Huddleston has said his message would have been about the value of education and, in honor of his sister, urging women forward particularly. He said he hadn't intended to talk about sexual issues.
Thrilled to announce Philander Smith College, in my home state of Arkansas, has officially invited me to be the keynote speaker for their 'Bless the Mic' series. I'll be heading to campus this fall. This invitation is probably one of the greatest gifts I'll ever receive. Because it speaks directly to the message. It speaks to how I hope most young people today think. They want a future free of any kind of silly intolerance that would get in the way of their personal achievements or those of their friends and family—gay or straight. I never in a million years thought I would become an advocate for change. I vote and I support causes that benefit my family, but I now believe my unfortunate situation was meant to be heard.
I'm also so grateful for the outpouring of love. I just wish my dad and members of my family would have received the same hug I received from people across the country but maybe this will come in time. I was moved that so many people from my past reached out (even an ex-girlfriend—oh yes I said it) but was shocked just how much my story spoke to complete strangers—coast to coast. Those hundreds of messages will be saved for my son. Haven deserves to hear about a letter his daddy wrote that made his Papaw and Aunt Madi proud and sparked an important conversation. Thank You!
The line is open.
I close with, at top, Brian Chilson's photo from a rally at the Capitol today by a coalition pressing Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman to vote for pending immigration legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for millions, including many Arkansas residents.
Organizers said 28,261 Asian and HIspanic voters cast ballots in Arkansas in 2012, still small in the total, but a 77 percent increase from 2010 and almost half first-time voters.
The group claims 88,877 Hispanic and Asian voters in the state with 40,000 legal permanent residents who could become voters by the next election.
Participants included Arkansas United Community Coalition, Arkansas Coalition for DREAM, Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, Citizens’ First Congress, Catholic Charities, Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, OneCommunity, El Zocalo, League of United Latin American Citizens, ARKTESOL, Workers’ United and BCGTM.
David Ramsey illustrated this point yesterday. If Arkansas's adoption of Obamacare through the so-called private option falls apart, the poorest of the state's poor would be left with no health coverage, while some subsidies would be provided for people with higher income. Belatedly, some staunch opponents of expanded health coverage have evinced concerns about this.
It's a national problem, particularly in states accounting for more than half the U.S. population that have refused to expand Medicaid. See Texas, Florida, Louisiana and more.
The New York Times reports on the broader picture this morning.
The refusal by about half the states to expand Medicaid will leave millions of poor people ineligible for government-subsidized health insurance under President Obama’s health care law even as many others with higher incomes receive federal subsidies to buy insurance.
The LRPD's Sgt. Cassandra Davis is up early on Saturday:
At 2:51 officers were called to 10800 Legion Hut Road to a disturbance. Officers learned that a physical altercation occurred between Mr. Haywood Miller III, 11/14/68 and the victim. During the altercation the victim fell to the ground. The victim was transported to UAMS where he later died. The suspect, Mr. Miller was arrested but later released without charges pending a file review by the prosecutors’ office and a determination as to the cause of death.
Weather was perfect for last night's opening of Riverfest — low humidity, clear, breezy, 70s — so it's not too surprising to see the throngs depicted in the Facebook album Brian Chilson has posted, including the crowd (above) on hand for Darius Rucker. The concession stands were popular as always (below).
The Times this week has all the info you need for events today and tomorrow.
Riverfest. Memorial Day. My car's 10th birthday.
I'm going to take it easy, gearing up for about my 20th trip to Arkansas Boys State next week. They're going to roll out instant polling of the delegates by cellphone for speakers this year, speakers' choice. I'm tempted to ask: "Is this speaker crazy or what?"
The line is open.
Good news on the Medicaid cost front: in a joint Public Health committee meeting today, Department of Human Services officials testified that for the third straight quarter, cost growth of the program has slowed. This represents the slowest growth in 25 years (spending is still rising but is rising significantly more slowly than the long-term trend), and comes despite an improving economy and an increase in the rate of enrollment. Along with additional money coming in via healthcare expansion, the reduced costs mean that Medicaid providers will not face rate cuts or freezes as planned.
