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May 21, 2015

Vol 41 • No 37

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Riverfest 2015 preview

The Pretty Reckless, Robert Earl Keen, Jake Moore, Girl Talk and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony among the headliners.

Riverfest 2015 schedule

From Kris Allen to Girl Talk.

Bone, Bone, Bone, Bone

An interview with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's Krayzie Bone.

A transgender Navy sailor comes out

Navy Reservist Rae Nelson is among the estimated 15,000 transgender servicemen and women

'Proactive' policing

On Monday, after six months of study, President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its 100-plus page final report.

Happy birthday, Head Start

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce the creation of Head Start, a federal program that would ensure at-risk children across the nation received access to a quality early childhood education.

While I was away...

I'm just back from two weeks out of the country. A couple of catchups.

Full stop

A few fender benders in the distant past notwithstanding, The Observer (knock on the fake plastic wood of this desk) considers himself to be a fairly good driver.

Hotrod heaven

New "Mad Max" full of death defying stunts and sublimely tricked-out cars.

Big on Benintendi

The spring has been, if nothing else, an unprecedented one for Arkansas Razorback individualism. Bobby Portis took his justly due hardware as SEC Player of the Year and now hopes to parlay that into a first-round selection by an NBA team that wants to develop his considerable skills for a couple of years.

Truth on Iraq

Jeb Bush's still prospective race for president took a little nosedive when he bungled questions from friendly agents at Fox television about his brother's invasion of Iraq. If Fox News can foil a Republican so easily, people asked, could he be seriously considered for the party's nomination?

Just like we remember

Sandy's Homeplace still turns out fine home cookin'.

Headed to the Capitol

Rhana Bazzini and Paul Spencer lead a march to a rally in support of a ballot initiative that would overturn the Citizens United ruling by which the U.S. Supreme Court gave corporations freedom to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

Fit for an army

More good news for equality, Denny Altes' bigoted history and Arkansas baby names by the number.

Inquizator: Reggie Koch

Little Rock attorney Reggie Koch is one of the few who have seen the law both from the seat of a police cruiser and from the defense table. After 14 years as a cop, Koch went to law school, and has since become openly critical of police culture and tactics.

NFL blows it

The bombast and grandiosity of NFL football have always put me off. Fans too often treat ballgames as if they were wars between rival tribes or nation states; symbolic struggles between good and evil. As somebody who watches probably 150 major league baseball games a year, I find the hype alternately exhausting and ridiculous.<

Slang at Stickyz

Also, Butler Center Books launch party at the Main Library, Gringo Star at Maxine's, "The Member of the Wedding" at the Weekend Theater, the Stickyz Riverfest stage, "Colors of Rhythm" at UALR.

Huckabee to pass up Iowa straw poll

Mike Huckabee, who used the oft-criticized Iowa Republican straw poll to his early advantage in a 2008 run for president, says he won't participate this year because it would work against evangelical types such as himself.

Obamacare: What if?

Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine of the dilemma facing Republicans if the U.S. Supreme Court does make an outlandish ruling that a drafting error essentially invalidates the plain meaning of the Affordable Care Act.

League of Women Voters raises concerns about Little Italy incorporation

Officials of the League of Women Voters of Pulaski County have raised questions, though not formal opposition, about the the incorporation of Little Italy, the remote community in northwestern Pulaski County.

Hutchinson says bond issue for Lockheed Martin would be $87 million

Gov. Asa Hutchinson talked with reporters this morning about the items on his call for a special session to begin next Tuesday including $87 million in corporate welfare for a major defense contractor with a budget bigger than the state of Arkansas. Plus, a non-answer about that racist email from Hutchinson's appointee for state drug director, former legislator Denny Altes.

Arkansas gay rodeo draws attention

Steve Barnes, reporting for Reuters, pairs the recent International Gay Rodeo Association rodeo in Little Rock with the state's official push — from governor on down — for legal discrimination against gay people. The article does mention some civic departures from the state's discriminatory course.

