Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Quote of the week
"As much as I have loved doing the show, I love my country more, and feel that it may be time for me to enter a zone of comfort to engage in the conflicts that have almost destroyed the bedrock foundations of America."
—Mike Huckabee in an email announcing his departure from Fox News while exploring the possibility of a presidential run in 2016. The former Arkansas governor has been a commentator at Fox since his last presidential bid fizzled in 2008, but he's been criticized recently for testing the waters of 2016 while continuing to film his show.
Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) announced on Dec. 30 that it's dropping plans to build a major power transmission line across Northwest Arkansas, a project that was fiercely opposed by the environmental group Save the Ozarks and others. The $116 million proposed project would have run a line 60 miles between Benton and Carroll counties, near the shores of Beaver Lake. SWEPCO says the project was deemed unnecessary by Southwest Power Pool, the entity that oversees the reliability of the electricity grid in an eight-state region of the central United States. In a blog post, Save the Ozarks declared, "We won!"
Spare the pepper spray, spoil the child
Chad Day, a reporter at the Democrat-Gazette, did the state of Arkansas a service last month by uncovering abuses at the Yell County juvenile detention center. Among the punishments at the lockup: pepper-spraying kids for talking back or being uncooperative, and use of a restraining device known as "The Wrap," which tightly binds the offender's arms and legs. Sometimes, pepper spray and restraints were used in combination. The state stopped sending youths to the facility Dec. 24. An investigation is underway.
Knights of Irrelevance
In Harrison, the billboard wars continue. A group called the Knights Party of Zinc — formerly the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — has leased a billboard for a year that declares, "It's NOT Racist to Love Your People!" above a link to "WhitePrideRadio.com." One feels for Harrison, a town with a number of citizens who are trying hard to shed the racist image of its past. Upon reflection, though, it's also sort of heartening to see the KKK so pitifully diminished. There was a time not so long ago when the Klan was a force to be feared across the South; today, it thinks it's scored a great victory by renting a billboard featuring a little girl holding a puppy.
Justice delayed ...
New Year's Day came and went with no word from the Arkansas Supreme Court on marriage equality. (A federal court hearing a different, parallel suit acted quickly to strike down Arkansas's ban on same-sex marriage, and the state has appealed to a higher federal court, as expected.) While the state waits for the Arkansas Supreme Court to act, changes in its membership of the bench may or may not shape the eventual outcome in 2015.
Incoming justice Robin Wynne will succeed the retiring Donald Corbin. Another justice, Cliff Hoofman, is also retiring, but Hoofman recused himself from the issue earlier, and an appointed special justice took his place to hear the same-sex marriage case. Traditionally, the appointed special justice would see the case through to its resolution, even after Hoofman's successor, Rhonda Wood, takes his place on the court. But, with the stakes high, some on the court may want to break with custom. We'll be watching.
Big political money, by the numbers
$4.2 million - The amount of money in 2014 given by Ron Cameron, a Little Rock poultry tycoon, to candidates and causes affiliated with the GOP.
13 - Cameron's ranking among top nationwide political donors last year, according to Politico. Warren Stephens and his wife, Harriet, are No. 21, at $3.3 million.
$323 million - The lowball number for the total amount given by the 100 biggest national donors in 2014 (not counting hundreds of millions in hidden cash funneled through political nonprofits that don't disclose their funders).
$356 million - The total amount given by the 4.75 million Americans who donated $200 or less to political candidates or causes in 2014.