It’s too early to ascribe the cost reductions to the Payment Improvement Initiative, which incentivizes providers to control costs, but it’s looking more and more like the Initiative — which is in its early phases, so far only covering five episodes of care — has been effective at beginning to encourage providers to identify low-hanging fruit in terms of unnecessary spending. In health policy language this is the "sentinel effect”: basically, you’re likely to work more efficiently if you know someone is going to be looking over your shoulder.
DHS had planned to add four new episodes of care to the initiative, but they hit a roadblock today in the legislative review process. Legislators peppered them with a series of meandering questions (and comments) focused on one of the episodes, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), complete with lots of irrelevant discussion about whether it was really an illness or whether parents should just do a better job of disciplining their kids. Leaving aside the legislators’ belittling of ODD, many seemed completely unaware that whether or not Medicaid should cover it was not up for debate. The question was simply whether to include the new episodes of care in a reform effort to reduce costs (indeed, if a legislator was worried that something like ODD leads to overcharging, including it in the payment initiative would be one way to help alleviate those concerns). In the end, the committee passed on giving their stamp of review, following the dubious logic of Rep. Kelley Linck, who said "when there’s this many questions, I’ve always found that voting no or turning it down always makes it come back better" (which means that anything is bound to fail with the likes of Rep. Kim Hammer in the room, offering up a diarrhetic barrage of quantity-not-quality legislative oversight).
The final decision to delay was issued by the Senate Chair Cecile Bledsoe, who happens to also be a general opponent of the Payment Improvement Initiative (Bledsoe can be counted on to fight anything that might possibly nick at a doctor's paycheck). The decision, made informally and without discussion, will likely delay implementation of the four new episodes, which will cut into cost savings (projected to be more than $1 million per year in total, 30 percent of which is Arkansas's portion of the federal-state match).
DHS officials plan to work with Bledsoe and House Chair John Burris to get members additional information, and hope to avoid having to wait until the next joint meeting (currently unscheduled). DHS spokesperson Amy Webb added that in the future they will aim to do more to address concerns with members prior to meetings. I suspect that she is overestimating their willingness to do homework ahead of time and underestimating their ability to think up random questions on the fly, but we shall see. After the jump, a few classic Rep. David Meeks tweets (Tweeks?) during the irrelevant discussion on ODD.
The arrest of State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, Bloomberg versus Pryor, Cotton's wackiest turn yet, stealing Cornish hens and big-time football at the fiscally distressed Mineral Springs School District — all covered on this week's podcast.
Stream on the jump.
Subscribe via iTunes (and give us a review; it helps people discover the podcast).
The Fayetteville Flyer reports on talks of moving the Arkansas Music Pavilion from Fayetteville to Rogers. The center earlier had decided to build a new and larger performing arts center in Bentonville, to supplant the Fayetteville home. Bentonville is, of course, the home of the Walton fortune that has contributed to the center. From the Flyer:
“The city of Fayetteville has, for years, done whatever they could and almost whatever they were asked to accommodate the Walton Arts Center, including the AMP,” said commissioner and former alderman Bobby Ferrell, during a discussion on the future of the venue.
“I think the Walton Arts Center has an obligation to the city of Fayetteville,” said commission director Marilyn Heifner. “The city of Fayetteville stepped up 20 years ago and the citizens voted for a sales tax just for the Walton Arts Center. I think they ought to look to some place inside the Fayetteville city limits to keep (the AMP) here, especially if they’re going to build a 2,200-seat theatre in Bentonville.”
Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and a WAC board member, said he could not recommend moving the AMP without at least discussing some of the details of the proposed Rogers location.
Channel 11 is reporting that three people were killed in an accident today in Scott when a vehicle ran off Old River Road and into a tree.