Magazine obtains police report over Josh Duggar sexual molestation investigation; he admits past 'mistakes,' resigns Family Council job

In Touch magazine reports that it has obtained a Springdale police report containing allegations of sexual misconduct against an unnamed teen that it says it has confirmed was Josh Duggar, a minor at the time and now a prominent lobbyist for the Family Research Council and a leading voice for legal discrimination against gay people.

Details on the $87 million for Lockheed Martin

J.R. Davis, the governor's press spokesman, provided me with some additional information on the $87 million state bond issue Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to help Lockheed Martin expand a Camden facility to produce military vehicles, if it wins the federal contract.

The woo pig open line; also guilty verdict in Darrell Dennis murder trial

Here's an open line, today's news video and also, from KUAF, our headline of the day:

Bentonville School Board member accused of 'cyber bullying'

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the Bentonville School Board is set to discuss a parent's complaint of cyber bullying of her daughter by School Board member Rebecca Powers

Oprah moved quickly on Duggar report; TLC quiet so far about its star family

TMZ notes how quickly and decisively the Oprah show moved after receiving a report of molestation allegations against Josh Duggar shortly before the Duggar family was to tape an appearance on the program.

Special license fees for seniors: Aren't they now illegal at local level?

Cut-rate hunting and fishing licenses for old people raises a point about the unintended consequences of the state's new gay discrimination law.

Expense account alert: Watch Denny Altes

Reasons that Gov. Asa Hutchinson shouldn't have given the job of drug czar to former state Rep. Denny Altes are abundant — racist comments, a lacklustre legislative record verging on bizarre, attempting to exert improper influence on the courts. Now comes a piece of evidence that the new state employee might have expensive tastes.

Lawsuit against Dennis Milligan settled for $30,000

A federal lawsuit against Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan by an employee he fired when he was Saline County circuit clerk was settled this week for $30,000, including attorney fees.

Fire death reported on W. 24th

Greg Yarbrough at KARK TV reports that police are saying one person has died in a fire at 4700 W. 24th Street.

Huckabee defends the Duggars

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee isn't wavering in support of the Duggar family after news of Josh Duggar's admitted molestation of young girls and failure of his father to take the matter to authorities.

Surfas Culinary District is more than just kitchen gadgets

Although mainly known for kitchen equipment, chefs Trey Brunk and Porter Montgomery have turned Surfas Culinary District into a hot spot for good eats in the Spa City.

TMZ says TLC has pulled Duggars' '19 Kids and Counting' from schedule

TMZ, citing unnamed sources, says TLC has pulled all episodes of "19 Kids and Counting" from its schedule as a result of the sexual molestation scandal involving the family that was revealed this week.

A profile in leadership: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Given Arkansas's sorry record on defense of equality, I thought I'd share leadership of a decidedly different stripe in a state that long ago went heavily Republican. Read the ringing words of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrie, who says discrimination won't be tolerated in his hometown.

More defense for the Duggars from Arkansas legislators Hester and Woods

A couple of Arkansas Republican legislators rise to the defense of the Duggars. It's a family matter, they say. We beg to differ.

Analysis favors $87 million handout for Lockheed Martin

The state released today a consultant's positive analysis of a proposal to sell $87 million in bonds to be used primarily to give $83 million to Lockheed Martin for its Camden facility to begin assembling military vehicles.

Open line, news and viva Obamacare!

Here's the open line, news video and a monthly report on Obamacare enrollment in Arkansas.

Staff Picks: El Zócalo, Art Garfunkel, DIY terrariums and more

I recommend voting early and often for El Zócalo, Little Rock's grassroots resource center for immigrants and their families, in this grant competition sponsored by State Farm Insurance. It's for $25,000, and we — I'm a member of the El Zócalo board — very much need this grant. We need folks to vote every day until June 3 to have a shot at winning.

Josh Duggar counseled at Little Rock center once run by disgraced Bill Gothard

A new report from the Daily Mail says that the "counseling" Josh Duggar received after reports of sexual molestation came from a center in Little Rock once operated by the controversial Bill Gothard, a long-time friend of the Duggar family who himself became enmeshed in a sex scandal.

