Layet Johnson

Arkansas, we’re really on a tear lately. Looking back on the past 12 months, it’s immediately clear 2022 sucked just as much as 2021. The bright side is that we’ve gotten so used to Arkansas’s regression that we hardly noticed. 

There were a few standout stomach-churning moments. Remember when a tearful Leslie Rutledge sniveled about motherhood as she signed Arkansas’s ban on almost all abortion care? Attorneys from her office defended the state’s hateful and anti-science ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. No-show Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders clinched the win easily thanks to out-of-state donors and her penchant for unapologetic cruelty. After cheerleading for Donald Trump’s xenophobic, racist and seditious administration, Sanders brought her snarling vitriol back to Arkansas. During her campaign, Sanders directed her fire at public school teachers (indoctrinators), the state’s conservative daily newspaper (liberal media), and any Arkansan not in thrall to Donald Trump (radical left).

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Now that you’re sad, let us at least try to perk you back up with the bright spots: Hogs fans made us all proud in 2022. A shirtless Eric Musselman led a storming of the court in Bud Walton Arena, a rousing show of school spirit well worth the $250,000 fine. Baseball Hogs showed out too, enduring rabies shots after ridding Baum Walker of an errant raccoon and enduring untold suffering after downing a record number of Jell-O shots at the College World Series.  

There were notable acts of humanity and kindness, too. An Arkansas couple escaped Ukraine on foot with their newborn when bombs started falling, caring souls donated $16 million to help their unhoused neighbors in Little Rock, and Dolly Parton graced us with a visit to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. No law enforcement officers lost their lives trying to defend the U.S. Capitol from bloodthirsty redneck traitors.

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So, 2022. A lot like 2021, but sub out monkeypox for COVID-19 and add a few especially egregious mass shootings. Punch it up with pink pineapples and behemoth catfish and call it a year. 

Better luck in 2023. 

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Best Back on Track

Head Hog Sam Pittman topped off a glorious return to form with a 24-10 New Year’s Day  Outback Bowl victory over Penn State and a 9-4 record. The turnaround followed three consecutive seasons where the Arkansas Razorbacks won three or fewer games.

Worst NYE Gunfire

Then-Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey took one for the team, donning a uniform and going on patrol on the last night of 2021. As with so many of Humphrey’s efforts, his choice to help out that night drew criticism after the chief shot at an armed suspect in a convenience store parking lot. Humphrey was not using a bodycam at the time. Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley’s investigation into the incident cleared Humphrey of any wrongdoing, but not before Humphrey had already washed his hands of this place. After three tumultuous years as chief during which he was the subject of lawsuits and racially charged whisper campaigns, Humphrey retired in May of 2022.

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Worst Cop-Out

State Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville), put out by daycare and school closures, proposed a novel approach to COVID-19 guidelines. Ignore them if you want to, she told her constituents via Facebook, saying quarantine protocols aren’t legally enforceable. Her advice came near the end of January, when home test kits were hard to come by and case numbers in Arkansas were on an upswing.

Best Reason to Strike Up the Band

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra announced that it would be moving from its 25-year home in Byrne Hall to a new facility on the grounds of the Heifer International campus in downtown Little Rock. The $9 million project, slated to open in the summer of 2023, will be named after Stella Boyle Smith, who in 1923 founded the group that would become the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. 

Worst Infestation

More than 1,100 dead rats were found in a West Memphis Family Dollar distribution facility in February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported. Inspectors also found live rodents, rodent poop, dead birds and bird droppings. Products in 85 Arkansas Family Dollar stores were affected.

Best Topless Dancer

Razorback basketball coach Eric Musselman, already beloved for returning the Hogs to national prominence, won the month of February by leading his team to a victory over No. 1 ranked Auburn in Bud Walton Arena and celebrating by taking off his shirt but keeping on his arm sling (necessitated by rotator cuff surgery). Footage of topless Muss whooping it up went viral. Bonus points for sharp-eyed Little Rockers: Prominent developer Rett Tucker was improbably stuck right beside Musselman and looked deeply uncomfortable. The Hogs would go on to reach a second  straight Elite Eight before bowing out to Duke.

