I write Tuesday morning, before polls close on primary and judicial election contests.
It’s anybody’s guess how $2 million in dark or dubious money will influence races for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. I fear the slime campaigns for partisan candidates for nonpartisan judgeships will be successful. Now, more than ever, we should move to appointment of judges.
I’m confident in predicting a victory by Governor Hutchinson in his Republican primary race with Jan Morgan, whose grassroots campaign has been lively and built on the notion that Hutchinson is some sort of liberal in disguise. That’s nonsense, of course.
Morgan’s attack has had a positive result. It forced Hutchinson to demonstrate just how conservative he is. The list of particulars is long, from depriving women of the family planning and health services of Planned Parenthood to adding ever more punitive conditions on health assistance for poor and the disabled. He’ll be back impersonating a moderate in the general election against likely Democratic winner Jared Henderson, but his record will reveal the truth.
I also have some hope that another tactic of the anti-Hutchinson forces could bear fruit for Democrats in the fall — ethical government.
Conduit for Action, an ultra-conservative interest group that wants to kill the Medicaid expansion in Arkansas, worked to harm Hutchinson with a variety of messages, including an extensive report headlined “Asa and The Corruption State.” It was an encyclopedic rehash of political embarrassments and corruption during the administration of Asa Hutchinson. Conduit’s spin is a fair one: If Hutchinson wasn’t directly implicated in all the ethical and legal lapses, he’s been too silent about them.
Four former legislators have pleaded guilty to crimes involving use of state money. Another pleaded innocent but was convicted. Asa Hutchinson’s former chief of staff, Michael Lamoureux, and his nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), have been linked to ethically questionable legislative business and state spending. Nephew Jeremy once represented as a divorce lawyer the former lobbyist indicted in a massive fraud scheme that involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit campaign contributions and kickbacks to aid a health care company that has done tens of millions worth of business with the state Medicaid program. There’s even an allegation of murder-for-hire against Jeremy Hutchinson’s former lobbyist client.
And yet … . That criminally corrupt health care enterprise still retains millions in state business. It’s a sharp contrast to the Beebe administration’s decision to stop doing business with another mental health firm almost the minute it was implicated in a bribery scheme. The company still operating under Hutchinson says it has rid itself of bad executives and says it has hired a lawyer to assure proper operation. It is swamp-like, however, that the company chose to hire a former Republican officeholder and party insider, Betty Dickey, to be its intermediary with state government.
Hutchinson has had little to say about the massive kickback scheme to aid Ecclesia, a tottering Bible college in Springdale, with state money. Where’s the call for a full accounting of that boondoggle? How about the money Hutchinson himself sent to another struggling church college, Arkansas Baptist, in Little Rock?
There’s much more. Hutchinson has stocked state government with former Republican legislators in cozy, higher-paying, retirement-enriching state jobs. His legislative allies have managed to defeat efforts to require more disclosure of business arrangements between legislators and outfits with interest in legislation. Legislators may not legally lobby, but it hasn’t stopped people like Rep. James Sturch (R-Batesville), a Hutchinson ally, from landing a job working for a lobbying outfit. The legislature could do much to require more transparency in campaign expenditures, more financial disclosure by legislators and more protection against self-dealing.
The state Capitol is, to borrow from Donald Trump, a swamp. And the governor has done little about it. His opponents argue that he’s made it worse. He hardly burnished his image with his cheerful acceptance this week of the endorsement of Trump, a man he once described as a danger to the body politic.
National Democrats are hoping fall campaigns attacking the abundant corruption on display in Washington could help them reverse Republican majorities in Congress. Good government has only rarely held great voter appeal in Arkansas. Asa’s campaign treasury and his seeming bland moderation (though misleading) make him an unlikely candidate for defeat in the fall. But if Jan Morgan could push him to reveal his conservatism, maybe Jared Henderson and a solid group of fresh-air Democratic legislative candidates might push him to disinfect the cesspool over which he currently presides.