The Josh Duggar Scandal Edition

This week on the podcast: Josh Duggar sexual abuse scandal, the coming special legislative session and, with Max back after a two-week vacation, we quickly run through some of the things that happened while he was away.

Ireland seems headed to approval of same-sex marriage

Ireland voters apparently have endorsed same-sex marriage in a national referendum

Riverfest opens with Sheryl Crow

Great weather, a big crowd and Sheryl Crow were among the highlights of the opening day of Riverfest, the annual party on the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock.

Where will state draw money for Lockheed Martin handout?

Arkansas would have to come up with $6 million a year, or almost $120 million over 20 years, to pay for a handout to Lockheed Martin for a Camden vehicle assembly plant. Where's the money to come from?

Bentonville school board member denies cyber bullying; lashes LGBT people

Rebecca Powers, a member of the Bentonville School Board and committed foe of a proposal to protect gay school employees from discrimination, has issued a lengthy denial of a complaint that she'd engaged in cyber bullying of a student by posting derogatory comments about her on a Facebook page. It includes comments that make clear her negative feelings about LGBT people.

The Riverfest open line; Duggar commentary; marriage equality comes to Ireland

Well, so far the weather holds for Riverfest. The web is full of Duggar stuff naturally. And much happiness over Ireland's vote for marriage equality.

Hope for bats with white-nose syndrome

The Nature Conservancy brings news of successful treatment of bats with white-nose syndrome, a fungus-caused condition that has devastated bat populations in America and Canada, including in Arkansas.

Flak for theories of relativity by Tom Cotton, Clintons

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is unimpressed by those who answer criticism by saying, "Yeah, but an unrelated so-and-so is worse."

There goes Huckabee again. Supreme Court? What Supreme Court?

Mike Huckabee apparently is betting his whole presidential stake on the fervor of a right-wing evangelical base and fear and loathing of gay people. He believes the president need not obey the U.S. Supreme Court if it rules in favor of marriage equality.

Bart Hester covering madly for his anti-gay allies, the Duggars

Sen. Bart Hester told  Northwest Arkansas TV stations yesterday that the Springdale police chief should be fired and the State Police should investigate because the chief obeyed the Freedom of Information Act. The problem from Hester's point of view is that the facts proved damaging to his political allies, the Jim Bob Duggar family.

The duck and cover open line

A Sunday open line as Riverfest watches the cloudy skies.

Riverfest closes with customary bang

Afternoon thunderstorms caused some brief distractions, but the skies cleared for a customary high-explosive finish to Riverfest, which saw a quarter million or so people pass through gates to the annual Memorial Day weekend festival in downtown Little Rock. Today is cleanup day.

Duggar world: Temptation, incest jokes, 'playing doctor,' presidential politics

Jim Bob Duggar's family has made a sizable living as stars of a reality TV show "Nine Kids and Counting" based on the size and extreme religious orientation of the family. So now has come the downside in the aftermath of reporting about sexual molestation within the Duggar home

There goes Rapert again on the gays; claims vow from Asa not to protect gays

Sen. Jason Rapert claims he has assurances from Gov. Asa Hutchinson that he will not issue an executive order extending protection to gay people.

New superintendent Kurrus brings Leon Russell message to 2015 graduates

Little Rock high schools held graduation ceremonies last week and new Superintendent Baker Kurrus delivered a surprise — unscripted acapella singing of Leon Russell after he decided his prepared speech wasn't going over so well.

Vote in Best of Arkansas 2015

It's time again to make your nominations for the Best of Arkansas. Anyone who completes more than half of the ballot will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad mini.

Open line: Huckstering

Here's the Memorial Day open line. For your reading pleasure, some right-wingers are calling BS on Mike Huckabee.

A special interest legislative session begins today

Special interest legislation — corporate welfare and Republican candidate electoral welfare — dominates the special legislative session that begins today.

Study: Legislators overestimate voters' conservatism

A new study says legislators regularly overestimate the conservatism of their constituents, typically by big margins.

Mellow Mushroom can't quite break into the upper crust

A pleasant appetizer can't make up for crust issues at the West Little Rock pizza chain.

