This was an unusual session, and realistically, there was a lot to be negative about. The specter of Obamacare loomed large over the state. It was the defining issue of the previous election campaign and the defining issue of the session. And most Republicans blinked. The deceptively-named "private option" is nothing more than Obamacare in a hat and sunglasses, no matter how hard they try to spin it. What also won't fly are attempts to redirect attention to other "accomplishments". Twenty bills about flag-waiving, or abortion bans that will most likely never be implemented, or back-loaded tax cuts which will be overwhelmed by new spending mandated by Obamacare, don't cancel out the tremendous blunder to implement the program in this state.
With that being said, here is the 2013 edition of the Arkansas Watch "Ten Worst Legislators" in the state of Arkansas.
#1 Worst- All Democratic Legislators.
If the Democratic legislators want to be evaluated as individual persons, they should act and vote that way. If they are all going to march in lock-step with Mike Beebe, then there is no point in seeing or rating them as individuals. Since they acted as a unit they should be judged as one. The tribalism among the Democrat caucus was always strong, but this session, with them circling up the wagons in a minority status, it was ridiculous. There would be a committee meeting scheduled on the re-hearing of a given bill, a bill to which many Democrats on the committee had already expressed objections. If the Republicans made a deal with Beebe concerning the bill, then the next time the committee meeting re-opened they would all be for it, with no changes. Citizens of Arkansas, if your state representative was a Democrat, then you had no state representative, and Mike Beebe had 46 representatives. It was much the same in the senate.
Party politics destroys the Founder's intent with regard to the legislative branch acting as a check and a balance on the Executive Branch. That truth is rarely clearer than it was this session. For not representing their constituents for abandoning whatever individuality or principles they might have had, for checking their brains and integrity at the door and just following orders like a suspect at Nuremberg, the Democratic Caucus ranks as the #1 Worst legislator.
#2 Worst - House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot.
There are two main ways to get high on the "worst" list. One is to be an incompetent buffoon, the other is to be very effective at advancing the wrong policy by any means necessary. Davy Carter is an example of the latter category. He was forced on the slim GOP majority by a handful of Republican legislators and the unanimous support of our #1 on the worst list- the entire democratic caucus. Without Carter willing to say and do just about anything to get it passed, Arkansas would probably not have implemented Obamacare. Exhibit "A" for Carter's willingness to say anything was his claim that "a vote for the Private Option is a vote against Obamacare
." Of course the claim is an example of "The Big Lie
". Just make a claim so outrageously false that the average person will accept it as true simply because they can't believe that someone in a position of authority would maintain such a brazen falsehood. All of the Democrats voted for the so-called "Private Option", and you know they are not all going to vote against Obamacare. Still, that's his story and he's sticking to it- even though its false.
Carter is also anti-gun rights, while posing as a good 'ole boy conservative. He helped kill a very timid bill that would allow those already permitted to carry concealed handguns to carry them openly. Even government-permitted gun freedom seems to be too much gun freedom for Carter. And when Denny Altes slipped a gun bill by them that granted more leeway than they thought it did, rumors started floating that Carter and company would abuse the codification process
to materially change what the legislature actually passed on its way to the law books. Let's hope that's just a rumor, but the sources sound confident and at the least Carter has tried to claim the bill said less than what it said.
The Republican party in this state, in particular the other legislators, are now placed in the unfortunate position of either granting consent to his untruthfulness, whether by silence or by affirmation, or coming out against it and bringing the real split that already exists in the party out into the open. The Democrats who put Carter in office must be laughing all the way home.
#3 Worst- Senator David Sanders of Little Rock.
David Sanders checks in at #3 on the worst list for being the opposite kind of bad- the clownish kind. He was the ramrod for getting many state legislators to endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry
early on in the process. Perry promptly self-destructed with an embarrassing series of gaffes and miss-statements and left the race early. Shortly thereafter, Sanders organized what he called a "listening tour" for state legislators, which actually turned out to be a series of fund raising events with corporate big-wigs
. He even lured Congressman Steve Womack into the process, unfortunately in a way that violated election campaign finance law. Womack asked them to return the money they raised at the event he attended.
Sanders has led his colleagues into one blunder after another. Sooner or later you would think they would start to notice it. At any rate, his support for Obamacare via the miss-named "Private Option" is no exception to his tendency to make the wrong calls.
#4 Worst- Senator Jason Rappert of Conway.
Our panelists tend to be sincere Christian people, which is why guys like Jason Rappert bother them so much. He is the kind of guy who will bite the hand that feeds him clean off by doing the opposite of what he said he would do, then accuse the owner of the new stump of being un-spiritual because they are upset. There is no kind of arrogant like the kind of arrogant who thinks that they are holier-than-thou. My guess is that he is going to have to run for Lt. Governor, both to feed is desire for self-aggrandizement and also because he may not be able to win another local race in Conway, so many people has he offended- but of course, they are all wrong for that! This was the guy who wanted to risk a Con-Con for an idea that would not solve the problem of government overspending even if it passed and the Con-Con could somehow be limited. A man who thinks he is God's point man does not mind taking big risks, too bad he is using our chips.
#5 Worst- Representative John Burris of Harrison.
Is the so-called "Private Option" Medicaid Expansion? "Nothing could be further from the truth" said John Burris from the floor of the house. But in reality lots of things could be further from the truth. Any thing that is the least bit untrue could be further from the truth, because the Private Option itself is a Medicaid program, just not the one we are most accustomed to. John Burris was instrumental in pushing for the idea that the PO wasn't what it was. He was Davy Carter's tag-team partner in the whole thing. We warned early on that if Carter sent the Obamacare bills to Public Health (which Burris got to chair in exchange for being one of a handful of Republicans to join with the Democrats and impose Carter) rather than State Agencies, then Carter was pushing for Obamacare to pass. That is what happened, with Burris his right-hand man and assistant spin-doctor.
