Gotta get to the grocery store early, before cheese dip/snow watch hysteria takes hold ahead of this evening. (Weather update: LR seems still on fringes of problems tonight and tomorrow.)
* ARMED FOR SHOPPING: Details are sketchy but Fox 16 reports a woman shopper was wounded by gunfire in a Conway Walmart last night. A suspect has been arrested.
* GUN NUTTERY ON PARADE: The concealed carry gun nuts of Arkansas, despite an all-out social media blitz, could only muster about 100 of their ilk for a display of their strap-ons in a walk down Clinton Avenue/Markham yesterday. One who made a point of exhibiting his private part outside Arkansas Times offices for cell phone sharing, a la Anthony Weiner, wondered why I didn’t attend. I hold to the view that you are safer in places with fewer guns. See Conway Walmart. But I do appreciate one of the strap-on crowd’s supporters — the jovial gun nut, Republican Rep. Bob “Nullification Now” Ballinger — who credited the Times for inspiring the birthday cake below.
* AND SPEAKING OF NULLIFICATION: Speculation continues on the outcome of the climactic vote on continuing legislative approval of the private option version of Obamacare for Arkansas. Two thoughts:
1) This has become entirely too complicated. It is a simple philosophical divide. Does Arkansas want to join a federally financed (yes, that means people-financed) move toward universal health insurance and all the good that entails, even at some personal cost? Or does it not? Help more people or help fewer people? We’re all in this together or we are not.
2) Don’t be too sure that a vote to pass a DHS budget without the private option will pass if the obstructionists prevail thanks to Arkansas’s crazily unique minority-can-rule Constitution. The overwhelming majority that approved the private option, which could be defeated by a mere nine votes in the Senate, might not be ready to give up their votes at gunpoint to the bitter-enders’ alternative. They might be ready to demand that Missy Irvin and the rest of the Gang of Nine take the fall for ending ALL government payments to Missy’s doctor husband and other family medical practitioners. And really, if a lot of government support for health care is wrong, why is somewhat less OK? Let’s really make this an every-man-for-himself system. A little socialized medicine is still socialized medicine, isn’t it? Let’s get government out of our health care! (Note: Satire.)
* FEARLESS FORECAST: The state Ethics Commission can expect busier times in the days ahead. The searching looks at Paul Bookout and Mark Darr indicate that the process can have some bite. I think we’ll see even closer attention to the historically sloppy, incomplete and inaccurate ethics and campaign filings of legislators and not just by partisan opponents, but also by people who’ve battled over legislative issues.
For example: It’s been noted to me that 65 legislators (a bipartisan list) are friends of the court on an amicus brief filed to support the $1.1 billion verdict Circuit Judge Tim Fox awarded the state for a pharmaceutical company’s overuse of an antipsychotic drug. The brief was prepared by two lawyers, Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould and a Washington lawyer.
The question posed to me is whether legislators received a gift — reportable under ethics laws — for receiving the legal counsel if they didn’t pay for it, which, of course, they didn’t. Thompson tells me he worked for free and the work was coordinated through the attorney general’s office. I don’t know yet who’s paying the D.C. lawyer, whether it be the attorney general or the Houston law firm associated with the state on the Medicaid fraud case. The Houston firm is set to get $181 million in fees if the verdict is upheld.
Legislators haven’t reported the legal representation on annual financial disclosures. Thompson said the idea hadn’t occurred to him. He said state officials and agencies had routinely signed on legal pleadings in the past. Here, they are defending the application of a state statute. Mark Darr, you might recall, loudly joined a legal action against Obamacare. It wouldn’t have been like Darr to have spent any money on the lawsuit himself and, of course, he reported no “gift” from the law firm that added his name to the objections.
But that was then. People are looking closely at once-routine practices — charging your campaign for booze and gas; free and easy dining with lobbyists; lavish trips awarded for no reason other than the office a public official holds; getting names added to court filings at no charge. What once was routine may no longer be routine. That’s a good thing, if perhaps not for the workload of the Ethics Commission and the personal comfort of some lawmakers.