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Racism, materialism and militarism 

And more power for the House Speaker.

Quote of the Week

"Yes, the hour is dark. Evil comes forth in the guise of good. It is a time of doubletalk, when men in high places have a high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and an anemia of concrete performance. We cry out against welfare handouts to the poor, but generously approve an oil depletion allowance to make the rich richer. ... The crowning achievement in hypocrisy must go to those staunch Republicans and Democrats of the Midwest and West who were given land by our government when they came here as immigrants from Europe. They were given education through the land grant colleges. They were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of farming trends, they were granted low-interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms. ... And these are the same people that now say to black people, whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat, that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. What they truly advocate is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. I wish that I could say that this is just a passing phase in the cycles of our nation's life ... but I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple-prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism."

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Chicago, August 1967.

Racism: Blackface OK in Blevins

Ted Bonner, the Blevins School Board member who for Halloween wore minstrel-style blackface and carried a sign saying "Blak Lives Matters," was given an "Outstanding Board Member" award for completing a routine training program. In November, images of Bonner's costume drew outrage on social media, but he resisted calls to resign; now, some in the community are rallying behind him. His supporters attended last week's school board meeting wearing "I Stand With Ted Bonner" T-shirts as he received his recognition.

Materialism: Pork spending, literally

The recent federal bribery plea agreement of former Rep. Micah Neal, a Springdale Republican, has increased scrutiny of the shadowy world that is the Arkansas legislature's General Improvement Fund. The money is supposed to be used for economic development purposes, but with state lawmakers directing the allocation of "their" GIF grants and little oversight over its actual expenditure, the potential for abuse is huge. Some GIF spending serves a real public benefit — but other grants are questionable, to put it mildly. Among the interesting tidbits to emerge last week: successful grant applications, made by Northwest Arkansas behavioral health services agency executive Rusty Cranford, who is thought to have connections with Neal, that purported to buy turkeys, hams and presents for needy families during the holidays. Republican and Democratic legislators made distributions from their GIF allotment to fulfill the grants, to the tune of about $20,000 in Northwest Arkansas and another $40,000 in Central Arkansas. Assuming the meals reached their intended recipients — whoever they might be — how exactly do Christmas hams promote economic development?

Militarism: Subsidizing guns

State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) filed legislation last week that would exempt guns and ammunition from sales taxes for a weekend each September. He styles the proposed tax holiday a "Second Amendment Appreciation" weekend. It's a goofy, pandering gimmick, but many legislators will no doubt vote for it anyway. In Arkansas — which has one of the highest firearm ownership rates in the nation — fealty must be paid to gun culture at all times.

More power for House Speaker

The Arkansas House approved a rules change that gives total power to the Speaker of the House to appoint committee members in the future. The new rules also allow legislators to raise campaign contributions during the fiscal session of the legislature, held in election years. That item drew almost no attention in an extended debate. Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) initiated the changes. He said the campaign contribution rule would align the House with the Senate and the ability of others in government to raise money while governing. Gillam noted he'd not be running for the House again and won't be speaker the first time the committee appointment rule takes effect. He said he didn't think the change would make the speaker more powerful. He said it wasn't a "power trip." He said it was just an administrative function. The rule change follows Democratic efforts to pack select committees by using the old caucus selection system, based on seniority. Republicans were furious when Democrats nailed down a majority of Revenue and Taxation Committee seats (lost when Rep. Joe Jett switched from being a Democrat to a Republican) and vowed rules changes to prevent it from happening again.

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