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Steve Barnes


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.

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.