Worst Defense of White Nationalism

There’s no doubt the redistricting process in Arkansas, headed up by three white Republicans and resulting in a net loss of representation for Black voters, will only make it harder for minority voices to be heard. But that’s somehow none of U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rudofsky’s concern. State’s attorneys argued, to Arkansas’s eternal shame, that crafting a map to give Black voters a share of political power proportional to their population would be the real gerrymandering, because that would mean we were paying too much attention to race. The state paid more than $15,000 for their expert witness in the trial, a conservative who’s worked for committees to elect both Trump and DeSantis, and who said Black candidates can win anywhere if they just work hard enough. Rudofsky’s dubious assertion that none of the facts mattered because voters don’t have standing to sue over their voting rights being trampled was patently false and also pretty outrageous. 

Best Balls Out

Little Rock mom Michelle Herrera is not lacking in balls, and some of her neighbors are apparently intimidated by that. Herrera and family, who live on Azalea Drive in Southwest Little Rock, were cited for “excessive balls” in January after someone without the balls to confront her in person complained to the city about toys and sports paraphernalia in Herrera’s yard.

Worst Turn of Phrase

Amid a debate about the city of Little Rock spending money on prevention, intervention and treatment programs aimed at helping at-risk youth and reducing crime, city Director Lance Hines criticized the program. “[T]his holistic approach — and this is going to offend some — the hug-a-thug does not work; it has never worked,” he said, before calling for “a little bit of a police state to get control of our streets.” He apologized for the “hug-a-thug” comment the next day.

Worst Family Name

His mother loved thunderstorms, and gave birth on a stormy night. But the people who cast votes online declined to name the Little Rock Zoo’s baby rhino “Thunder.” They also passed up on cool-sounding Swahili names, going for Kevin instead. It’s nice that the baby eastern black rhino is named for a conservationist who’s done lots of work to save rhinos from extinction, but c’mon! Kevin?!?

Brian Chilson

Best Show of Confidence

On filing day for the November election, gubernatorial candidates Chris Jones and Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up at the state Capitol at the same time. The two exchanged friendly greetings and Jones asked Sanders for her vote. Alas, the election didn’t go his way.

Surprisingly Best Hot Pockets Burn

A major fire broke out in March at a Nestle plant in Jonesboro where Hot Pockets were produced. No one was injured, which is remarkable considering Hot Pockets fresh out of the microwave cause untold suffering daily.

Worst Attack on Civil Rights

Never trust anyone who cites the Federalist Papers for any reason. Why can’t Arkansans learn this? The Founding Fathers fan club contingent in the Arkansas legislature worked overtime in 2021 to limit access to the ballot. Their attack on democracy was illegal, of course. Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled as such in March, striking down four new laws: a signature-matching requirement, confusing new mail-in ballot deadlines, a prohibition on the affidavit fail-safe option for people without government-issued IDs, and the ban on groups providing snacks and water to people in line to vote. On appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court allowed the voter suppression measures to stay in place.  

Worst Loss to Documentary Storytelling

Renowned documentarian Brent Renaud was killed on March 13 while reporting on the Russian invasion of  Ukraine. Along with brother Craig, the Renaud brothers of Arkansas gained renown for their daring storytelling from inhospitable places. 

Worst Fluffing of a Russian Autocrat

Most of us would call an autocrat who violently invaded another country a brute; Sherwood state Rep. Karilyn Brown called him a “savvy genius,” parroting Trump’s controversial take. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton was next on the bandwagon, refusing to condemn Trump’s fawning. Complimenting Russian aggression is not very patriotic, if you ask us.

Greatest Escape

A California couple with Arkansas roots were in Kiev to meet their adopted newborn daughter when bombs started falling. Jessie Boeckmann shared the story on social media, recounting a 27-hour ordeal with her husband and their 4-day-old baby. The couple and their newborn hiked 8 miles in freezing weather and called on the Arkansas congressional delegation to help extract them when they reached the border. 

Best New Start

Dr. Jermall Wright became the Little Rock School District’s newest superintendent, following the retirement of Michael Poore. Wright’s history of boosting graduation rates, valuing teachers and creating equitable opportunities for all kids is just what we need around here, so y’all act right. 

