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Steve Barnes

Harris case proves curious

A curious situation: State Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork says he has done nothing illegal, his colleagues agree he has done nothing illegal, as does Governor Hutchinson; the Department of Human Services says there’s nothing illegal about what Harris did, and no officer of the court — attorney, prosecutor, judge — can cite a statute that says it is illegal.

The future of the private option

The gentleman from Gravette, Jim Hendren, who sits for District 2 in the Arkansas Senate, and who helped Gov. Asa Hutchinson, his uncle, persuade fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to extend for about another two years the Private Option medical coverage program — Jim Hendren has a message for anyone who thinks the issue is settled, done, now and forever.

Honeymoon in Session

Go back a couple weeks, to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s inaugural: the previous Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, observed to a reporter that every governor can expect a honeymoon. And then joked that every governor can expect the honeymoon to end after one day.

Two documents in six days

From the new Asa Hutchinson administration, two crucial documents over six days. The first: the governor’s long-awaited decision on the Private Option, or Obamacare — Arkansas-style. The second: Mr. Hutchinson’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. In order:

Pryor’s morning after

The morning after J. William Fulbright’s crushing defeat in 1974 I encountered one of the senator’s aides and, to my surprise, found him in good spirits. The old man was fine, too, he smiled. “If you lose by a few thousand votes you’ll never sleep again, wondering what you might have done differently,” the Fulbright assistant instructed. “If it’s two-to-one, you know there’s nothing you could have done.” The lesson: if you have to lose, lose big.

Jeb Bush for president?

Jeb Bush gave his party a Christmas present the other day. Some of its faithful will regard it as a pony, others a bag of switches. Bush confirmed he was running for president of the United States. Actually, he announced he had formed a Leadership PAC (political action committee), which is a kind of presidential exploratory committee. It allows an individual to run for president and solicit money without formally declaring as a candidate. Such is the law.

What Asa said and what Asa will do

What politicians say can be important. Where they say it, meaning to whom they say it, can be just as important. Note, also, at what they don’t say, or skip over. In two speeches over three days, Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson has signaled, in language that seems as solid as his November margin, that he wants to retain the most controversial component of Arkansas public policy. He did so with scarcely a mention of the Private Option but repeatedly emphasized tax cuts.

First rock concert

OMAHA, Neb. – I have three grandchildren. Medicare is on the horizon. I also have a wife who, thankfully, refuses to surrender her youth, and if I must surrender mine I shall do so reluctantly. So I am attending my first rock concert.

Arkansas prison system numbers

At precisely 10 o’clock on the morning of November 24, the Arkansas Department of Correction had 18,177 inmates. Well, technically; 2,477 of them were on hold, as it were, in county jails across Arkansas until space could be made for some of them in one of the state’s kicks. That will be soon, because a few minutes earlier the Board of Correction invoked the oft-used Emergency Powers Act, making 651 non-violent offenders nearing the end of their sentences eligible for early release. While they were at it the board pulled the “one-year trigger,” which would set free, 12 months ahead of schedule, some other inmates who’ve been well-behaved while serving time for something other than violent crimes or sex offenses. Which will leave a thousand or more prisoners in county custody.

Crimson Tide rolls in election

November 4, 2014, will be remembered as the worst night for Democrats in Arkansas since President Lincoln decided to humor his wife with an evening at the theater, which brought about a Reconstruction he neither envisioned nor desired. For the foreseeable future, Republicans will celebrate this year’s election as the day Reconstruction II began.

Embargo on Cuba

There’s time, admittedly not much, but time remaining in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate campaign to add an issue to the agenda, or at least propose one. It hasn’t come up because no one has brought it up, not even that segment of the Arkansas electorate — farmers — who would stand to gain from a serious discussion of: Cuba. More narrowly, our nation’s embargo on the sale of commodities, among other restrictions, to that little island, 90 miles from Florida’s tip.

Holding back the tide

FAYETTEVILLE — It’s a win if Arkansas loses to Alabama by one point, especially in a drizzle that makes the pigskin as slippery as a hog slathered in Crisco. It’s a loss for ‘Bama if it defeats Arkansas by a single point, fair weather or foul, be it a rebuilding year (for either squad) or still another season of Tuscaloosa dominance. So the Razorbacks could claim a moral victory after a soupy October 11 while ‘Bama had to settle for — victory.

Understanding politics

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — “Tell us about your Senate race,” asks my friend John Marino. His wife, Sharon, nods encouragement. Immediately the other couple, the Hanafelds, Donna and Erwin, join in. “Tell us all about it,” Erwin encourages. “What don’t we understand?” Donna wonders.

Minimum wage and remembering a faithful staff member

Advocates of a higher state minimum wage got it done, submitting valid petition signatures that, according to the secretary of state, were about half again the threshold number (approximately 60,000) necessary for ballot position in November. The referendum formula, though not exceedingly complex, is exacting: so many signatures from so many (accurately) registered voters in a certain number of counties, the aggregate required total being a percentage of the popular vote for governor in the election previous. There had been a bit of nervousness among supporters but they pulled it off. It would be the first change to the Arkansas base wage in eight years.

The lunch bunch

I was trying to read aloud the Major League wild card standings to a group consisting almost entirely of Cardinals fans, their anxious eyes on Milwaukee, when Stockbroker plopped down alongside me.

The sting

The little television set in the corner of my office is always tuned to one or another of the cable news channels unless there’s an especially good baseball game underway. But this is an even-numbered year, and thus every commercial break is jammed with political advertising, often back-to-back spots for Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton in the Senate race; or Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson in the gubernatorial sweepstakes. Or commercials for any of the above disguised as “issue” ads by “independent” third party organizations. Even with the sound very low or muted altogether the visual assault is overwhelming, enough to turn one away from a bases-loaded, two-out, ninth-inning rally involving two division-leading teams.