Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
A strong candidate for this year's Constitutional Law Quizbowl Least Valuable Player, Ballinger lands a seat on the dunce stool for filing a bill called "The Arkansas Second Amendment Liberties Safeguards Act," which would have forbidden the federal government from enforcing federal gun laws in Arkansas. While it might be easy to come to the facepalm-worthy conclusion that Ballinger (who has a law license) has never heard of the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which says federal laws take precedence over state laws, the alternative is even more disturbing: that, like a lot of far-right Republicans these days, Ballinger simply doesn't believe in the validity of the Supremacy Clause, even though it is nothing less than the glue that keeps the "United" in "The United States." As you'll no doubt recall, we fought a very bloody Civil War a while back over the issue of states rights versus federal supremacy, and the Union won. Nonetheless, similar federal power "nullification" bills have been floated in far-right legislatures all over, with Tea Party legislators proudly proclaiming they're standing up for and protecting the Constitution while busily wiping their asses with it. Luckily, Ballinger's bill failed in committee, allowing the state's political science and American history professors to slowly take their seppuku swords away from their exposed midriffs. Simultaneously, and thank the Lord, Arkansas taxpayers were spared the cost of fighting off legal challenges to yet another blatantly unconstitutional law.
What greater ding-a-ling exists in the Arkansas legislature than Nate Bell? The Mena legislator earned the moniker "the moron from Mena" thanks to his Twitter page taunt of Boston "liberals" that the marathon bombing had them quaking in their boots wishing they had guns and lots of ammo. (Twitter has not been kind to Bell: He once compared Democrats to Nazis, using a bogus quote by Hitler to do so.) Fortunately, some of Bell's ideas didn't make it into law, like requiring students who for some reason failed to get a degree to pay back their Academic Scholarship to the state. He withdrew a bill that would have made it easier for gas companies to build pipelines on property over the objection of the landowners; with oil running all over Mayflower, the timing seemed poor. To be fair, Bell was on the right side of the entire eminent domain issue, seeking to prohibit its use for private enterprise. His support of privacy rights (unless it's a woman's) makes sense. Still, he is wholly owned and operated by the Tea Party and the Koch machine (his wife has been employed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), and so he voted against using federal dollars to buy health insurance for a quarter-million Arkansans.
Arkansas legislators said a lot of stupid, insensitive things during the General Assembly, but it's hard to top Clemmer defending the 12-week ban on abortions she sponsored in the House: "I really believe that we are not eliminating choice at all. We're just saying after 12 weeks, the choice is over," and, appropriating a famous line from Bill Clinton, "The purpose of this bill is to make abortion safe, legal, and more rare." When she's not sponsoring bad legislation, Clemmer is a political science professor at UALR. She's clearly not stupid. With an eye on Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson's Senate seat, deeply cynical might be a better description. How else to explain a political scientist who grew up in majority-black Mississippi County, but now represents majority-white Saline County not just casting a vote for a modern day poll tax (voter ID), but having the gall to take to the House well to express mock outrage that anyone might suggest the legislation was aimed at keeping people from voting? With her voice wavering, she said she found that notion "horrifying," and added that when she spoke for her abortion ban, she "did not accuse anyone in this body of wanting to kill babies." Maybe she did her graduate study on the political science of demagoguery.
Dotson is one of the Republican Simpletons — the Republican House Caucus who devised the SIMPLE plan (Spending cuts, Income tax cuts, Medicaid opposition, Protection for embryos, Legal reforms to restrict lawsuits, Educational reforms to increase charter schools). A footsoldier for the Walton family's charter school ideas, Dotson introduced a bill to strip the governor of the power to appoint members to the state Board of Education and allow the legislature to nominate six of the nine members, a bill he later amended to call for the election of board members and which died in committee. On the other hand, despite the fact that his district's biggest revenue generator, the Walton-founded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, is headed up by a man whose family includes two dads and a son, Dotson felt called upon to introduce a bill (with Sen. Bart Hester) to affirm the state's position that marriage is between a man and a woman, a bill that sailed out of committee like a released dove. Coincidence that one of the members of the state Board of Education that Dotson sought to gut is a married gay man? Dotson also introduced a shell bill to amend the Arkansas Constitution on public prayer, though details were never filled in.