The irony, of course, is that they'll be contributing to damage of Pryor that will accrue to the benefit of the Club for Growth's Tom Cotton, a nominal 4th District representative who plans to take the Club for Greed's money to go after Pryor. Cotton is rarely depicted in his material without a gun in his hand. He's a gun absolutist. In his view, there is NO law that should be passed relative to gun regulation.
Pryor has been disappointing on the issue, no doubt. But ...
UPDATE: The ad is hard-hitting. See it above. It brings up the shooting death of former State Democratic Party Chair Bill Gwatney in as senseless an act of gun violence as I can imagine.
The ad features Angela Bradford Barnes, chief financial officer of the Arkansas Democratic Party at the time.
When my dear, innocent friend was shot to death, I didn’t blame guns. I blamed a system that makes it so terribly easy for criminals or the dangerous mentally ill to buy guns. That’s why I was so disappointed when Mark Pryor voted against comprehensive background checks. On that vote, he let us down.
Gun violence has personally affected my life in a tremendous way. I have spent years working for Arkansas’ Democrats and was at work with Bill Gwatney the day he was senselessly taken from us,” said Bradford-Barnes in a press release. “The pain of that experience will always be a part of me. Like 84 percent of Arkansans I support universal background checks. Thus, I was heartbroken to see that Senator Pryor opposed the bi-partisan bill because it will save lives. This bill may not be perfect, and it cannot undue my tragic loss, but if it stops even one person from causing this pain to another family, it’s worth it. I hope that if Senator Pryor is given another chance to lead on this issue he thinks first about Arkansas voters like me.
Pryor responded sharply:
“New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg didn’t know Bill Gwatney. I knew Bill Gwatney. He was my friend and he was killed by someone with severe mental health issues. The Mayor’s bill would have done nothing to prevent his death because it fails to adequately address the real issue and common thread in all of these shootings — mental health.
“That’s why I voted for separate legislation that strengthens funding for mental health programs; requires states, courts, and agencies to report mental health records to the background check system; increases penalties for straw purchases; reauthorizes and funds the COPS program to improve safety in schools; holds the Department of Justice accountable by forcing them to prosecute cases where individuals tried to purchase firearms illegally; and conducts a study on violence in the media. This legislation would have done all of this while protecting people’s 2nd amendment rights.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s attack ad politicizes the death of my friend by misleading people into thinking that his bill would have prevented Bill Gwatney’s tragic death. The fact is it wouldn’t have, which makes Mayor Bloomberg’s ad even more disgusting.”
The Democratic Party followed with this from Candace Martin:
“Bill Gwatney was a friend and inspiration to all Democrats. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about his tragic death and miss him. We don’t believe it is right for any organization to politicize this tragedy.”
I'm just about fed up with the "politicizing tragedy" cliche used to avoid talking about tough issues. Guns are an issue precisely because of tragedies. Pryor himself brought up storm aid votes the other day — a clear and deserved jab at Rep. Tom Cotton — in advocating help for Oklahoma. That wasn't politicizing tragedy, either, though Republican shills tried to call it that to stop references to Cotton. Actions have consequences, past and future. A death need not be provably preventable by background checks to mention it as another senseless gun death that underscored the ready availability of instruments of death without much meaningful impediment.
German brewers have warned Chancellor Angela Merkel that any law allowing the controversial drilling technique known as fracking could damage the country's cherished beer industry.
The Brauer-Bund beer association is worried that fracking for shale gas, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into the ground, could pollute water used for brewing and break a 500-year-old industry rule on water purity.
Speaking of former Treasurer Martha Shoffner, accused of taking kickbacks for steering huge sums of state bond business to the broker making the payments:
Here's another former state treasurer ensnared in a public corruption case, Tim Cahill of Massachusetts. He agreed to pay $100,000 and admitted he should have known a lottery advertising campaign he authorized (while running for governor) was illegal. The lottery ads touted his management of the enterprise. That was in March.
