That’s not the Potomac you can view rolling by from upper floor windows (and the rooftop, if you’re a favored Republican) of the Arkansas State Capitol.
But the activities inside have begun to resemble those in the nation’s capitol. I’m afraid it begins a course from which the legislature isn’t likely to turn back.
Thanks to Arkansas’s perversely unique Constitution, the possibility has always existed that a tiny minority — 26 members of the 100-member House and 9 members of the 35-member Senate — could derail any spending bill (save for education and Confederate pensions). In practice over three-quarters of a century, it has happened extremely rarely. Small accommodations have been made. An unhappy minority has most often ceded to overwhelming majority wishes.
Extremist Republicans, led by Rep. Nate Bell in the House, have already demanded from the House — and received — punishing changes in the private option version of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. He’s at least honest in admitting his crippling amendments ARE designed to harm the program and to set the stage, he hopes, for ultimate repeal. This tyrannical minority view was good enough to win sufficient votes for approval in the House, though many Republicans remain unhappy. At least Bell doesn’t call for an abrupt end, but the prospect of total loss in 12 months or so is cold comfort to the 100,000 already enrolled.
But even this cruelty is not enough for the Senate Republican Nine, who, President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux says, remain opposed. They’d shut down the program and hold the remaining DHS budget — children, nursing homes, Medicaid, protective services — hostage.
When 25 percent of the legislature is running state government, you don’t have anything resembling a democratic governance.
* LIVE BY THE SWORD, DIE BY THE SWORD: The Republican majority that thinks its inevitable takeover of all of state government is at hand will someday find its own butt bitten by exercise of this available, but until now unused veto power on the operation of state government.
* THE DUMAS OPTION: Times columnist Ernest Dumas, in explaining the historic roots of the constitutional provision that has long been interpreted to allow a 25 percent vote veto on spending bills, has also detailed some of the less-than-definitive political and legal antecedents of this constitutional provision. If the Nine follow through on their vow to defeat the private option no matter the harm to the rest of the state, President Lamoureux has his own leadership option. He could declare the bill passed by whatever super-majority vote it receives by deeming it a necessary operation of government. The governor would surely sign the bill. Then let the Cruelty Caucus sue. Government would function fully in the interim and more working poor would have health care. We could also get some legal clarity, and perhaps some long-term relief, on whether Arkansas is truly a state where a tiny minority rules. Wishful thinking, I know.
Meanwhile: Remember the Republican Nine Cruelty Caucus
Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers
Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale
Jim Hendren, R-Gravette
Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs
Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View
Bryan King, R-Green Forest;
Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch
Jane English, R-North Little Rock
John Cooper, R-Jonesboro