Open line: The shrinking news business; Pryor nicked for Koch contributions; dispute on voter ID; Walton grant application slowed by questions | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 28, 2014

Open line: The shrinking news business; Pryor nicked for Koch contributions; dispute on voter ID; Walton grant application slowed by questions

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 4:18 PM

click to enlarge NOT SO MAJESTIC: An aerial shot posted on Facebook looks down on the fire-damaged vacant Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs. Firemen battled the fire all night. It flamed up sporadically during the day.
  • NOT SO MAJESTIC: An aerial shot posted on Facebook looks down on the fire-damaged vacant Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs. Firemen battled the fire all night. It flamed up sporadically during the day.

The eagle soars and the line is open. Final words:

* HARD TIMES IN THE NEWS BUSINESS: Arkansas Business reports that Stephens Media today laid off everyone in their Little Rock news bureau except Capitol reporter John Lyon. The bureau also has a sports reporter who'll continue to work in Northwest Arkansas. Casualties include news reporting veterans Dennis Byrd, James Jefferson, Harry King and Rob Moritz. The company, owned by Little Rock investors but based in Las Vegas, has newspapers nationwide. The bureau here served Stephens newspapers, including dailies in Fort Smith and Pine Bluff, and the remnants of dailies in Northwest Arkansas that are now published in a joint venture with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's owner. The action gives rise, again, to questions about the future of the newspaper combine in Northwest Arkansas. An obvious cost savings would be the final combination of the local dailies, now wrapped around the D-G, into a single regional issue of the newspaper.

* MARK PRYOR BITES/BITTEN BY KOCHS: U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor has been using the specter of the evil Koch brothers in advertising. Republicans delighted today in noting his campaign had received a cumulative $25,000 from the Koch Industries PAC. Plenty of candidates get money from people who cover all bases. Running ads against them opens you up to hypocrisy charges, if you accept the premise that a contribution means you do whatever the contributor says. The Club for Growth, for example, hardly needs to worry that Tom Cotton will ever run an ad against THEM. He has a near perfect Club for Greed voting record. It also so happens that Pryor is talking less about Koch industries and its PAC in the political context than the shadowy groups and  Super PACs in which the Kochs invest huge sums in attack advertising on Mark Pryor and others whose records they detest. The PAC money to his Senate campaign is chump change.

* LAWSUIT POSSIBLE OVER VOTER ID QUESTION: The state Board of Election Commissioners today voted for a rule that will grant absentee voters the same "cure" period as in-person voters if they don't comply with new Voter ID rules. This puts the rule at variance with an opinion of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who said the new law doesn't give absentee voters a week to produce a valid ID if they don't include one as required in their mailed absentee ballot. The law clearly allows in-person voters without IDs a week to get to the county clerk to show the ID. The Pulaski County Election Commission, including Republican Commissioner Phil Wyrick, favored siding with the attorney general's view, as is customary in legal disputes. The law clearly needs to be corrected in 2015. Better if it was killed, in court or by legislation for its discriminatory impact. Pulaski County Attorney Karla Burnett threatened to sue, but the board adopted an emergency rule allowing the cure anyway. This was the position adopted by Secretary of State Mark Martin when the problem first surfaced in a state Senate special election. Some Democrats on the election commission favor the cure in the name of counting the most possible absentee ballots. If Pulaski indeed sues it will say that it is unconstitutional for the state board to order a procedure not provided in law and thus ask county election commissions to do the impossible. The Election Commission will decide whether to sue at a meeting Saturday morning. Now that Wyrick is a candidate for county judge, he can't vote on the election commission and the county Republican committee will have to send a different person to Saturday's meeting. But the two Democratic members favor following their attorney's opinion. They could decide to include a frontal challenge of the whole Voter ID law in the action.

* CRAZY MAN CONTRIBUTES TO DELAY IN VOTE ON ANOTHER WALTON CHARTER SCHEME: I got a notice three hours ahead of time of a special Arkansas Development Finance Authority Board meeting today. By 64 minutes before the meeting, I'd been able to learn the purpose was to approve joining the Arkansas Public School Resource Center in an application for $8 million in U.S. Education Department funds. For what? I was told, it might be something to do with the plan by Gov. Mike Beebe to put $10 million of state surplus into a revolving loan fund for charter school construction, money that the Walton Foundation was going to match. Was it really? And, if it was, was this additional money? Who would get it? Who would decide how to parcel it out? Would the Public School Resource Center, which is financed by Walton money to facilitate creation of charter schools to the disadvantage of conventional public school districts, control the money? What did co-application mean? Was it a straight grant or did it come with strings? I tried three different officials at ADFA. None provided answers, except: Ask the governor. I tried Matt DeCample, the governor's spokesman. He said he'd have to get back to me.

Around scheduled meeting time, I heard from DeCample. He informed me, for one, that the meeting had been postponed until Monday, in part because some questions remained to be answered. Much about the application remains unclear, except that ADFA was being asked to add its seal of approval to something the Public School Resource Center wanted. It is separate money from the revolving loan fund, DeCample said, but he couldn't say specifically what it was to be used for beyond facilities.  My questions: What obligations ADFA might have and who would have control spending the grant, should Arkansas get it. The Walton-funded APSRC takes no questions from me, so I no longer try. Call me crazy, but it seems reasonable to know the operating details before a state agency voted on an $8 million grant application. DeCample promised answers by Monday, when I expect the rubberstamp will be belatedly applied. By the end of the day, DeCample had provided a federal grant application brochure that indicates the money would enhance creditworthiness of charter schools seeking construction and renovation money.

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