John Moritz, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol reporter, has a detailed report in today’s newspaper on how questionable out-of-state characters were behind Republican Rep. Johnny Rye of Trumann’s recent introduction of dubious legislation and how they almost ensnared a couple of other conservative Republicans — Karilyn Brown and Brandt Smith. Here’s my distillation of this story:
Ostensibly, the legislation battles pornography and human trafficking. The means are constitutionally suspect: Such as essentially requiring registration to view pornography online by purchasing a means of bypassing a mandatory Internet block on porn.
Here are the key points to be drawn, a liberty not available to straight reporters such as Moritz (note CORRECTION, I originally credited Michael Wickline with this article having seen him Tweet it):
* Johnny Rye isn’t the sharpest knife in the legislative drawer. And he’s busy. He has bills for all sorts of things — to save Confederate monuments, create a Masonic license plate, oversee Facebook content, battle pornograpy, mess with voting procedures and more. Reps. Brown and Smith are perhaps honed to a slightly sharper edge. They at least backed off from initial interest in the out-of-staters’ wild schemes described by Moritz
* It is not news that out-of-staters (or other in-state special interests) use Arkansas legislative stooges to introduce bills for them. It is also not news that these bills often get passed — constitutionality be damned. Arkansas legislators regularly introduce and pass anti-abortion legislation from the anti-abortion bill factories, often declared unconstitutional. They introduce and pass legislation from the gun lobby. They pass restrictions on free speech, such as the anti-Israel-boycott law that the Arkansas Times is currently challenging in federal court. If the Billionaire Boys Club has legislation to harm conventional public schools, it usually will pass through the Arkansas legislature like corn through a goose (with similar olfactory properties.) Koch- and ALEC-invented legislation? Good to go. Nursing home owner Michael Morton needs help on reimbursement rates or lawsuit protection? The crowd under the dome is packed with enablers. Right-wing religion promotion? See Creation Science and legalized discrimination against gay people and marble monuments to Christianity on the Capitol grounds. Little of this is home-grown. Rather it is the work of outside forces who know easy marks when they see them.
In short: Don’t let Moritz’s good reporting on a particularly outlandish scheme in which a particularly credulous legislator was duped distract you from the bushels of corn that pass through the legislative goose every year.
PS: The Tennessee legislation promoters apparently contacted many legislators about their ideas. Rye, Brown and Brandt rose to the bait and Rye got hooked. I confess surprise that the number was that small.