How high the water
Heavy rains in May produced record flooding along the Arkansas River. Thousands of acres of farmland, hundreds of homes and many businesses from Fort Smith to Pine Bluff were inundated. A major levee broke at Holla Bend south of Dardanelle; another near Conway barely held. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated. The halt in river traffic commerce was estimated to cost $23 million a day; Governor Hutchinson estimated infrastructure losses at $100 million-plus. The river crested at 51 feet in Pine Bluff on June 6, the highest recorded since 1945.
A witness, dishing
An ex-girlfriend of former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), charged with spending $150,000 in campaign money on personal expenses and dodging taxes on $270,000 in income, testified about her relationship with Hutchinson during a pre-trial hearing on the case. Julie McGee said Hutchinson had provided her with gifts, vacations and a fake job from his campaign funds. Asked if she had indeed worked for Hutchinson, McGee replied, “If keeping him sexually satisfied is considered campaign work.” The pre-trial hearing was over Hutchinson’s efforts to suppress evidence from a laptop McGee gave to the FBI in 2012. McGee said it was a gift; Hutchinson said she stole it from him. McGee went to the FBI to tell of Hutchinson’s alleged financial improprieties after one of their many disputes. Hutchinson faces separate federal charges in a bribery case in Missouri.
On June 25, Hutchinson entered negotiated guilty pleas to two federal felony cases in district court in Little Rock.
A former Republican state senator met a gruesome end in June. Linda Collins, who served in the General Assembly under her married name, Collins-Smith, was found slain, her decomposed body wrapped in a covering, outside her Pocahontas home June 4, and a friend, Becky O’Donnell of Pocahontas, was later charged with capital murder and abuse of a corpse. At the prosecutor’s request, a circuit judge sealed documents in the case; police have not provided a cause of death or motive in the slaying. O’Donnell and her boyfriend, Tim Loggains, were on their way to a visitation for Collins at a funeral home when she was arrested. O’Donnell had testified in Collins’ divorce from retired Circuit Judge Phil Smith; testimony in the case revealed that Loggains had Collins’ power of attorney and had cashed and attempted to cash almost $500,000 in tax refund checks made out jointly to Collins and her ex-husband. O’Donnell did not enter a plea at her June 17 arraignment.
Gov. Huck II?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, known neither for veracity or warmth as President Trump’s press secretary, has left the White House to return to Arkansas and is expected to mount a campaign for governor. Trump tweeted she’d make a “fantastic” governor. It’s unknown what effect Sanders’ return to Arkansas will have on the gubernatorial desires of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. Earlier this year, Sanders said she believed God wanted Trump to be president and that’s why he won. No word yet from God on Sanders as governor.
Not as many ‘no-knocks’
The Little Rock Police Department, which has come under criticism for its “no-knock” warrants in drug raids, announced it will evaluate “threat assessment” before making no-knock raids and would vet its informants more thoroughly.
Swine to exit watershed
Governor Hutchinson announced that the C&H Hog Farm in the Buffalo River watershed in Newton County had agreed to end its operations there in exchange for $6.2 million. Most of the payment will be in state money, but The Nature Conservancy’s Arkansas chapter is also contributing between $600,000 and $1 million. The state will hold a conservation easement on the land, which will still be held by C&H in fee simple.
Lockheed Martin, which produces rocket systems and assembles missiles and other military products at its plant in Camden, announced it would expand the factory. The company said it would invest $142 million in the defense plant and expected to add 326 jobs over the next several years. It will qualify for state subsidies in the form of a 10 percent tax credit on investment and cash rebates, the specifics of which the Arkansas Economic Development Commission does not provide to the public.
Judicial election method challenged
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund is suing the state in federal court over its method of electing judges to the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court. The suit says the election process — statewide elections for the seven members of the Supreme Court and election by district for the 12 positions on the appeals court — has “denied black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” Retired Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, retired Court of Appeals Judge Olly Neal, UA Little Rock Children’s International Director Ryan Davis, the Christian Ministerial Alliance and Arkansas Community Institute filed the suit.