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Public input: Who needs it? 

click to enlarge Orrin Hatch
  • Orrin Hatch

Quote of the Week:

"The president told me several times he's going to nominate a moderate, but I don't believe him. He could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man."

— Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on March 13, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that Senate Republicans have vowed to prevent President Obama from filling. On March 16, Obama did indeed nominate Garland, a centrist judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Hatch, who is a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that morning "the right course of action is to wait until the next year's election to consider a nominee."

Public input: Who needs it?

On March 31, the state Board of Education will hold a public hearing on whether to allow the proposed expansions of two charter schools in Little Rock, eStem and LISA Academy. It's a decision with huge consequences for public education in the city. But last week, in a surprise move, a member of the state board attempted to cancel the public hearing and push through the charter expansions.

Brett Williamson of El Dorado requested the state board take a vote to rescind its decision — made just one week before — to hold a final public hearing on the issue. Williamson told the Times, "I'm just supportive of charters, and I didn't see any reason that it needed a review," considering a panel within the Education Department had already recommended the expansions proceed. The public felt otherwise, however, as did many of his fellow board members, and after a flurry of objections, Williamson dropped the issue. (However, in the process of trying to cancel the hearing, he also ran afoul of the state Freedom of Information Act by attempting to conduct state board business by email.)

The ballad of John La Tour

An outcry erupted last weekend over an incident at a Fayetteville restaurant in which a member of the City Council inexplicably asked an employee if she were a woman or a man and then informed her that he could "prove" he was a man.

On Friday, Fayetteville Alderman John La Tour, a tea party conservative elected in 2014 on the strength of his opposition to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people, stopped by Arsaga's at the Depot, a popular downtown spot known to be friendly to the LGBT community. By La Tour's account, he was objecting to overly loud music by trying to make a joke: He asked an employee to dance with him, but first asked if she were a woman because, he said, "I don't dance with men." (The employee is, indeed, a woman.) "I'm a man and I can prove it," he declared. A manager asked him to leave the restaurant, and La Tour then posted on his Facebook page that "Everyone who lives in Fayetteville, AR should never eat or treat themselves at any of Cary Arsaga's establishments."

Word of the incident spread quickly online (including rumors that La Tour had explicitly threatened to expose himself to the employee) and La Tour was bombarded with scorn. The alderman eventually backpedaled: After meeting with Cary Arsaga, he replaced his call for a boycott with a statement praising the restaurateur. La Tour stopped short of an apology, however, and as of Tuesday morning some 3,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for his resignation.

Stephens brothers take on Trump

Little Rock billionaire Warren Stephens and his brother, Jackson "Steve" Stephens, gave a total of least $3.5 million in February to fund the intra-party fight against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, campaign finance filings show. Warren and Steve Stephens each gave $1.25 million last month to an anti-Trump Super PAC run by the conservative Club for Growth, and Warren gave an additional million to a second group attacking Trump, Our Principals PAC.

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What a run

The end wasn't pretty: The Little Rock Trojans men's basketball team exited the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32 after a double-digit loss to Iowa State. Nonetheless, it was a dream season for the Trojans and its ever-expanding fan base. The team, at 30-5, won more games than ever before and finished with one of the best win-loss records in the country. Its comeback, from 14 points down with less than five minutes to go against Purdue in the round of 64 in the tournament, to send the game to overtime (it eventually won in double overtime), made for one of the best games of the tournament — no matter what happens going forward. Now, if the Trojans can just manage to keep first-year coach Chris Beard around a little longer, University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Jack Stephens Center might start drawing bigger crowds than UA's Bud Walton Arena.

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