Arkansas: Land of Opportunists


It would be hard to overstate my love of Arkansas. My colleagues in New York can certainly attest to the fact that I hardly shut up about it. I am lucky to live here.

Like most Southern states, Arkansas is a place where people still say sir and m’am —- and mean it. They know what it is to be neighborly and to take care of one another.

Arkansans are a savvy people. If we have an advantage, we know better than to lord it over you. We may play the rube, but as famed Ozark folklorist, Vance Randolph, famously titled one of his books, “We Always Lie to Strangers.”

Perhaps that’s not quite true, but we know that there’s a certain strategic advantage to being underestimated. By corollary, we’re used to being maligned by outsiders. Consequently, we know what it is to be unfairly judged.

We are a resourceful and creative people. While we’re not a populous state, we have nonetheless spawned artistic masters, world leaders and business empires. Somehow being told repeatedly we shouldn’t be able to do something emboldens us to try harder. Normally, this attribute is one of our signal strengths, but lately this fortitude has taken an ugly turn. In specific, I reference the extremist vitriol emanating from the state Legislature.

A very kind reader recently reminded me that words are not mere rhetorical playthings. They have heft. They uplift. They crush. I was admonished not to simply throw word bombs at those with whom I disagree. Point taken.

With that as context, I have thought long and hard as to how I would describe certain members of the new Republican majority in the state legislature. In the end, it’s pretty simple: vengeful petulant children.

Like unfettered bullies with newfound clubs, they have set out to destroy women’s rights, condone wonton animal cruelty, turn churches and schools into the wild west and eviscerate zoning laws. For a bunch of people who whine and cry about the oppression of big government, they sure as heck don’t mind pushing their small-minded will on the rest of us.

The saddest part of it resides in the fact that they routinely debase the U. S. flag, the Constitution and Christianity in their zealous crusade of moral certitude. They treat these sacred institutions as little more than blunt instruments of propaganda. They cloak all their new revenge laws under the veil of “individual liberty.” They hope you won’t notice that the government they’re creating is far more restrictive than the one they tear down. “God ordains it.. the Constitution requires it…” if you dare question them you are a traitor who hates religion and America.

In this pack of hypocrites there is one false prophet of liberty who stands taller than all the others: Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch). Stubblefield has proposed a pair of bills that would effectively gut animal cruelty protections in the state. In specific, these bills (SB 13 and SB14) would criminalize individuals and organizations for investigating, assisting or intervening in any incident involving animal abuse or neglect (SB13) or documenting any instance of negligent or abusive practice within the livestock & poultry industry (SB14).

Lest you harbor any delusions about the “liberty” these bills seek to protect, just remember that Stubblefield has received $155,568 of your tax dollars in farm subsidies since 1995 ( http://farm.ewg.org/persondetail.php?custnumber=A05152832). So, apparently, he doesn’t have any problem with a government big enough to regularly fatten his wallet… just one capable of permitting dissent against his dogma.

As I have watched this legislative session unfold, I am —- for the first time in my life —- a little embarrassed to be from Arkansas. I fear that this temporarily enthroned cabal will just feed the flames of derision. They will “validate” all the prejudice and scorn.

Just as I don’t want government by the whim of political fashion, I cannot countenance this emergent “parvultocracy.” My only hope is that their ruthless 15 minutes will be up soon —- before they irreparably damage this place I dearly love.

Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via pate.matthew@gmail.com