Republicans will have control of the Arkansas General Assembly for the next two years. The last time that occurred was during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
The change in the legislative majority does not mean we can anticipate a compendium of pork, profligacy and political proclivity to poltroonery. What it simply means is change.
The GOP of our era is different from the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. Democrats have changed and it is not the same political party of Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy.
When change occurs, we have often turned to the observations of the late Will Rogers for advice. Rogers demonstrated the one-third humor, one-third humanitarian and one-third heart required of good lawmakers.
“Courage, strength and character are built on this journey,” another wise man observed. “Perseverance, determination and focus are sharpened and nurtured. Grace, composure, and endurance are tested and multiplied.”
On the walls of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Okla., are addition quotes from Rogers over the years. He poked fun equally at both political parties, with hopes that humor might help pave the way for a better government on state and national levels.
He recommended cooperation among the legislators.
Arkansas’ record of operating state government without a deficit is admired in many of our nation’s state capitals. However, projecting state budgets more than a year in advance is not an easy task in difficult economic times.
Many of the incoming Republican legislators campaigned on cutting taxes or revenues and reducing the size of state government. Democrats counter that keeping those campaign pledges will mean real pain for thousands of our state’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
The trust fund that helps pay for the state’s Medicaid program for about 780,000 Arkansans will be depleted by the summer of 2013. To address the projected shortfall, that means eliminating millions of dollars in health care services for 75,000 elderly and disabled citizens.
We are told that to avoid the most painful cuts, the state could expand the Medicaid program by adding 250,000 to its rolls, with federal matching dollars taking up the shortfall.
The “numbers are pretty staggering,” acknowledged state Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, during Tuesday’s meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council and the Joint Budget Committee. We agree.
Under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, Arkansas can elect to expand eligibility to qualify for Medicaid and have the federal government pick up the cost for the next three years.
It will require 27 votes in the Senate and 75 votes in the House to adopt an appropriation bill authorizing the proposed expansion.
Democrats and Republicans must jointly cross the legislative aisles to provide the fair and compassionate government Arkansans have learned to expect.
If the majority votes are not reached through legislative compromise, the next question that must be answered is who decides which grandmother is told she must move out of a nursing home and find a place to live and provide her with medical care with no assistance from the state.
That decision is much more difficult than deciding the number of correctional officers employed by the Arkansas Department of Correction and Arkansas State Police troopers assigned to the highways.
Rogers’ advice about the one-third humanitarian requirements for legislators can become very real quickly during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.