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Steve Barnes

Benghazi continues to take toll

To concede the obvious makes sense in casual conversation but is considered a major misstep in today’s politics, the objective being to keep a party’s core supporters, its “base,” energized, entertained and otherwise engaged, and no matter the impact on independent, “swing” voters. So it would be a mistake for Republicans in the U.S. House, and their patrons, to simply disband the committee set up ostensibly to investigate the tragedy at Benghazi. Better to allow it simply to fade away than openly acknowledge what its Republican members so thoroughly demonstrated last week.

Trading one carnival for another

The State Fair, blessed by wonderful weather, set an attendance record this year. The Indian summer may have had less to do with the turnout than the yearnings of 473,000 Arkansans for respite from the real world. So they traded one carnival for another, and willingly paid to do so.

Remembering Dean Duncan

A few minutes after Dean Duncan slipped peacefully into the next life, one of his family had an idea, a very good one. A nephew who had been looking after Dean’s mutt, Poochie, rushed home and brought him to the hospice. Poochie was entitled to his own farewell.

Ten years after Katrina

There was some talk of a reunion, but it came to nothing. Too many of us had moved on — to other publications, other occupations, to cities other than the ones where we were based when the editors in New York began ordering us into New Orleans and the path of a banshee called Katrina. Ten years ago.

Right-wing rhetoric helping both parties’ major candidates

I swear, if I was a Democrat running for president I would divert as much of my campaign treasury as I could to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Arkansas’s own Mike Huckabee. If I was any Democrat angling to see my party’s nominee win next year I would do the same. Moreover, if I was a Republican trying to set my party aright (but cantered still to the right) I would send all three money, knowing, as do the Democrats (and independents), that not Trump nor Cruz nor Huckabee has a hope of the White House and that their campaigns will serve only to soil the eventual GOP candidate and thus hasten a much-overdue reconsideration of what the party should represent.

40 year apology

Even his sternest critics agreed it was one of Mike Huckabee’s finest moments. To the surprise of many in the crowd of thousands, Huckabee’s oratory, in style and substance, quite surpassed that of another speaker, a president of the United States, for whom the issue was known to run deep — down where the spirit meets the bone, to borrow a phrase.

Unlearning the malignant mindset of poverty

English is her “second language.” Though born in the U.S. to American parents, she was unaware that she spoke not in conventional sentences, using conventional verbs and nouns — the phraseology of the middle class, even in its vernacular — until one of her first instructors insisted that she discard the tongue she had employed since childhood: the lexicon, the vocabulary — the language — of poverty.

Failed appeal offers anti-abortion activists hope

Everything involving the abortion issue, in Arkansas and the nation, is cloaked in predictability. Everything except the final outcome of a debate that began in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, supposedly ended the debate by declaring that a woman had a fundamental, constitutional right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy during the first two trimesters.

Red Bark Mulch

I have a suggestion for Gov. Hutchinson, who, at this writing, has yet to issue his formal call for a special legislative session this month. He will ask the General Assembly to approve a multi-million dollar bond issue to help a big defense company win an even more valuable contract to build armored vehicles at its Camden plant.

Special session, the governor and an ‘SEC Primary’

So it appears we are going to have a special session of the General Assembly later this month. Fine, if you believe that “economic development incentives,” as they are sometimes termed, to private industry bear fruit sufficient to outweigh the costs. Or not so fine, if you’re among those who regard such state subsidies to be “corporate welfare,” in the words of one (Republican) member of the legislature.

Portrait of a supreme court justice

There was at least one wheelchair, a chariot for a retired judge. And at least one walker, for the eminence grise of the state’s largest law firm. There were several canes steadying several other attorneys, or their wives, all of or about the same generation. And if the honoree darted about with the vitality of a man half his 85 years and displayed the mental agility of a promising first-year law student, well, he was not immune to such afflictions as might bedevil his grandchildren: a palm and forearm sheathed in elastic bandage, a poultice for a persistent bone and tendon issue.

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.