Best Ukrainian Black Santa

A brave and very stylish Philander Smith College alum with a one-of-a-kind perspective was on the ground covering the Russia-Ukraine war. Prolific tweeter Terrell Starr gained new followers as he simultaneously reported the news and helped people in need of medical care escape the fighting. You might have seen his updates on MSNBC. The host of the Black Diplomats podcast and a senior reporter at The Root, Starr knows his way around Eastern Europe. He traveled to Russia at age 21, worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, earned a master’s degree in Russian studies and another in journalism, and was a Fulbright scholar in Ukraine. 

Worst Bathroom Blunder

In August, Little Rock mayoral candidate Steve Landers confessed to the Arkansas Times that he’d left his loaded handgun in the bathroom of The Root Cafe. Landers said he’d had a concealed carry license for years because he often worked odd hours and had to move money around, and that it’s his practice to remove the gun from his holster when he uses public restrooms. He put the gun on the back of the sink at The Root and forgot to retrieve it. By the time he called to arrange to pick it up, The Root had turned it over to Little Rock police, who returned the gun to Landers. Twitter sleuths joked that the only way Landers could forget his gun on the sink of the one-person bathroom at The Root was if he didn’t wash his hands.

Worst Virtue Signaling

Days before heading out for New Hampshire to test the waters for a presidential bid, Governor Hutchinson took the opportunity to prove his uncompassionate conservative bona fides by turning down $146 million in federal rent assistance. Only one other state, red Nebraska, turned down the money. Arkansas is desperately poor and needs blue state welfare to keep the lights on, but Asa was proud to decline handouts, especially since his rent is already paid. Get a job, was his message to Arkansans struggling to pay bills in the pandemic’s aftermath. The governor also frowned on student loan relief, but seemed to have no trouble with the PPP payments for business owners. Welfare in Arkansas is only for the wealthy, of course. 

Worst Performance Art

The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts ditched the Standing Red sculpture during the multiyear renovation, but didn’t come clean about the structure’s fate for weeks. The cost to repair the public art piece was estimated at more than $30,000, so they trashed it instead.

Best Recipe for Disaster

White people seriously tried to headline an Arkansas Juneteenth soul food event, but people of all skin colors came together to mock and ridicule until organizers pulled the plug. Muskie Harris, a Black former Razorback football player who went on to become a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and the owner of a string of drug rehabs, was a good sport about the brutal onslaught of public shaming that came his way. “I got a rope around my neck and I’m tarred and feathered over an event that’s already dead,” Harris said between hearty guffaws. 

Worst F U to Poor People

Keep marijuana illegal and keep insulin too expensive to afford. Such were the votes of the Arkansas congressional delegation. 

Worst Busts

Helena-West Helena rapper Bankroll Freddie — lover of his five kids, God and homemade banana pudding — was arrested in Marion after a traffic stop and subsequent search of his car. Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said police found a gun, 21 pounds of marijuana and 171 grams of promethazine, a prescription sedative. In November, he was arrested again and faced multiple federal gun and drug charges.  

Worst Excuse for Being Racist

Everybody does it. So said Prairie County Sheriff Rick Hickman, who admitted to using racial slurs. Hickman survived a Republican primary challenge to hold on to his office in 2022.

Best Reason to Go On an Adventure

The ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct, but maybe not? Arkansans have held on to high hopes about the survival of this prehistoric-looking swamp bird for decades. Ornithologists who scoured Arkansas’s Bayou DeView came up empty handed, but Louisiana birdwatchers report they’re having better luck. Maybe it’s still out there after all, so grab some binoculars and go see what you can find.

Best Annual Visitors

A doorbell cam captured a black bear roaming around North Little Rock’s Lakeview neighborhood in April. Nothing to worry about, the experts at Arkansas Game and Fish report. These travelers are usually young males newly pushed out of the den by their mama bears, and they show up every year. 

Best Book Club 

Our Good Lady of Literacy and Comedic Timing, Dolly Parton, gave a private performance at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion to celebrate the country music legend’s work through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the Arkansas chapter of which got a $24,000 boost from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the American Rescue Plan ACT of 2021.