Today came news closer to the Arkansas situation from Bloomberg.
A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) investment banker will pay $100,000 to resolve U.S. regulatory claims that he made improper contributions to a Massachusetts treasurer while seeking state underwriting business.
Neil Morrison, who worked on then-Treasurer Tim Cahill’s unsuccessful run for governor from November 2008 to October 2010 while he was employed by Goldman Sachs, also agreed to be barred from the securities industry for five years, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement today.
The immunity from federal prosecution given an Arkansas broker who said he made cash payments to Shoffner likely doesn't end his entanglement with other agencies. Our sources have said Steele Stephens of Little Rock (no relation to the Stephens Inc. investment empire), who resigned this week as a salesman for St. Bernard Financial Services, was the key informant for the feds. We first reported in October 2011 a sharp increase in his share of state bond business, a development current and former employees linked to his friendship with Shoffner.
By the way: David Smith of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote a great story this morning (subscription reqd.) on the shifting policies of Shoffner's bond investments. He had some welcome perspective on the difficulties of drawing hard conclusions — as the politically motivated audit did — about the wisdom of some of the bond trading. Auditors were readily able to see — with the clarity of hindsight — that interest rates didn't perform as traders expected in liquidating a state bond position (at a healthy gain) and putting the money in a higher yielding bond that got called because interest rates continued to drop. It includes, too, the historical shift from CDs, now paying next-to-nothing, to bond investments and then shifts from committing to bond purchases for fixed periods to riskier trading. Even then, the risks weren't nearly that taken by large state retirement accounts, which can hold investments for longer periods and endure greater risks for higher returns.
This was one of several dubious comparisons by Legislative Audit — thrown up on a huge TV screen at the time for effect — that tarred its findings. Even if the trading was bad judgment — and that's a fair question to study as office procedures are examined — it wasn't evidence of illegality. The driving question always was whether that big shift in business to one broker, even if he'd made profitable call after profitable call, had an unsavory explanation. That turned out to be true. Much as legislators might wish the FBI would throw out subpoenas and search warrants based on suspicion, probable cause is necessary. It took 18 months, but that finally arrived with a taped phone call May 9 in which Shoffner allegedly asked her bond salesman to buy her some property and then, May 18, a cash-filled pie delivery under the watchful surveillance equipment of the FBI.
It's lost to the ages, but the brokers defended their trading several times. Here. And more specifically here. Of course, even a thoroughly superior investment record is no justification for winning business by illegal means.
When I went to Conway this morning to film a segment of "Arkansas Week," I asked Matt DeCample of the governor's office whether a decision was coming today on Gov. Mike Beebe's appointment of someone to serve out Martha Shoffner's term as treasurer.
The governor has made his decision, but due to the procedural work needed for the appointment, and to accommodate the appointee’s schedule, we’re going to announce it on Wednesday.
Conway banker Bunny Adcock, Holly Grove lawyer Raymond Abramson and former Association of Arkansas Counties Executive Director Eddie Jones have been mentioned, although all told the Democrat-Gazette yesterday they had not talked to the governor or anyone in his office.
Off topic: But I made a whopper of a mistake on Arkansas Week this morning. In talking about the University of Arkansas's politically motivated decision to trim back tuition increase requests, I said they'd sent a conflicting message about austerity by giving UA President Donald Bobbitt a whopping pay raise. He'll move from $355,000 to $427,500 on July 1, an increase of $72,500. That's a 20 percent pay raise, which I somehow turned into a $200,000 pay raise. Sorry about that.
Top that, Duncan Baird.
Dennis Milligan, famous for once saying what the U.S. needed was another 9/11 to get right about terrorism, is a Republican candidate for state treasurer, not mayor of Branson, Mo. He's circuit clerk in Saline County. Endorsements here.
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Check out the picture of Joe Arpaio in this article:
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