We mentioned briefly yesterday a delay, thanks to 14 House votes, in Legislative Council consideration of spending $7 million in federal CARES Act money on stepping up COVID-19 testing and tracing to cope with the disproportionate impact of the virus on Latino and Marshallese people, particularly related to chicken plant workers in Northwest Arkansas.

Here’s Michael Wickline’s fuller report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

This outcome was forecast in the rough handling legislators gave the Health Department Thursday over testing and tracing, as Leslie Peacock reported for the Arkansas Times.

The story has many interesting dimensions, not merely the resistance (led by Northwest Arkansas legislators) to helping minority communities.

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Top of the list:

Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger called out the prime mover behind this effort, the Northwest Arkansas Council, a powerful business lobby backed by Walmart, Tyson, Simmons, George’s, J.B. Hunt and other bigshots, many of them employers of the very people needing assistance.

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Read Ballinger’s Twitter thread to the end. He’s calling on the rich guys to foot the bill to help the poor folks, rather than the government. He says he’s tired of them taking advantage of minority communities. Sounds like a Bernie Bro.

And then read Senate President Jim Hendren, nephew of Governor Hutchinson, who’s advocated the spending. He doesn’t see it Ballinger’s way.

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Also:

There’s more. But first:  Of course, this is a good use of federal money. Of course, we need to do more to address the virus in the minority community, hampered in part by language barriers and understandable fear of dealing with official Arkansas, with a potential ICE officer in battle gear lurking around a corner. Of course, Hendren is right on the vote and Ballinger off base. But there’s something to be said about Ballinger’s gigging of the Northwest Arkansas Council.

First, what took them and the governor so long?  The scourage of these communities has been evident for months. The Hutchinson administration hustled out money to businesses almost without a look-see and has steadily sided with poultry producers against complaints from advocates about workers’ welfare. Five months into the pandemic and now we’re getting serious about testing and tracing these hard-hit populations?

Second, why does it take the good offices of the fat cats of the Northwest Arkansas Council to get this done? Is federal spending on poor immigrants OK only if a white overlord is the overseer?

Third, a word about public-private partnerships. Politicians (looking at the Little Rock mayor among others) love to throw this phrase around as if it’s holy writ. It rarely is divine. It usually means private interests have a scheme to get a sweetheart deal or public property or public handout and then pronounce their profitable result wonderful for all. This is an example. Chicken producers would like to do something about the virus rampaging through their workforces. Why not give them government money to do something about it?

Fourth, yet again arises the powerful Northwest Arkansas Council. I wrote about them recently when the Council unveiled its pledge to combat systemic racism. This unobjectionable news was coincidental with reporting on how corporate America — though often saying good things about race and other issues — ships carloads of campaign money to people with bad voting records.

POINT MADE AGAIN FRIDAY!

Check the roll call of voters against getting the money moving quickly to the fat cats of the Northwest Arkansas Council. There’s a single Democrat among them and 13 Republicans, including from that very region, who’ve been comforted by fat cat giving to their party or even their campaigns over the years.

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As I wrote earlier, a practical strategy for the Northwest Arkansas Council to fight racism would be to beat the bad guys. Posting a sign in a store in support of brotherly love is nice and all, but it’s unlikely to have much impact on the deficient hearts and minds in the Arkansas legislature.

Looking for better choices?


Michael Bennett-Spears is running for the seat now held by Republican Robin Lundstrum, who represents parts of Benton and Washington County. She’s a NWA Council homey, in other words.

Or

Kayla Applegate, a Democrat, is opposing Republican Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle. His vote against spending on working poor minorities is an opportunity to mention that the state filed to garnish Lowery’s state paycheck recently for failure to pay $1,300 in state income taxes. He says the state hasn’t given him proper credit for itemized deductions and the issue is still being discussed.

Another no vote was Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville, home of Walmart, a prime mover of the NWA Council and source of the money that won Steuart Walton leadership of Hutchinson’s economic recovery task force. Perhaps council members could look up the website of Democrat Daisy Bonilla  who’s opposing Dotson, and show her some inclusivity. Her message is straight from the Council’s pledge-against-racism guidebook:

I’ve considered Bentonville home for the past 13 years; I’ve seen the growing pains this community has faced. It’s time we have a representative who will look out for the best interests of our growing and diverse district, especially those who are often voiceless and unprotected.

DAISY BONILLA

At last report, Bonilla had raised about $10,000. Dotson has raised $32,000 including $2,700 from Jim Walton, the banker, Walmart heir and leader of the NWA Council, and lots of PAC money, including $1,000 from the Walmart PAC for Responsible Government.