Happy to see a rare burst of bipartisanship in the wholesale Republican featherbedding underway in state government. (I’m thinking here of the latest, my old friend Marty Ryall, former Republican Party director and long gone from Arkansas, declared to be the best of dozens of candidates to be lobbyist for AETN. Yes, AETN Director Allen Weatherly, it was a “prudent” choice.).
But the bipartisan bow was to former state Rep. Tommy Wren, a nominal Democrat, landing a cushy state job.
Michael Wickline at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported today that Wren had landed a program manager job at the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, normal entry level pay $45,377, for $72,257. Now he can start adding additional years to his four years of legislative service. He’ll shortly be vested for state retirement benefits, not to mention qualify for the state’s low-cost health insurance program.
But even that’s not my point.
I’ve written about Wren before. State law has long nominally prevented legislators from revolving through the Capitol door when they leave office (by defeat in Wren’s case) to become a lobbyist. It’s a joke. Despite the prohibition — the cooling off period is now two years under the joke of an “ethics” amendment cooked up by Sen. Jon Woods and Rep. Warwick Sabin to raise legislative pay, extend term limits and create a hidden loophole for free swill and travel — Wren went to work as a “consultant” for the lobbying firm that leads the free hog slopping at the Capitol, Mullenix and Associates. The pay was $150,000 a year, supposedly. That’s not all. Wren was also a “legislative liaison” to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. (See what I mean about “nominal” Democrat?) In case you didn’t know “liaisons” communicate wishes of employers to legislators and report back to the employer on legislators’ objections. Otherwise known as lobbying.
The beat goes on. Former legislators are “consulting” all over the place. The most visible is former Rep. John Burris, who has a fat consulting gig with a health company to provide valuable messaging to legislators on that subject near and dear and also gets a media platform. He has a gig on Talk Business to share his thoughts in print and on TV, a valuable perch for his special interest employer. The lobbyist-as-commentator is becoming something of a feature of Arkansas “journalism.” See Bill Vickery, architect of the lottery takeover by one of his clients, is a radio show host and regularly appearing media political expert and columnist for the Democrat-Gazette’s Sync weekly.
None dare call it lobbying. Or suggest that any of the lobbyist/journalists might be influenced in their opinions by their employers.