Sunday, June 07, 2015

Top Ten Legislators of 2015

Neighbor's of Arkansas proudly presents its list of the "Ten Best Legislators" of the 2015 session. This is a continuation of the tradition started from the "Arkansas Watch" blog. For reference here is the list from 2013.

Normally this is one of my favorite things to do, because we finally get a chance to be positive. We also do a "Bottom Ten" list (the one from 2013) but that is not as "special" because a lot of what we do is report the negative side of things. This is a chance to report on the positive, as much as the truth allows. I do so with trepidation because the intent of the panel was for those we name to be honored- in the present sorry state of affairs we hope that it does not get them into trouble. We hope its not like naming someone "Police Officer of the Year" while they are doing undercover work in a den of thieves.

The biggest test of character is success, and unfortunately it appears that some members of the legislature who stood strong against bad policy as the underdogs seem to think that similar policies are great ideas when their side is doing it. Ergo, you may notice changes in the list. Still, the growing darkness of hypocrisy we see in government means that the light of those who stay consistent shines even brighter. This list represents those legislators who stayed most consistent with sound principles of government at a time when government is rapidly being transformed from an instrument of justice into a sophisticated looting machine.

The panel ranked the legislators from one to ten, with the first place legislator getting ten points and the tenth place legislator one point. There were some ties. One of them involved a legislator who is a distant relative of mine by marriage. I asked someone else to break that tie and I broke the others. The criteria was simple. "Who do you think the best legislators are?" Is that subjective? Well, it is vague, but these were people who were paying much closer attention than the average citizen. Each of them used their own criteria, but that does not mean it was all subjective. Unfortunately, this last special session (with two awful bills that passed) did not get fully figured into the list because some of the results were in by then.

With that said, here are the Neighbors of Arkansas ten best legislators of this cycle....

1. Senator Bryan King (R) Green Forest

After checking in at No. 2 on the last two "Ten Best" rankings State Senator Bryan King is a strong choice for number one. He is becoming the state, and even national, voice (quoted in Forbes and others) of opposition to all versions of Obamacare in Arkansas- even the Republican versions. He has been a refreshing voice of moral consistency in a time when insiders in his own party who just want to keep the generational looting going are resorting to extravagant lengths to conceal their embrace of Obamacare (so long as their interests get a cut).

But this is just one aspect of his consistent opposition to generational fiscal justice and a common sense approach to spending. This man is usually the most fiscally responsible member of the Arkansas legislature. His reward for asking the tough questions about spending was to be removed as the Chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. He could be looked on as a whistle-blower who got fired for blowing the whistle in that regard. They can ignore him, but they can't challenge his numbers.

His strong record is not just related to fiscal issues. He can be counted on to vote for what is right regardless of the party line. Maybe not every time, but consistently. He was instrumental in blocking the very worst of the resolutions calling for giving today's ruling class a chance to alter our federal constitution.

2. Senator Linda Collins-Smith (R) Pocahontas

Collins-Smith made her first appearance in the "Ten Best" rankings four years ago as a Democrat- a very rare one willing to stand up to then-Governor Mike Beebe's extreme abortion agenda. By being an actual "conservative Democrat", she showed the fake ones up for what they really were, and they did not like it. The Democrats made life so hard for her that she switched parties but not principles.

She kept a low profile in her first session as a Republican, but this session it was the Republicans who were being fake conservatives. Collins-Smith is now showing up many Republicans as fake conservatives by providing an example of what a real one looks like. Not even an extreme conservative either, just a basic one. For example, opposing the expansion of government with more of our kid's borrowed money when we can't pay for the government we have now is not an extreme position. Its a common-sense position. But it is also a minority position, even within the Republican caucus of the Arkansas legislature. They hid their big-government bills behind conservative-sounding titles, but Collins-Smith was not often fooled. She is a profile in courage.

3. Rep. John Payton (R) Wilburn

When deciding who your top legislators are, I think the whole panel had some things in common. It starts with their voting record. You especially look for the tough votes, the ones where they bucked the Governor of their own party and most of their colleagues. Then you take that group and you look for things that separate them out. What kind of bills did they sponsor? How accessible were they? Did they vote the right way because they were intensely lobbied or educated by citizen activists or did they already "get it" without prompting? Did they just vote correctly or where they strong and courageous communicators for the positions that they took?

When you apply that kind of standard, John Payton is one of those who rises to the top of even in the group of the best ones.