Mike Huckabee, meet James Madison

Not that it will do much good, but Times columnist Ernest Dumas this week provides some useful Founding Father history, plus a little bit of Bible, for how wrong-headed Mike Huckabee, Asa Hutchinson, the Republican legislature and others are in using government to enforce their religious views.

Hutchinson, joined by senators, touts handout for Lockheed Martin

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was joined by U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman at a Capitol news conference this morning to tout his legislation to issue $87 million in bonds for corporate welfare to lower Lockheed Martin's bid for a new generation of armored vehicles for the U.S. military.

Steaks are on for select legislators Wednesday night

It wouldn't be a legislative session without a lobbyist whipping out a credit card. This may be a short special session but at least one credit card is at the ready.

Erma Hendrix and the battle over bikes

Much unhappiness on the Downtown Little Rock Neighborhood Facebook page about Ward 1 City Director Erma Hendrix's stifling of a plan to restripe Chester Street to include a marked bicycle lane. It's part of the city's Complete Streets program to encourage use of right of way for all, including bicycles and walkers and runners, not just cars.

In 2002, Jim Bob Duggar said incest should be a capital crime

Gawker's Defamer blog digs into the Internet wayback machines for some campaign literature from 2002, when Jim Bob Duggar ran for U.S. Senate. In the course of discussing his opposition to abortion in all circumstances, he said incest should be a capital crime (punishable by the death penalty).

Circuit Judge Shawn Womack announces for Supreme Court

Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home announced today that he'll run next year for Arkansas Supreme Court, the seat expected to be vacated by retirement of Paul Danielson.

Natchez ends weekday lunch, dinner service

Natchez owner and executive chef Alexis Jones has announced that, due to low sales, the restaurant will be nixing its lunch and weekday dinner service. The restaurant, which is located in the Tower Building at 323 Center Street in Little Rock, will still be open for Friday and Saturday dinner, and for Sunday brunch. The last day for lunch service was last Friday, May 22.

Competition on 2016 presidential primary date change

A number of Democrats don't like the idea of moving all primary elections in 2016 from May to March 1 so Mike Huckabee can have Arkansas on the slate of Southern states in the so-called SEC primary, but there's some difference of opinion among Republicans, too.

Drunk boat driving covered in DWI law change

As expected legislation has been introduced to clear up confusion caused by a recent Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that could have jeopardized federal highway money. The ruling said the state had to prove a "culpable mental state" to sustain a DWI conviction. The law change will make it a strict liability offense. A driver need not have reason to know of a legal level of intoxication to be convicted.

SoMa mural project needs you

More than $1,100 has been raised this week by the Southside Main Street Project to paint a mural on the long, blank side of the United Systems of Arkansas building that faces Main Street at 12th street, across from Community Bakery.

The Tuesday open line; plus education Duggar-style

Here's the Tuesday open line.

'Daddy Jack" Fryer reported killed by his brother

A silver alert for two missing men has been cancelled after Robert Fryer told authorities he'd killed his brother, Jack Fryer Jr.

Pulaski County Quorum Court passes protections for LGBT employees, requires contractors to do the same

Pulaski County tonight became the latest in a small but growing list of local governments in Arkansas willing to take a stand for their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, with the Quorum Court voting to protect LGBT county employees from discrimination, while requiring those who contract with the county to do the same. The vote was reportedly 10-5 in favor of the ordinance.

Rutledge faults campaign spending initiative UPDATE

The effort by the grassroots good government group Regnat Populus to get a measure on the ballot to require disclosure of backers of independent campaign expenditures and to ratify a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has been set back by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Senator says steak dinner tonight will be Dutch treat

A dinner for the criminal justice reform task force tonight at a fancy steakhouse won't go on the sponsoring lobbyist's tab, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson says.

The Kochs get it right on the Lockheed deal; they don't need handout

Noted: Full agreement between the Arkansas blog and the Arkansas arm of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-financed political operation that spent huge sums to turn the Arkansas legislature red.

