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New Ark. GOP broom, same dirt 

The Arkansas Republican Party made great sport as the minority party of chronicling Democratic Party cronyism and corruption.

But their promise to bring a cleaner, more transparent day to Arkansas politics as majority party? Broken.

Within recent days: Republican state auditor candidate Rep. Andrea Lea said she hadn't recalled that a political hack who pushed out a long-time licensing board director to take the light-duty job at much higher pay had been an unsuccessful Republican candidate against Democratic Rep. Jim Nickels. Oops. Lea gave the candidate, Alan Pogue, a $200 campaign contribution. Forgetful or dishonest is no recommendation for managing state billions.

House Speaker Davy Carter admitted that it was his special interest bill to allow limited shipments of wine from out-of-state wineries direct to Arkansas customers — and give Arkansas wineries mail order business, too. He likes to visit Napa. Me, too. But I'd have revealed my self-interest on the front end — and pushed for a free market answer to Arkansas's wholesaler-driven protectionist booze-by-mail restrictions.

Republicans cheered a state party plan to set up a PAC that will financially support judicial candidates who promise to uphold party objectives. So much for an independent judiciary.

Absent any evidence of harm, Republicans also led the hysterical charge to reject Arkansas participation in a voluntary conservation program for the White River watershed.

Senate President Michael Lamoureux provided another fat political appointment to former senator Steve Faris, who, like Lamoureux, earns side income from services provided the rural telephone industry. Lamoureux pushed legislation of financial benefit to a telephone company legal customer.

Then there's GOP Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. The nephew of the Republican Party's gubernatorial candidate is famous for more than getting conked on the head with a stuffed alligator by a former girlfriend he'd once supported with illicit payments out of his campaign fund. Reliable sources say he's had paying "legal" customers with interests in 1) the proposed constitutional amendment he sponsored to sabotage the Chamber of Commerce tort reform proposal; 2) mattress sale legislation he advocated and 3) legislation he sponsored to allow out-of-state owners to open a medical clinic in West Memphis.

Also: Remember when former legislator Mike Wilson successfully sued to end the unconstitutional practice by legislators of appropriating state surplus money — the General Improvement Fund — to pet local projects? Legislators have invented an end-around. Now, they appropriate lump sums to regional Planning and Development Districts and the state Rural Services Office. It's understood that those agencies will parcel out money to legislators' pet projects as before.

I caught Hutchinson red-handed. Benton had stopped funding a July 4 fireworks show. Hutchinson asked the regional planning agency that covers Saline County to provide $5,000 for fireworks from $1 million he'd sent the agency. Of course they did. With that money, the Saline Republican Committee, ramrodded by a Republican planning to run for county judge, and the Saline County Tea Party (that scourge of wasteful government spending) began promoting a fireworks show "sponsored" by none other than Jeremy Hutchinson, Saline Republicans and the Saline Tea Party. A radio station owned by Hutchinson also got in on the promotional act.

Hutchinson claimed later — and dishonestly — that he had little to do with the event. He said it was good for economic development. If that's so, Mike Wilson suggested to the daily newspaper, why not fireworks subsidies to EVERY county in Arkansas?

A few local Republicans, including Saline County Judge Lanny Fite, said there were greater needs for surplus money in Saline County than a fireworks show.

Do Saline voters prefer bread or circuses? They'll get a chance to demonstrate in the spring when Rep. Ann Clemmer of Bryant challenges Hutchinson. There's much more to be exploded in Hutchinson's public record and personal life than fireworks.

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