#6 Worst- Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View.
Missy Irvin was one of the worst legislators in the state. Several activists had expressed concerns about her privately, but the session results highlighted some of the issues. She was the deciding vote on the implementation of Obamacare in the Senate. And while Arkansas Times gets a whole lot wrong, one thing they did right was describing her illogical thought processes and slim grasp of public policy in an area that should have been a strength for her. The changes she insisted on before she flipped were fig leaves at best, they did not change the substance of the bill at all. And by the time she flipped it was more obvious than ever that the GOP had been taken on this deal. The ArkTimes description of her poor grasp of policy rings true as well. She is probably very personable, but unfortunately it takes a different skill set to be a good campaigner than it does to be a good legislator.
#7 Worst, State Representative Charlie Collins of Fayetteville.
When you are supremely confident, cocky even, you had better be almost always right. Unfortunately his confidence does not match with his correctness. Confident, personable, wrong. For example, he was instrumental in the coup that put Carter in power. There has to be some accountability for that disaster. He never would come right out and plainly admit that the so-called "Private Option" would in fact increase the total number of persons in the state on some kind of Medicaid program. And he assured me personally that the income tax cuts that were his baby played no role in his decision to back the mis-named "Private Option." His colleagues don't appear to know that, one legislator told another member of the panel that Collins indicated to them the opposite. Of course, after the first two years or three years those "savings" under the PO turn into new costs which will crush any reasonable hope of the tax cuts being sustained, but hey, at least there was a tax cut on paper that someone can put their name on.
#8 Worst- Senator Bill Sample from Hot Springs.
One might be tempted to think that Bill Sample was just another turn-coat who ran on opposing the implementation of Obamacare in the state but then voted the opposite. But we had a legislature full of such turn-coats, yet Senator sample earned more ire around the state than almost all of the others. He got a lot of bills passed, but some of them were bills to float tax increases and make it easier for local governments to incur debt. What I am getting at here is that many legislators were turn-coats on the defining issue of the session, but were typically conservative with the rest of their record. What sets Sample apart is that he is going "full turncoat" on limited government issues. He doesn't just want government health care to expand (so long as a couple of GOP lobbies get a cut) he seems to want government expansion in general, the reverse of his campaign rhetoric. This Republican went to the legislature and fell in love with big government.
#9 Worst- Senator Johnathan Dismang.
We don't know what happened. He had a decent record up until the last session. There were some tax cuts that he wanted to get through, and those were good, but we do have to wonder if there was not some sort of deal made to get them, because Dismang was one of those pushing for the PO hard. Again, those tax cuts have been back-loaded. They are very tiny at first, and by the time they are big we won't be able to keep them because the increased costs of the PO will demand tremendous amounts of tax revenues. In order to claim credit for cutting taxes now, Dismang and others have signed onto something that will tie the hand of future legislatures, perhaps for decades. We will be fortunate if we can avoid a tax increase in four or five years from now, never mind keeping this tax cuts on the books. They got "took". Dismang got took. He could have been a contender. Unlike these others that we have long been hesitant about, he was doing well. If he had used his great ability to block Obamacare he would have been a hero- that is a part of what makes it so bad.
#10 Worst is a three-way tie between Micheal Lamoureux of Russellville, Mark Biviano of Searcy, and Ken Bragg of Sheridan. Each of the three were tied at minus nine points each. I questioned one of the five who ranked Bragg strongly negative. Why single Bragg out when so many of the Republican legislators basically lied when they campaigned on how hard they would fight Obamacare? "I know a lot of them lied, but he was the one that lied to me." was the answer.
When it came to the other two, I did not have to ask. Lamoureux did not just vote wrong, he was working hard for the spin machine on it, he just did not get quite as rash in his statements as Carter and Burris. He was also in a leadership position in the Senate, so when the late cavers caved, we understand that some of the pressure to do so came from him.
Biviano has always been an embarrassment to the legislature and we find it odd that the people of Searcy can't find better representation. He ran as a Tea Party conservative then legislated like a crony-capitalist. Not content to help pass the Medicaid Expansion half of Obamacare, he actually sponsored a bill to officially implement the other half- a state exchange. Previously Beebe had been using policy and regulation to take steps towards an Arkansas exchange, but Biviano's bill now gives him legislative authority to proceed.
Sadly, there were far more than the dirty dozen we list here who deserve to be called out for their violations of the public trust. Below is a list of the legislators who our panel of activists gave at least -5 points...
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson- a caver with an unfortunate private life. One has to wonder if he would be a state senator if he had another last name.
Sen. Jon Woods- after the grassroots helped him upset Sen. Bill Pritchard in the primary, he dissed them repeatedly.
Rep. Ann Clemmer- there are worse things in the world than sucking a few lemons.
Rep. Mary Lou Slinkard- snuck out of the committee room to kill a gun bill.
Rep. Les Carnine - has always been one of the more liberal Republicans.
Rep. Robert Dale- if there was a bigger squish of a Republican than Carnine, it was Dale.
Rep. Andy Mayberry - is not funny anymore.
Sen. Jimmy Hickey - could learn something from Richard Womack.
Rep. Nate Bell- voted AGAINST funding the PO and is STILL on this list, if that gives you any idea of how obnoxious he can be. Credit his wife more than him for that vote anyway.