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Steve Barnes


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.

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.