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Steve Barnes


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.

Annals of the cyber-age

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Not terribly long ago I sat atop the hood of my car, parked on the side of a dirt road just south of Arkansas’s southern border, and, frantic to meet a deadline, prepared to rig a cell phone to my laptop computer, hoping I remembered how to use the contraption, praying there was a transmission tower somewhere above and beyond the evergreen needles. As I prepared to connect the cables, I glanced at the screen and, to my amazement, noted a window that had opened in its lower right corner. Couldn’t be.

Pryor news

It wasn’t stop-the-presses news, not “Breaking News” news on a television screen, which would have indicted it wasn’t news at all or had actually “broken” hours earlier. Indeed it was so unsurprising as to be almost un-news. Still, it was news. And it was broken, as it were, not by an enterprising reporter but by the candidate himself, in a press release on July 7. “Senator David Pryor and First Lady Barbara Pryor to Hit the Campaign Trail in July” was the headline.

Energy

We installed a new water heater the other day. Suddenly foreign policy came home again to Arkansas, sending me back to an afternoon in Washington some 40 years ago, in the mid-1970s.

Hillary Clinton in Arkansas

The former first lady of Arkansas, who is the former first lady of the U.S., and who is running for president as hard as anyone can run without announcing as a candidate, stopped by the other day to sign books and shake hands. Her book is a memoir of her time as secretary of state, and it has been selling quite well if not in the numbers that her White House recollections scored. The hands she shook almost certainly belonged to Arkansans who can be expected to vote for her in the 2016 Democratic primary and again in the November election.

Voters want change

CENTER RIDGE — If Tom Cotton didn’t make it to Bradley County, to Warren, for the annual Pink Tomato Festival, he made certain to get to Conway County, here, for the annual St. Joseph’s Church picnic.

Veterans deserve better

“I feel stronger every day,” Sen. John Boozman told me on his first full day back in harness, 48 days after a trip to the emergency room, and subsequently the operating room, saved his life. His flawed aorta was quickly diagnosed and immediately repaired, and now he says his agenda, as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, includes helping cleaning up the mess — the latest mess — at the Department of Veterans Affairs. That would include $500 million that would finance additional doctors and nurses at veterans’ hospitals and authorize additional facilities.

Election

A state, a region and a nation achingly in need of consensus got something less on Tuesday night from the political party that was in the spotlight. The election outcomes left more conflicted than ever the Republican Party organizations in Arkansas and Washington and clouded the immediate future of both with the prospect of yet more fratricide.

Arkansas primary election

The May 20 Arkansas primary succeeded in winnowing the field of players but as a referendum on the principal issue facing Republican voters it failed. The outcome in a dozen contests for seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives, campaigns in which “Obamacare” was the dominant theme, left in suspense the future of the Private Option, the Arkansas version of the Affordable Care Act.

Same-sex marriages

Everyone was using the term “history.” They were making history, some said. Others said they were living history. I was there, in the Pulaski County courthouse, to record that history. This is some of what I saw and heard.

Obama in Arkansas

My hope is that by the time you read these lines the, president of the United States, Barack Obama, is back safely in Washington, secure in the White House. Or, should he be elsewhere, that he is similarly insulated from bodily harm.

Oklahoma execution gone wrong

Our neighbors in Oklahoma had a Ricky Ray Rector moment on Tuesday night. Their second, in fact. In the interconnected indices of the macabre and the Machiavellian the latest one surpassed the first. And it soared beyond the Rector episode.

Kitchen makeover

‘Twas the night before Easter and all through our house, my dear wife’s howls of delight echoed. (After almost 33 years in matrimony I can distinguish her howls — joy, anger, delight, frustration, irritation, amusement — fixed points on her emotional register).

Danger of doing business in cyberspace

Bankers in Arkansas, state chartered or national, aren’t going to like this column. Nor will utility companies, retailers — any business that conducts business in cyberspace, which includes pretty much the state and nation and much of the world. A huge majority of their presidents, managers and clerks will dismiss me as an old fogey, behind-the-times, a crank; they will sniff, or force a smile, and gently insist that I just don’t understand computer commerce, don’t comprehend how safe and secure are their systems.

Remembering Gabe Meyer

Time passes, things change. There are goodbyes to be said. In Pine Bluff they are demolishing my elementary school, a touchstone. Maybe I can make it there before the last brick is carried away. I’ve lost touch with many of my classmates — my fault, not theirs — but I never lost touch with Gabe Meyer. Understand, please, I never met the man in whose honor the school was named. He was a little before my time. But I owe him.

We keep driving, flying

Transponder — I sort of knew what that does. It’s an electronic thing that sends electronic signals automatically, from one airplane to another, or to and from airplane and satellite, or to and from an airplane to a receiver-transmitter on the ground. It sends these signals automatically, at designated intervals. Unless it’s turned off.