Hester loves concealed handguns and Koch money and voted against the state's measure to provide health insurance coverage to 200,000 Arkansans who could not otherwise afford it. You give 'em health insurance, you make 'em "government dependent," he said. Let 'em wait till they get really sick and have to use the ER. Urged on by the hotel and restaurant lobbies, he also would have reduced unemployment benefits. That'll get those freeloaders back on their feet! He joined with Republican colleague Rep. Andy Mayberry of Hensley to practice medicine without a license by declaring the human fetus feels pain at 20 weeks. Having been over-served at the Tea Party, his grasp of state government is less than firm; he suggested the legislature go home without enacting a budget bill, thinking the state could just keep on keepin' on. That move would have been the "Biggest win possible for GOP," he tweeted. While he saw no need for a 2014 budget, he thought it important that the state mandate a minute-long "period of silence" in schools, an idea that is now law. Perhaps he could use a minute to think on the fact that if it weren't for one woman — Koch-paid Teresa Crossland Oelke — and her family's companies, his campaign chest would have been depleted by nearly a half. Talk about dependency.
Missy Irvin began and ended the session with silliness. January found her publicizing a letter from her 12-year-old son to the president, which began "Dear Barack" and included the surprising information that everyone in Mountain View has guns. "We use guns to put food on the table here and we all rely on guns," the letter stated. "Without guns our whole town will go hungry!" Irvin herself offered more surreal news from Mountain View when she claimed in a committee meeting that Medicaid recipients back home were driving around in fancy cars. Irvin could always be counted on to demonize beneficiaries of public healthcare; all of her empathy is saved for doctors (such as her husband), whose paychecks she ferociously protects. Her bill to ban certain practices in tattoo shops was a classic example of the nosy, intrusive brand of conservatism that Irvin prefers. Her bullying performance testifying for it was light on evidence but heavy on Missy-knows-best descriptions of how gross the practices she hoped to ban were. At one point she compared scarification — a form of non-ink tattoos some adults would like to choose for themselves — to female genital mutilation in Africa. (Under pressure, the bill was eventually amended to more reasonable regulation.) In the final week, the self-promoting senator managed to leave her mark on the session with a bit of pointless grandstanding on the "private option" healthcare expansion bills. After flip-flopping multiple times, she announced on the morning of the vote that she would vote for the bill if her demands were met. She had hand-written notes that she was unable to explain until pro-expansion legislators swooped in with amendments they had already written and convinced Irvin they addressed her concerns. It was clear in committee that Irvin had no idea what the amendments were, other than the one most important to her — adding her name to the bill.
We'll give him credit for this: King cast the decisive vote to keep a punitive tort reform measure from advancing as a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, there's no legislator worse. When he got worked into a rage in committee meetings, barking at colleagues with spit flying, we'd occasionally focus in on his lizard eyes, absence of a neck and general villainy and hallucinate Jabba the Hut. That's un-Christian of us, but so is sponsoring legislation to allow concealed weapons in church, as King did. He also sponsored a bill, like Ballinger, that would prohibit the federal gubmint from enforcing any of its pesky gun regulations. King farms for a living. Surely the name of the farm he runs with his father and brother — Triple K — doesn't have one of those double meanings. Surely it's just a coincidence that he was the relentless champion of voter ID legislation that disproportionally affects minorities. What's clear is that King wants to remake state government to give Republicans a better opportunity to gain power and keep it. The ledge passed a trio of his bills just before adjourning that would give the secretary of state more power over election oversight (the current SOS is, of course, Republican). Thankfully, the governor vetoed them and, perhaps because King popped off at House Speaker Davy Carter when he thought the House wasn't taking up consideration of an override of the governor's veto of King's voter ID bill, Carter has said he doesn't expect to call the full House in to consider another override when the legislature formally adjourns on May 17.
