Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tracy Steele — experienced administrator! — nabs Hutchinson patronage

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2015 at 6:29 AM

TRACY STEELE: Endorsement pays six-figure dividend.
  • TRACY STEELE: Endorsement pays six-figure dividend.

For an 11th-hour endorsement of Asa Hutchinson's candidacy for governor, former Sen. Tracy Steele has landed a $100,000-plus patronage job as head of the Arkansas Health Services Permit Agency, which passes out permits to health agencies such as nursing homes.

Steele was one of a handful of black people who voted for Hutchinson in his successful November race. He'll succeed the last patronage recipient, former Sen. Jim Luker, who said he was planning to retire anyway.

Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who reported the development, quoted a Hutchinson spokesman as saying Steele was a "good fit" because of past experiences in leading state agencies.

Indeed. He ran the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission from 1994-2006, a period of near constant turmoil. A new director and restructured commission resolved that. Some also found it unseemly for a sitting legislator to be employed by a state agency and lobby for money for that agency. Steele saw no conflict.

He also led the state Division of Youth Services for a bit more than a year, a time during which some ghastly treatment of youthful offenders was revealed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Steele also ran a nonprofit foundation while a legislator. It spent a major portion of its money paying him a salary. While a legislator, he solicited contributions to the foundation from corporate interests. He also used his clout to get state advertising for a newspaper he started that was known for how often it featured the photo of Tracy Steele. His brother's communications agency benefitted from state set-asides for minority contractors.

Steele, once a Democrat, enlisted in the Hutchinson campaign because state Democratic Party Chair Vince Insalaco led Joe Smith's successful campaign for North Little Rock mayor over Steele. Steele hoped to grab that public nozzle when term limits kicked in.

Good fit? Let's hope not.

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