — The average amount by which an Entergy Arkansas customer can expect to see electricity rates rise, as compared to last year.
10.2 percent — The return on equity (i.e., profit) Entergy is seeking as part of the rate increase, a big jump from its current return on equity of 9.5 percent. The company says 10.2 percent is consistent with other utilities.
Tragedy in Nepal
The death toll from the earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, was 4,600 and rising as the Times went to press Tuesday. One of the thousands lost was Google executive Dan Fredinburg, an Arkansas native and a 1999 graduate of the Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs. Fredinburg was climbing Mount Everest when the quake struck, triggering a deadly avalanche.
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