Best Backdoor Compliment

“Find me a school in Arkansas that does not have a lunatic Marxist teacher pushing critical race theory,” defeated right-wing congressional candidate Neal Kumar said. “As anyone who has known a silver-tongued homosexual knows, the anti-white and pro-pedophile activists embedded in our school systems have done their dishonest best to hide anti-white CRT within all manner of other terminologies, slogans and acronyms.” Silver-tongued?

Worst Fake News

In August, gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to manufacture outrage with a Twitter thread in which she tried to frame the notoriously conservative editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as the biased “liberal media” after it rejected a guest column submission from her that editors found to be too much of an advertisement. Unsurprisingly, the Democrat-Gazette still endorsed Sanders for governor.

Best Gifts

Thanks to the donations by many big and small — including an adorable blonde-headed 5-year-old — Our House of Little Rock announced a $16 million expansion in September to better serve the homeless. Our House helps provide the unsheltered with shelter, and guides and supports people as they reenter the workforce.

Worst ‘As Seen on TV’ Campaign Platform

Little Rock mayoral candidate Steve Landers never came up with much policy substance in his campaign. He ran hard on crime, and announced a plan that largely mirrored efforts already underway with the Little Rock Police Department. Pressed for more specifics, he talked repeatedly about the prowess of police dogs and suggested Little Rock should dramatically expand its K9 force. And employ drones. Maybe they could’ve worked together?

The Worst Return

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, now back in Arkansas and ready for round two of “The Huckabees Wreak Havoc at the Governor’s Mansion,” of course campaigned for his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but also unwelcomely inserted himself into other Arkansas political issues: campaigning against marijuana legalization and pouring tens of thousands of dollars from his political action committee to oppose the reelection of Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Huckabee lives outside of the city, near Roland*. 

Best Borat tribute

White Hall United Methodist Church Pastor Doug Phillips pulled a fast one at the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church, posing as a pro-gun guy because all the slots for his pro-safety stance in the debate were already claimed. The conference took place right after the deadly rampage at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and Phillips wanted to weigh in on a resolution being considered that would urge lawmakers to support gun restrictions. He used some of the blasphemous lingo about the Second Amendment right to bear arms being given to us by God that we hear so often in the Arkansas state Senate. His sign-off was the real kicker, though: “I have four children and I would sacrifice any one of them to be able to keep my guns,” he said. Missing the sarcasm, people flipped out and Phillips later apologized. Wish he hadn’t. Highlighting the hypocrisy that enables repeated massacres in our streets and schools is the lord’s work.

Best Book Club, Part 2

Prairie Grove senior Hailey Skoch stupefied in a brilliant prom dress handcrafted from fan-folded pages of her beloved Harry Potter books. Skoch set off the floor-length strapless number with bewitchingly intricate eye makeup that even Professor Trelawney could accurately predict would be copied far and wide. 

Best Critter Control

The crowd at Baum-Walker Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus went wild when Arkansas everyman Grant Harmon picked up an errant raccoon by the scruff and walked it out of the stands. Sadly, Harmon had to finish watching the game from the hospital, where he was getting a rabies shot. The Hogs lost 9-6, but Harmon secured the coolest Twitter profile picture in the history of ever.

Best Comeback Story

In a fascinating 15-chapter narrative on the website Humans of New York, the world was introduced to Detra, a preacher’s wife who was voted “most naive” at her Baptist college in Arkansas three years in a row and spent many tortured months figuring out how to be a sufficiently submissive wife to her pastor husband. Detra peaced out on her Arkansas life and carved out her post-marriage identity in New York City, where she found a sense of belonging, a sense of family and a place she and her 14-foot sectional couch can call home. 

Best Pro Tip

Arkansas pro golfer John Daly’s secret to peak performance is out of the bag. CBS journalist Will Brinson took to Twitter this year to reminisce about a day in 2008 spent watching Daly play a nearly perfect 18 holes, fueled along the way by 21 cigarettes, 12 Diet Cokes, six packs of Peanut M&M’s and 0.0 ounces of water.

Best Leak

Some sharpshooter took aim at the Kingsland water tower in May, leaving a bullet hole that made it look like the profile of Johnny Cash painted on the tank was taking a leak. It’s all fun and games until you realize the hole was costing the taxpayers of Cash’s birthplace $200 a day in leaked water, not to mention repair costs.

