Shameless: Legislators snort at the trough | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shameless: Legislators snort at the trough

Posted By on Sun, Oct 13, 2013 at 8:13 AM

click to enlarge GRIP AND GRIN I: Rep. Justin Harris delivers check to West Fork Police Chief John Collins.
  • GRIP AND GRIN I: Rep. Justin Harris delivers check to West Fork Police Chief John Collins.

Chelsea Boozer and Sarah Wire provided some expansive detail in this morning's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on the world's worst kept secret:

A 2006 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in former Rep. Mike Wilson's taxpayer lawsuit outlawed unconstitutional local pork barrel legislation. But it's being flagrantly flouted — with malice aforethought — by dozens of legislators. They send state surplus money (General Improvement Funds) to local planning and development districts that spend the money as the legislators direct. Money laundering, you could say.

I was happy to see that the abusive use of $5,000 in pork barrel money to put on a July 4 fireworks show in Benton courtesy of Sen. Jeremy "Gatorbait" Hutchinson set the D-G reporting in motion. That misspending of taxpayer money was broken here, you might recall.

click to enlarge PROUD PORK BARRELER: Rep. Ann Clemmer.
  • PROUD PORK BARRELER: Rep. Ann Clemmer.
The saddest part of the story was to read how far a nominal good-government legislator who once styled herself a Rockefeller Republican has fallen. I refer to Rep. Ann Clemmer, who'll oppose Hutchinson for his Senate seat next year. Clemmer won't be able to use Hutchinson's abuse of state law in the campaign. She's grunting hungrily and proudly at the trough herself. Give her points for candor, if not for ethics or observance of the spirit of the Arkansas Constitution. Legislators are not supposed to control how money sent to local planning districts is spent.

But that’s exactly what Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, said she does. In a phone conversation Thursday, Clemmer said she has money “allocated to me to make the determination” on where it is spent, but then she clarified that she can only recommend where the money is spent. Then she added: “But it’s really like a determination.”

Clemmer kept digging herself  in a deeper hole in the interview.

“I understand Mr. Wilson’s concerns with the process, but I don’t think it’s anything new. … I think if you look back the last few [legislative] sessions it’s been more or less the way it’s been done. That may not be appropriate, in which case I guess another decision and further discussion may be required,” she said.

Got it? That's the way we've always done it. Don't like it? Get somebody to sue. Then maybe we'll change the process and invent another way to subvert the Constitution. That's what finally happened on the expense money that Clemmer and the rest, with a handful of exceptions, abused. (A few legislators also avoid the porkfest and direct money to statewide beneficiaries, such as colleges and universities.)

Clemmer proudly upheld her place as a standard-bearer (as a named defendant) for abuse that prompted the lawsuit that brought down illegal salary supplements legislators awarded themselves through undocumented "expense" payments. So now you have the choice for 2014 in one Senate district: Gatorbait and his long dismal record of campaign finance and special interest problems or a proven and admitted scofflaw?  Something in the water in Saline County. Remember that another Republican lawmaker from down that way, Andy Mayberry, also went pork barreling for one of his pet projects.

The timing of the story was exquisite from my point of view. I'd sent some tweets yesterday back to Republican Rep. Justin Harris in response to a couple he posted yesterday. Harris, who lives off state-provided payments to his church daycare center, proudly posted pictures of himself delivering grant checks to local beneficiaries. He wouldn't be proudly boasting of these grants to a library or police department if he wasn't claiming direct responsibility, would he? I asked: Local legislation? He didn't respond.

click to enlarge GRIP AND GRIN II: Justin Harris delivers grant check to Mountainburg Public Library.
  • GRIP AND GRIN II: Justin Harris delivers grant check to Mountainburg Public Library.

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