National Park Service/Tami Heilemann
AT CENTRAL VISITOR CENTER: John Lewis joined the Little Rock Nine at the dedication of center in 2007.

A number of Arkansas politicians offered tributes to the late John Lewis, some better than others, though any tribute from a Republican politician rings at least a little hollow given that party’s resistance to his causes.

Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. French Hill stood out and not in a good way. They used his death to bask in his reflected glory.

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More pertinent facts than their association with Lewis in a minor piece of legislation are these:

Cotton has joined in the Republican Senate blockade against restoration of the Voting Rights Act for which John Lewis gave blood. French Hill voted against it.

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That legislation by Hill and Cotton that John Lewis helped pass? Here’s the full context:

The National Park Service Historic Site at Central High exists due to heavy lifting by Arkansans in Congress before Cotton and Hill came along. Sen. David Pryor was instrumental in major financial support for the local group that built the original visitor center and museum in the former Mobil station across the street from Central. Then-Sen. Dale Bumpers finished the job by getting the center added to the National Park Service in 1997, with the dramatically expanded facility and permanent federal staff across the street. Sen. Mark Pryor and U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder were in Congress and on hand for the center’s dedication in 2007.

The legislation in which Hill and Cotton joined with Lewis and Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2017 expanded the boundaries of the historic site to include seven homes that planners had been unable to include in the original historic district. This qualified the owners of the houses for the National Park Service to participate in restoring and maintaining facades. Thus they will appear as they looked when they served as backdrops for the pivotal TV coverage of the angry crowds, troops and nine brave children who walked there in 1957. This is a nice thing. It can mean a financial infusion to the neighborhood. But in the course of events, it is not major legislation. Remarks by Cotton and Hill on that occasion — about standing guard against hatred and intolerance and the equality of all children — ring hollow from dependable allies of Donald Trump, just this week defending display of the Confederate battle flag, a favored symbol by racists who opposed desegregation of Central.

Sen. John Boozman limited his remarks to Lewis without attempting to find common ground he might have once shared to elevate himself.

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Governor Hutchinson pretty much did the same, though he did mention he once occupied congressional space with Lewis.


Hutchinson followed by echoing Donald Trump’s order to fly the U.S. flag over the White House and other public buildings at half-staff for about 13 hours until midnight today (many hours of which will find Trump away golfing). Trump was silent most of the day before a perfunctory tweet on Lewis, whom he’d often excoriated on Twitter (without dissenting comment from Republicans in Congress).

PS: I’m told I should be kind to Hill for saying anything nice since Lewis came to town to campaign for Hill’s 2018 opponent, Clarke Tucker.