Worst Joke/Jake

The name of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jake Bequette was misspelled on ballots in Craighead and Phillips counties, where he was listed as Jack Bequette. The candidate filed a lawsuit, linking these ballot typos to 2020 election conspiracies. “Now we’re seeing the establishment political machine try and steal another election here in Arkansas,” he said. Bequette lost badly to incumbent Sen. John Boozman in the primary.

Jay Orsi

Best Antique Truck on Rodney Parham Removed from Its Post

The antique well-drilling truck that hovered above the Shorty Small’s parking lot for years was removed by a crane in June, marking the end of an era on Rodney Parham. A Facebook user spotted the truck later that night and uploaded a photo of it parked outside Bass Pro Shops. The Facebook poster wrote a eulogy of sorts: “Shorty stopped at Bass Pro on the way home.”  Shorty Small’s was demolished in July. 

Best Fruit Craze

K Hall & Sons Produce started a frenzy this summer by announcing on social media that shipments of pink pineapples from “Uncle Clifford” would be arriving soon at the store.  Long lines began to form for the elusive “pank” pineapples, and the store started selling out within hours. Eventually, they had to put a limit on how many customers could buy. When things calmed down the pineapples became a popular burger addition at the venerable produce store/restaurant on Wright Avenue.
Worst Beatdown+Best Citizen Journalism

Three Crawford County law officers brutally beat a mentally disturbed man outside a Mulberry gas station in August. None of us would be the wiser were it not for two women who saw what was happening, knew it wasn’t right and captured footage for all the world to see. The two sheriff’s deputies involved got canned, and we’re still waiting to hear the fate of the Mulberry police officer involved.

Worst Racist, Dimwitted and Entitled State Lawmaker

There are more than one who fit this genre, but Sen. Alan Clark (R-Hot Springs/Lonsdale) is without a doubt the standout shithead of 2022. Clark got busted trying to claim per diem expenses for a meeting he didn’t actually attend. Instead of taking his lumps, Clark strung a scarlet “E” around his neck (for ethics? Ego? Egregious?) and yukked it up at a Republican Party function. Clark later attempted to weaponize the Senate Ethics Committee by falsely accusing Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) of accepting expense payments she didn’t earn. In fact, those payments were the result of a clerical error Flowers had nothing to do with, and Clark knew it. His clownish attempts to defend himself on the Senate floor were embarrassing for all involved. Resign.

Best Recoveries

Little Rock City Director Ken Richardson got into some pretty tight spots in 2022, but seems to have come through all right. He was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing government operations in August when he crashed his Subaru after a meeting of the Little Rock City Board. A disoriented Richardson made a grab for the responding officer’s upper thigh before he was taken to a hospital. Richardson suggested his history of epilepsy might have caused the crash and the confusion that followed. 

Bad luck came for Richardson again in November, when blogger Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report revealed someone using Richardson’s Twitter account had been liking posts featuring porn and photos of women with big bottoms for years. The phantom tweeter more recently took up liking anti-Semitic posts. Richardson expressed gratitude to Campbell for alerting him to the egregious hack, then changed his settings to private.

Worst Rash

Monkeypox hit Arkansas in July. Luckily the numbers remained relatively low.

Best Memorial 

On New Year’s Eve in 2010, 4,000 or more red-winged blackbirds were found dead around the town of Beebe. Tests by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission found that the birds died of blunt-force trauma and that loud noises (also known as fireworks) had probably disturbed the birds. Thanks to a surprisingly attractive mural of dead birds by artists Thomas and Irina Fernandez, the memory of our fallen feathered friends lives on. 

Best Pizza Delivery/Best Strange Bedfellows

From his North Carolina prison cell, a lovestruck Joe Exotic of “Tiger King” fame vowed to settle down in Fort Smith where his boyfriend, Seth Posey, resides — and where Joe enlisted help from a local Domino’s Pizza to send cheesy (!) love notes along with their pie deliveries. Joe, whose real name is Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, hoped to receive a special pardon from Congressman Steve Womack, the Republican U.S. representative for Arkansas’s 3rd congressional district. 

Best Shot

Hogs baseball didn’t bring home the College World Series trophy, but Hogs fans broke the Jell-O shot record at Rocco’s Pizza in Omaha, Nebraska. The restaurant tallies the number of shots downed by each team’s fans, and Arkansas’s dominance could not be denied. 

