If Gov. Huckabee can kick the tobacco habit so can lawmakers. Tobacco companies have larded the campaign treasuries of Huckabee and legislators of both parties and nearly always got their money’s worth, but the workplace smoking bill this week ought to test the tobacco companies’ efficacy.

Tobacco’s interests this time run squarely up against the financial interest of practically all the businessmen in Arkansas, although most of them are silent about the bill. Little that the legislature does will have a greater long-term impact on business’ bottom line than guaranteeing clean air everywhere in the workplace from the board room to the loading dock. All the research proves it. Employees are happier and healthier, there are fewer sick days, and productivity is improved. That is money in an employer’s pocket.

We could mention that employees and customers benefit even more, but such arguments tend to be taken more lightly in legislative halls. So let it rest there.

A few lawmakers, we hear, resent being summoned to Little Rock in haste to give Gov. Huckabee’s presidential bona-fides a boost. Huckabee is in the tentative stages of a presidential campaign based on his good work for public health. So far it rests on his 100-pound weight loss, his crafting of a progressive package to use the state’s settlement with tobacco companies for real public health purposes, and his bold expansions of government-paid health services for the poor. Someone presumably might bring up his veto of a state health regulation that would ban smoking in restaurants and bars a few years back, but the new smoking law ought to stop those critics.

But why should any legislator care to thwart the governor’s vain ambitions if in doing so he imperils the health and prosperity of all of his constituencies, including the real ones as well as those, the working folks, he proclaims?

The cost of silence
Let a fruitcake find a distasteful way to spout his beliefs, like the gay-bashing anti-abortion Kansas preacher who shows up with his flock occasionally to wave signs at a military funeral, and politicians rush to rescind his constitutional rights. First was the Texas flag burner in the ’80s. Republicans thought it resonated with voters to try to amend the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to make that form of speech illegal.

Where will it stop? There are an endless number of ways to express ideas that most of us will find offensive. Our legislatures will be forever outlawing them.

The legislature will be better served to sidetrack the bill to make demonstrations at funerals unlawful. It is cheaper than having the courts do it.


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