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Brantley: Back to the train wreck 

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  • Brian Chilson

A vacation took me from Arkansas for three weeks, but the Great Legislative Train Wreck of 2013 was as close as our iPad while we ogled wombats and wallabies and other wonders of New Zealand and Australia.

The daily accounts from the Arkansas Blog were discouraging. In the end, I couldn't help but wonder if an Australian in muscular, shiny Sydney would see my home as the "magnet" envisioned by our new Republican majority.

Certainly not Australia's female prime minister, a product of a socialist student group who supports abortion rights, backed a carbon tax and once told the Washington Post, "I think it would be inconceivable for me if I were an American to have turned up at the highest echelon of American politics being an atheist, single and childless." (Did I forget to mention Australia has some strict gun control laws, too.)

For all the furious service to its electoral base offered up by the legislative majority in the first two months of the legislative session, the worst is yet to come. I don't mean to diminish the damage done by the Republican fixation on guns and fetuses and wreckage of environmental regulation. But the still bigger Republican prize lies ahead.

Republicans are working a crafty end-game to prevent expansion of health coverage to all Americans. The disingenuous fog some Republicans have produced about private insurance coverage as an alternative to Medicaid expansion is meant to 1) leave the door open to wreckage of the remaining Medicaid system for the working poor and 2) build financial pressure for defeat of health expansion at the national level. We already know, thanks to Medicare and existing private plans, that the private market can't deliver the same health coverage for less money. I guess we should be happy if, in the short run, at least some expansion of coverage is accomplished.

House Speaker Davy Carter, itching to run for governor and depicting himself disingenuously as a moderate while presiding over the reactionary putsch, promises up to $150 million in tax cuts without saying what services would be sacrificed to pay for it. Others, like Rep. Charlie Collins, itch for windfall income tax cuts for the wealthy. Those who're already sitting on mostly inherited billions — Waltons, Stephenses, Murphys, Hussmans — ache to wreck egalitarian public schools with a crazy quilt of charter schools, private school vouchers, and student transfer schemes guaranteed to resegregate many school districts, both racially and economically.

The worst of the public school attacks has to be the private school voucher bill with money coming out of the pockets of districts that students flee. Those public schools would also have to accommodate private schoolers in extracurricular activities like football and pay their transportation, too. This bill opens with a legislative declaration of the inadequacy of Arkansas schools generally, an invitation to another Lakeview lawsuit if there ever was one.

New Zealand, land of the Hobbit and a $13.50-an-hour minimum wage, certainly wouldn't seem likely to provide many immigrants for a state that refused to raise the $6.25 state minimum wage.

And on it goes. One Republican wants to roll back hard-won safeguards against cruelty to animals. Another wants to teach the Bible in public schools. Another wants to end public spending on women's health exams and birth control pills. Another wants to allow staff at church schools to carry guns. Another wants to make it official state law to ignore federal laws the Republican majority doesn't like.

Extremism is the new normal. I'd like to believe that this isn't representative of mainstream moderate thinking, but elections are the only practical measure.

Call me crazy. I don't think low taxes, poor government services, disrespect for women, scant respect for the environment, more guns and an increasingly intrusive religionist central government would be much of a siren song in the places I've just visited.

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