Best Balls Out (Part Two)

Has Cammack Village not suffered enough? The tiny borough erupted in controversy in spring 2022 when a Baker Park neighbor took to tossing balls into the public space for kids to play with. Cammack Mayor Dave Graf and his wife took to removing the balls, which they said were cheap and unsightly. The Pulaski County prosecutor’s office declined to file any charges, and we thought we’d seen the end of the Baker Park bickering. How wrong we were! A new controversy pitted neighbor against neighbor in the summer, as Cammack Village officials were set to consider installing pickleball courts in the space once occupied by basketball courts. Outrage ensued. All the yard signs, petition signatures and calls to city council members worked, and Baker Park emerged from yet another ball-related scandal. We shudder to think what might happen over there next.

Worst Disrespect 

Fellow Republicans scoffed when Governor Hutchinson shared a plan to raise teacher salaries at least enough to make us competitive with Mississippi. The state had plenty of money to cover it. No way, the public education-hating Republican supermajority legislature said. Tax breaks for the already well-to-do took priority, even as educators across the state protested. Schools did get an additional $50 million from the summer legislative special session, but that’s earmarked for armed guards, bulletproof vests and other defenses campuses need because lawmakers refuse to address the gun violence epidemic.

Best Way to Piss Us Off 

Little Rock Family Planning Services closed its doors in September after Arkansas’s trigger law to ban pretty much all abortions in the state went into effect in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. The West Little Rock clinic had been the only place in the state to access surgical abortion care. 

Worst ‘L’ for the Arkansas Travelers

A Central Arkansas Pride event at an Arkansas Travelers game was canceled after the Travs reportedly refused to allow a drag queen to throw the first pitch. The Travs had offered to let a member of the LGBTQ+ community throw the first ball at a special Out Days event at the ballpark, but when the Travs found out the pitcher would be a drag queen, they told Central Arkansas Pride organizers they weren’t ready for all that, Pride organizers Zack Baker and Dolores Wilk said. “If they want to come to the table and include everyone in our community, we’re open to that,” Wilk said. “We’re not gonna go back in the closet to appease anyone.”

Best Real Estate Development

The Little Rock-based Windgate Foundation and Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, announced plans for the Artspace Windgate Campus — a $36 million, 94,000-square-foot, 60-unit facility coming to 1102 E. Eighth St. in the East Village area of Little Rock. Fifty such projects have been launched elsewhere, all with the goal of using “the tools of real estate development to construct or restore places where artists can affordably live and work” to provide 60 live/work units affordable for residents earning between 30-60% of the area median income.

Best For-Now Victory

So far, plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’s first-in-the-nation ban on gender affirming care have stopped the law from going into effect. A federal judge in Little Rock granted a temporary injunction, which the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has so far upheld. 

(Second) Best Reason Not to Swim in Lake Conway

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reported that a night fishing expedition by brother-and-sister duo Logan and Haylee Applegate yielded two giant flathead catfish that weighed in at around the 50-pound mark. The big catch followed a June sighting by a kayak angler of an alligator lounging in the lake’s murky waters.  

Best Wrinkle in Challenge to Anti-Trans Law

Chase Strangio, one of the ACLU lawyers representing the plaintiffs and a trans man, absolutely obliterated lawyers for the state in the courtroom. So did the rest of the cool kids’ table on the plaintiffs’ side in U.S. District Judge James Moody’s courtroom during the October portion of a trial challenging Arkansas’s SAFE Act. The squad from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office gave a lackluster performance. To be fair, state’s attorneys didn’t have much to work with; the ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth is so clearly discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Best Display of Exorbitant Wealth

Sam’s millennial grandkids Steuart and Tom Walton, and their OZ Brands venture, pulled off FORMAT Fest, an event that was at once completely novel, psychically unmoored from any known reality, and yet could have only existed in Northwest Arkansas, where middle-of-the-road curatorial tastes meet Mariana Trench-deep pockets.

Worst Symptom of Iron Deficiency

Beyond Meat COO Doug Ramsey, an executive with the plant-based meat substitute company, was charged with taking a bite out of another man’s nose in a parking lot fight after a September Razorback football game. By October, Ramsey had left the company.

