Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families has issued a report on the 2015 legislature that highlights — however corrosive such symbols as the Confederate flag might be — how concrete shortcomings present larger obstacles.
Education policy fellow Bailey Perkins compiled the report. It recounts such bad legislative news for the poor and racial minorities (disproportionately represented among the poor) as the failure to expand an earned income tax credit for the working poor, though income tax breaks were given to all BUT the working poor. It was a legislature that also toughened lottery scholarship requirements in a way that is almost certain to shrink the pool of recipients to whiter, higher income students. There’s also the matter of who makes these laws. Diversity is lacking. Perkins writes:
The state of Arkansas has come a long way when it comes to diversity and inclusion in its legislative body. But, it still has a ways to go. The Arkansas General Assembly is not very diverse. African Americans make up over 16 percent of the state’s population, but only hold nine percent of legislative seats. There are no Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or Asian representatives at the Arkansas state capitol. Even from a gender point of view, the legislature is lacking. Women make up half of the state’s population, but only hold 20 percent of seats.
A person of color has never served in a statewide elected position (like Governor or state treasurer) in Arkansas history. Arkansans have never elected a person of color to represent the state in Washington D.C. The same is true for other marginalized groups. People that identify as LGBTQ also have never been represented in the congressional delegation. [Editor’s note: As far as we know.] The lack of diverse voices is a not just an Arkansas problem, but a nationwide problem. We need to elect more voices from different backgrounds so that the needs of all Arkansans are considered in policymaking.
The white male legislature also resisted a good idea of considering requiring racial impact statements on legislation. That presumably would taste too much of affirmative action, an idea not held in high regard in these supposedly post-racial times.
In short: We welcome those who recognize that public display of the likes of the Confederate battle flag is a practice overdue to be left to museums or those making whatever statements they wish to make as private citizens. Similarly, the Robert E. Lee Holiday should be recognized for what it was intended to be — A Lost Cause totem — and also retired. But I’d keep the holiday if, in the rest of their work, legislators delivered on this item in an Arkansas Advocates wish list: That lawmakers “be more conscious of the needs of all Arkansans.”