Beebe predicts no election to replace Darr; but 'something' to be done about staff | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beebe predicts no election to replace Darr; but 'something' to be done about staff

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 10:39 AM

click to enlarge NO ELECTION: Beebe suggests deal done to leave lt. gov. office vacant.
  • NO ELECTION: Beebe suggests deal done to leave lt. gov. office vacant.
Gov. Mike Beebe said during his live-streamed session with Talk Business' Roby Brock today that he supported and expected to sign legislation to prevent the need for a special election to fill the vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor created by Mark Darr's resignation Saturday in a financial and ethics scandal.

Beebe said there appeared to be "overwhelming bipartisan consensus" to pass a bill that would allow leaving the office open in an election year. Beebe said he would sign it. He said it would save the state millions in election costs for an election that would ultimately only fill the office for four  months. "If they do it early in the session, I'll be able to sign that," he said. "I anticipate that to happen. I fully support that effort."

And what about Darr's four-person staff, which costs $267,000 annually in salary and perks?

"I suspect there'll be something done about that," Beebe said. If you don't have an office, he said, "I don't know why you have a staff."

Beebe said Darr's staff members were good people and "nobody was trying to be mean." But he said, "The people of Arkansas might find it unusual to keep staff for an office that doesn't exist."

Yes. And I also think some people might find it unusual — particularly those who've lost real jobs through no fault of their own and who find their unemployment now under attack by Arkansas Republicans — if the solutions is to favor this four with jobs created somewhere else in the comforting arms of state government. Comforting if you're a Republican, at least.

Beebe spent much of the time with Brock on a point-by-point recitation of the familiar reasons the legislature should continue the private option under Obamacare. It's a huge windfall of money to the state that is helping support other vital services, such as prisons. If the state doesn't follow through, private businesses will take a financial hit. Hospitals face an enormous hit.  There are a "ton of reasons" to preserve the program, Beebe said,"not the least of which is people."

My emphasis.

SPEAKING OF OUR QUIRKY CONSTITUTION: Ernie Dumas provides us further historical background on the governor whose work gave us the ability for the minority to do no less than defeat the entire Medicaid program in Arkansas, which the Gang of Nine in the Senate will do if they insist on bringing down the private option.


To help us understand the fury over the “private option,” food stamps and all the other initiatives to help the poor, may we channel good old J. Marion Futrell one more time?

Governor Futrell, remember, was the hero of last week’s column. When he took office in 1933, Futrell clutched all the old clichés about the poor, the people who were not getting ahead. It was the result of their own sloth, and to the extent society could be faulted, it was owing to modernization—machinery that accustomed people to avoiding hard labor. It had made bums of people.

Futrell had lots of quirky ideas—crime and laziness were hereditary so the government should castrate or sterilize repeat offenders and “incompetents,” high schools were a foolish luxury, etc.—but his notions about the poor were widely held, even in those darkest days of the Depression. They were the same notions of Victorian England, where the poor just wanted to be that way and had to be put in workhouses to teach them initiative.

The same old clichés ricochet through the debates in Washington and in Arkansas over whether to cut food stamps, end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as entitlements, shorten jobless aid, raise the minimum wage, provide pre-kindergarten for poor kids or reverse the swelling income inequality.

Nowadays, it’s government dependency from previous efforts to reduce poverty that is supposed to have made people shiftless. You hear it in the justifications of tea-party radicals like Tom Cotton for their votes against food stamps and attacks on the rest of the social safety net. And you hear it in the determined voices of the handful of Arkansas legislators who plan this month to terminate health insurance for low-wage workers.

But back to our hero, Futrell, a chancery judge who came down from Paragould to save Arkansas from a feckless government and a citizenry gone indolent. When we left him last week he had amended the Constitution to virtually halt taxation and spending forever, only to discover that taxing and spending were exactly what would save the state.

His amendment to give power over taxes and spending to a small fraction of the legislature—only nine of 135 legislators can block a tax or an appropriation favored by an overwhelming majority of legislators—was ratified in 1934. In a desperate attempt to revive the economy and keep body and soul together for a third of the nation’s population, the federal government provided surplus commodities and later food stamps for the poor and picked up other costs for struggling state and local governments, asking only that the states match its benevolence in small sums.

They all did, except Marion Futrell’s Arkansas. In that desperate winter of ’34-’35, it came to Futrell that maybe he was wrong about the poor and about the government’s proper role. It helped that tenant farmers, day laborers and the unemployed were rising up against the Arkansas system that often left the distribution of federal relief to the plantation owners and local bosses. Futrell was harassed daily by people, particularly from his home county, begging for state jobs.

It helped, too, that Uncle Sugar was fed up with Arkansas, which did not put up a dime for relief, and with the bitching from Arkansas leaders about the government efforts and the arrests and beatings of protesters and organizers in east Arkansas. If Arkansas did not ante up some money by March 1, President Roosevelt’s relief director said, all forms of federal aid to Arkansas would end.

A chastened Futrell begged legislators to raise taxes—any taxes—and increase spending. (Mike Huckabee reprised Futrell’s speech in 2003 when he told lawmakers he would gratefully sign all the tax bills they sent him. They sent him hikes in the income, sales and cigarette taxes.)

Futrell said Washington had spent $45,135,502 to feed and clothe Arkansans and pay their teachers and he now regretted that officials had griped about the waste when he and the legislature had put up “not one dollar” for the cause. So the legislature sent him sales, liquor and racing taxes and he signed them, an income tax failing the three-fourths threshold that his amendment had erected. But it was Futrell who established the modern Arkansas tax system, which lifted Arkansas out of bankruptcy and for the first time paid for a real public school system and colleges.

The 80th anniversary of that halcyon day will fall during the fiscal session, where the legislature will craft a budget for next year built upon a single decision—whether to end the lifeline the legislature threw the working poor a year ago when it exercised its option under the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance to the last segment of the poor—childless adults.

It is hard to see how nine to a dozen senators can end medical assistance to nearly all the state’s needy—those in nursing homes, the disabled who get prescription help, the blind and disabled and the 400,000 children served by Huckabee’s giant Medicaid expansion in 1997. (Jonesboro’s new senator, John Cooper, calls the current Medicaid initiative the biggest expansion of government in the state’s history, but it doesn’t come close to Huckabee’s.)

The legislators will not be voting just to scrap President Obama’s program but the whole Medicaid program, including 23,000 elderly and disabled in nursing homes, because they are all part of the same appropriation. That is technically true but also appropriate. If people are at fault for not getting jobs that would pay for their health care, it applies to all the needy and their spawn, not just the childless adults Obamacare covers. Finally—a chance to show 800,000 shiftless Arkies the wages of not having initiative and a good-paying job.

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