Worst Event Planning

LITFest never got lit in 2022. Ethical and legal questions about the planning process shut the whole thing down, and legal challenges about failures to release public information about the LITFest contract were ongoing in November. Mayor Frank Scott secured a W over challenger Steve Landers anyway.

Best Album Launch

To mark the release of her album “Lindeville,” country superstar and Arkansas native Ashley McBryde created a series of videos advertising the fictional town’s greasy spoon, the Dandelion Diner, and its pawn shop, Ronnie’s: “We don’t ask, we don’t tell, we just buy, we just sell.” Both fictional businesses came complete with working phone numbers in the 479 area code. 

Best Timing

Governor Hutchinson whipped up a press release attacking President Biden’s announcement that he would issue pardons for some marijuana offenses. Hutchinson sent out his criticism on Oct. 6 at exactly 4:20 p.m. 

Worst Anti-Intellectualism

For a place that touts itself as the city of colleges, Conway is increasingly stupid. Voters there installed a trio of “patriots” to the school board, and free thinking has been under fire ever since. Small-minded board members joined the national know-nothing trend of attacking defenseless transgender youth who never hurt anybody. They passed a bathroom policy nobody needed, since the district had zero complaints on file about who was peeing where. The board also banned books about queer youth. The Conway School District should have gay and trans students’ backs. Instead, board members are isolating, shaming and attacking them. 

Worst Up in Smoke

The campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas, funded almost entirely by medical marijuana cultivators, raised more than $13 million in an attempt to pass the measure. The amendment got creamed at the ballot box with 56% of Arkansans opposing it. They’ll undoubtedly try again in 2024, hopefully with a proposal that’s less monopolistic.

Brian Chilson

Best Public Art

A crowd of a couple of dozen onlookers and press gathered in an alley in late October for the dedication of Little Rock’s newest official public art mural, honoring singer/guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Cotton Plant, Arkansas, native deemed “the godmother of rock ’n’ roll” was depicted in the mural — painted by Conway artist Jessica Jones — holding her gold top Gibson guitar.

UA Athletics

Best Poster

In the early days of the college and professional basketball seasons, no less an authority than Magic Johnson declared Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile’s high-flying dunk over a hapless South Dakota State player “the dunk of the year” in all of basketball. A still shot of Brazile rising to the rafters showed his head even with the rim. 

Best Escape Attempt 

A man on the run from White County authorities led them on a chase into a field before jumping from the stolen vehicle and initiating hand-to-hand combat. The suspect, 42-year-old Jonathan Roth, wrestled with a sheriff’s deputy as the two plummeted down an embankment into water. Roth allegedly punched the deputy in the face before dashing out of sight. Search dogs arrived and eventually found Roth hiding high up in a tree. He climbed down and was arrested without further incident.

Best Fictional Arkansas PBS Show

After both Snoop Dogg and travel guru Rick Steves weighed in favorably on Arkansas’s Issue 4 ballot initiative, which ultimately failed to legalize recreational marijuana in The Natural State, we decided this is the travel show co-hosting duo we wanna see on our TV screens. Maybe they’ll be on the air in time for 2024. 

Best First

In November, after weeks of public and private jockeying, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees voted to hire Charles Robinson as chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Robinson, a former provost who had been leading the campus on an interim basis since the abrupt departure of Joe Steinmetz more than a year ago, is the state’s flagship campus’ first Black leader. And he got the job even though UA System President Donald Bobbitt and the powerful Walton family favored another candidate with a computer science background. 

Best Reading the Room

Sen. Tom Cotton, perennially discussed as a presidential candidate by pundits who seem to forget that charisma and human emotion are necessary qualities for successful presidential candidates, told supporters in the fall that he wouldn’t run in 2024. 

Worst Reading the Room

Governor Hutchinson, term-limited but still politically ambitious, has been testing the waters for a presidential campaign as an anti-Trump, commonsense and family values conservative. He’d never get our vote. While it’s nice to imagine the party of Trump might do an about-face, there’s no chance Hutchinson breaks through.  

*A previous version of this story mistakenly said that Mike Huckabee lives in Maumelle.