Meeks is one of those House Republicans who didn't get the memo that serving in the legislature is a part-time job. While colleagues like Rep. John Burris seem to use their down time to bone up on policy (albeit, usually bad policy), Meeks must spend all of his memorizing Tea Party rhetoric. He needs more practice. There's no greater ideologue in the House and few as incoherent. Meeks could be counted on to fidget like an elementary schooler eager to get the teacher's attention during committee meetings — as if he had a devastating question — only to baffle the room by regurgitating a talking point he'd just read online with only passing relevance to the issue at hand. In fairness, it must have been hard for him to focus on what was actually being discussed, spending his time in committee maniacally tweeting and surfing the conservative blogosphere. That he would oppose healthcare expansion was a foregone conclusion; that his reasoning managed to get the issue so backwards that he began insisting that the government set prices for private companies was classic Meeks. He also got in on the Republicans' collective, "Lord of the Rings"-grade assault on women's reproductive rights, sponsoring the "Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act," cut-and-paste legislation modeled on a template offered by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, which would allow doctors or hospitals to refuse birth control, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and other procedures if those procedures don't square with the doctor or hospital's "religious, moral or ethical principles." Thankfully, it went into interim study. For sheer, clueless audacity, though, it's hard to beat Meeks' Twitter comment following an impassioned speech by Rep. John Walker against the Voter ID bill, in which Walker — a black attorney who grew up in some of the darkest days of the Jim Crow Era — made the case that requiring voters to present ID would be an impediment to minority voting. Afterwards, Meeks, who had clearly lashed himself to the mast and plugged his ears with beeswax during the speech, tweeted: "More inappropriate remarks by Rep. John Walker from the well. This is 2013." Yes, it is. Though some clearly wish it was 50 years earlier.
Sen. Jason Rapert quickly became the face of the Christian Right in the Arkansas Legislature, and it's a face that pro-choice folks love to throw tomatoes at. Not that the opinions of heathens probably matter to The Lord Thy Senator, whose Armor of God helmet strap is cranked down so tight that he once countered a Twitter critic's questioning of his religio-political beliefs with: "If you're a Christian, and you believe in God, then our beliefs would be the same." Rapert brought that spirit of compromise to the abortion debate, driving through the "Human Heartbeat Protection Act," which is now — thanks to an override of the governor's veto — a patently unconstitutional state law that limits abortions to 12 weeks from conception by redefining viability to mean: "Whenever a doctor can hear something in there, even if it's just a wad of heart-like cells." Rapert originally wanted the ban to kick in at six weeks after conception, but backed off because detecting a "heartbeat" that early requires a vaginal ultrasound, and having the word "vagina" cross his lips would likely lead to a whole lot of frantic, prayerful toothbrushing. Sadly, The Pope of Bigelow apparently missed the Bible verse on Jesus driving out the money changers, given that he once favorably compared the predatory payday loan-lending industry to humanitarian "micro-financing" non-profits that help impoverished people in third-world countries start businesses. Looks like he missed the part about Love Thy Neighbor as well, given that back in March he called liberals "the nearest thing to Taliban we have." Might we suggest a peek in the nearest mirror, senator?
The tin-voiced majority leader turned out to have a political glass jaw, unable to rally support for his government-slashing crusades, and ending his failed session with a temper tantrum on the House floor. A key architect of the Republican agenda, unselfconsciously named the SIMPLE plan, Westerman's big push was a "starve the beast" bill. Unsatisfied with a budget system that has been successful for the last 70 years, Westerman sought to put an arbitrary cap on spending. This questionably legal attack on legislative discretion failed. Westerman's greatest passion for cutting government was devoted to healthcare spending on the poor. According to a well-placed source, Westerman was behind the misuse of the Legislative Audit office to attempt a hatchet job on the Medicaid program via shady methodology and bad data. The aim was to derail Medicaid expansion; the plot was eventually foiled and the audit was much ado about nothing. Westerman was also constantly inflamed by the notion that a single poor person out there somewhere might be gaming the Medicaid system, despite the lack of evidence that this was a significant cause of fraudulent spending. His bill to mandate Medicaid beneficiaries to have biometric smart cards — a program that had in other states proven costly, wasteful, and effective only at discouraging eligible folks from getting services — thankfully died in committee. Westerman's most memorable role in the session came from his noisy opposition to Medicaid expansion. After working alongside the architects of the "private option" plan that will bring coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Arkansans, he suddenly became the plan's fiercest opponent in the week before the votes (widely believed to be an attempt to appeal to the Tea Party faithful for a congressional run). He went all in with inflamed rhetoric, sparsely attended press conferences and his own poison pill bill. When he didn't get his way, he gave a bizarre speech accusing unnamed colleagues of being Judases and giving the press and bloggers a faux-defiant invitation to "write what you want to about me." And we will: he's a weaselly ideologue; thank goodness an agenda so nasty had a spokesman so poor.
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