The legislature’s powerful review committee yesterday reportedly signed off on a lengthy list of contracts and other items for the University of Arkansas System, which would be routine except for one thing.
This same list of timely needs was withheld for approval at a meeting last month for unannounced reasons. Republican State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw of Hermitage put the hold on the items, a hold that irked some members with UA campuses slated for aid. He confirmed in a phone call with me that he had placed the hold on the item, but he wouldn’t give the reason beyond saying he had done it at the request of a colleague, whom he declined to identify.
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He told me he’d refer my question to his colleague, who might get back to me. He did not.
Two separate sources say the action was related to interest in encouraging UA hiring of a state employee for an administrative job related to education. By the account of my sources, that job went to someone other than the candidate favored by the legislator.
There’s more to be learned and I understand the Democrat-Gazette’s Michael Wickline might soon have more details. It’s an example, at least, of how the legislature wields power in little-noticed ways, including over the University of Arkansas, which theoretically has constitutional independence. It is routine power politics, particularly in the special committees that run things between sessions.
When legislators complain about the pending term limits measure — which would cap service at 10 rather than 16 to 22 years — they say how important it is for lawmakers to learn all they can about how the system operates. The more you know the more you can achieve, they say. Experience matters.
Amen, brothers and sisters.
You can learn how to blockade legitimate business to help a friend, making a mockery of the notion of a three-branch government with checks and balances. You can also learn, judging by recent events, how to set up felonious embezzlement schemes with special interests. You can learn how to trade legislation of value to special interests for the campaign contributions from their PACs that help to return “experienced” incumbents to office.
Ten years of this kind of representation is too long.
UPDATE: More on the story. I got a call today from Republican Rep. Jon Eubanks of Paris who said he had instigated Wardlaw’s hold. He said he was responding to a decision by UA to hire Clint Jones, the Huntsville school superintendent, as head of its Leadership Academy in the College of Education. Eubanks had recommended Tina Smith, policy director at the state Department of Education, for the post. He said he was familiar with work as a member of the House Education Committee. He said he wanted to talk to UA officials about the decision and that led to the holdup.
“I wasn’t asking for any corrective action in regard to that hire,” he said. “I had concerns about the Leadership Academy and the direction they were going.” He said he didn’t know Jones and didn’t want to criticize him, but he said going back to school superintendents seem to continue a pattern of favoring superintendents.
“I’ve been on education for three years. We are constantly having questions about why Arkansas can’t move forward.”
He said he’d had his discussion with UA officials and the matter was settled, he said. I asked why he couldn’t have had that meeting without getting Wardlaw to hold up project approval.
“In hindsight, it probably would have been a better choice.”
He added, “I’m not going to do something vindictive to the point it harms or
Eubanks commented that the happening was not that unusual in the course of legislative events. True that. It just generally escapes notice.