Back at the trough: Senator seeks more mileage reimbursement

I didn't see this in the call for the special session, but Tuesday's bill filings included one from Sen. Alan Clark to provide for mileage expenses for legislators "incurred during the interim in the performance of his or her duties."

8th Circuit Court strikes down Arkansas's 12-week abortion ban

The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's decision striking down the ban on most abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy adopted over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto in 2013.

Arkansas unemployment ticks up in April

Despite a growth in the number of workers, Arkansas's unemployment rate in April was 5.7 percent, up from 5.6 percent in March.

Roger D. Hodge steps down as editor of the Oxford American

The Oxford American announced today that Roger Hodge, who took over as editor-in-chief of the Little Rock-based magazine in late 2012, has stepped down to take a position as national editor of The Intercept, an online publication launched last year by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill. Managing editor Eliza Borne will serve as interim editor of the Oxford American and Hodge will stay on as editor at large, according to a press release issued this morning. Borne is a former Oxford American intern and has been an editor at the magazine since February 2013. Previously she worked as an associate editor at BookPage.

Roger Hodge departs Oxford American

Will Stephenson reports on our Rock Candy blog that Roger Hodge has stepped down as editor in chief of Oxford American, the journal published in Little Rock. He'd held the job since 2012. Eliza Borne will lead the magazine in the interim.

Diploma mill probe leads to criminal charges

The New York Times reports the arrest in Pakistan of the chief executive of Axact, accused of running a global diploma mill, whose tentacles reached into Arkansas, including the doghouse of a Van Buren County bulldog.

Unanimous House approval for corporate welfare for Lockheed Martin

The House today passed 96-0 the legislation to float an $87 million state bond issue to contribute to Lockheed Martin's conversion of a Camden plant to produce a tactical military vehicle if it wins a competitive bid for the contract later this year.

House approves moving primary elections to March, but there's a wrinkle

The House this morning approved moving 2016 primary elections from May to March 1 so the state can join in Republican Party leadership plans to have Southern state primaries on the same day.

Zachary Holly given death sentence in slaying of 6-year-old

40/29 reports that a jury has sentenced Zachary Holly to die for the abduction, rape and slaying of 6-year-old Jersey Bridgeman in Bentonville in 2012. The child was abducted from her mother's home.

Paula Juels Jones announces for North Little Rock judgeship

Assistant North Little Rock City Attorney Paula Juels Jones will run next year for the district judgeship in North Little Rock currently held by Jim Hamilton. The release said Hamilton has decided not to seek re-election.

Hot Springs lawyer Andi Davis plea bargains manslaughter case

Andrea Davis, the Hot Springs lawyer charged in a manslaughter case in the shooting of a man at her home, has worked out a plea bargain that gives her a probationary sentence on a charge of unlawful use of a communication device.

Plea entered by Stephen Parks in coal tax credit fraud case

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer announed today that Stephen K. Parks, 61, of Little Rock had pleaded guilty to a fraudulent coal tax credit scheme and the government seized more than $7 million in property.

UCA basketball flunks academic progress measure

The NCAA has announced that four schools, including the University of Central Arkansas, will be banned from post-season basketball play in 2015-16 because of low academic progress scores. UCA also faces practice time restrictions.

Let there be room for bikes on Chester Street

Little Rock city hall spokesman Luis Gonzalez informs me the great Chester Street bike laneapalooza has been settled in favor of the plan to convert the street to three-lanes, with a center turn lane and traffic lanes wide enough to accommodate bike traffic, though not specifically marked with bike lanes.

Open line: Plus new job for GOP operative

Here's the open line, news video and state government job news.

Convicted state cop says Jim Bob Duggar didn't tell him truth about molestation

Imprisoned former state trooper who played key role in handing of Duggar family molestation report gives interview to In Touch Weekly's lawyer in which he says Jim Bob Duggar didn't tell the whole truth about what had gone on in the Duggar home.

Democrats hit French Hill on highway funding vote

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is airing radio ads Friday hitting 2nd District Republican Congressman French Hill for joining other Republicans in vote for a stopgap highway funding bill.