4. Rep. Mary Bentley (R) Perryville

Mary Bentley makes the list for many of the same reasons that John Payton made it. Though not all panelists were fond of all of her bills- moving up the primary dates and workforce education stuff for example- she showed up on the right side of a number of very tough votes. But it wasn't just the votes. When the establishment touted a fake bill to reign in the Obamacare exchanges (that would not reign them in) she filed a bill that would have really ended them. Unfortunately it did not pass, because the state's fiscal responsibility for maintaining this exchange is spiraling out of control and is hiding some of the true costs of Obamacare. We believe that time will validate the stances she took on some very important issues. She also scores points for accessibility.

5. Rep. Jim Dotson (R) Bentonville

First, a disclaimer, Dotson is a distant relative of mine by marriage. I don't think that slanted things much though because two of the people associated with these rankings put him higher than I did. He is a repeat to the "Ten Best" list who has been vexing the establishment ever since he first upset their pick for this seat. He was consistent in sticking to the agenda he campaigned on last time, and this time it seems he has so far largely passed the most difficult test of character- success for the side he is on. He has not changed his votes even when his party is pushing for it.

In addition to voting right, even on the tough ones, and decent accessibility, Dotson is very active. He brings a lot of energy to the office and He sponsors a lot of bills. They very strongly tend toward being good bills. No one should fault him that they don't get passed given the character and disposition of the overall legislature in which he is forced to work. Not just Dotson, but all of the ones on this list just need the people to send them some more help.

6. Senator Terry Rice (R) Waldron

The people of Arkansas might have saved themselves a lot of trouble and money if Terry Rice had been Speaker of the House in 2011 when all of the trouble with Obamacare started. Unfortunately we, myself included, learned too late the wide gap in character between him and the man who eventually got that position. Still, the people did in due time notice Rice's qualities and responded by elevating Rice from the House to the State Senate.

It was a wise choice. Rice made the same tough votes as the others on this list. He added his voice to object to the Republican version of socialism just like others on this list. He was also able, even in this environment, to get a few bills passed, so add effectiveness without compromise in an adversarial environment to his list of positives.

7. Rep. Donnie Copeland (R) North Little Rock

Five years ago Donnie Copeland ran for Lt. Governor in the Republican Primary and barely lost to Mark Darr. He won most counties but lost in the few big ones that had all of the votes. Fortunately for Arkansas, he did not give up on the idea of serving in public office and successfully ran for the state legislature in 2014.

Copeland is the pastor of a large church in North Little Rock. You might expect him to be personable and a good orator because of that, that is true. The race five years ago also shows that he has a fair network in rural Arkansas. Put it all together and you have someone who is comfortable in their own skin and does not need "the system" as much as some legislators who may feel they need to "tow the line." So far, it looks like he is not going fo
r the deceptive nonsense the Republican "leadership" is trying where they think the best answer to the Democrats is not freedom, but more efficiently imposed socialism. You should keep an eye on Copeland, I am sure the establishment is.

8. Senator Gary Stubblefield (R) Branch

It is not surprising that a group such as ours would favor legislators who are their own person and not just trying to see which way the herd is travelling would rate a man like Gary Stubblefield highly. It is not even that we agree with him on every issue. The important part is that it is clear he is thinking independently, and once he decides something he does not change it for the sake of expediency. He does not hang around and mingle with the capitol crowd when his work is done- he heads back to his district. Maybe that's one good reason he is able to represent them so well.

One good way to not yield to insider pressure is to simple remove yourself from being around it. Stubblefield does that, and yet still manages to stay effective in getting some bills passed.

9. Rep. Charlotte V. Douglas (R) Alma

Charlotte Douglas is another active legislator who knows how to get thing done yet has a low tolerance for the male bovine scat so evident at the capital. Not only did she make a high percentage of the tough votes, she actively opposed some of the strongest deception going on down at the capitol. When the Governor's allies pushed a bill that would try to find a way to save the state Obamacare exchange instead of ending it, she bravely sponsored a measure which would have truly done what most of her constituents wanted- eliminated the costly and inefficient exchange.

Again this is not to say that we agreed on every issue. But we are not looking for uniformity of thought. We are looking for honesty, sanity, intelligence, ability, and most of all, courage. Douglas displayed all of that this session.

10. There was a three way tie for tenth place. Each of these three garnered ten points from the panel: Rep. Nelda Speaks (R) Mountain Home; Senator Scott Flippo (R) Bull Shoals; Rep. Lane Jean (R) Magnolia

Yes, Nelda Speaks is as nice as she looks here. You can learn a lot about a person when they are explaining why they voted the way they did. Even if we did not agree with every vote, no one ever felt like they were getting the run-around with Speaks.
If the rankings had been based on how much better the legislator was than the person they beat in the primary would have been, then Scott Flippo would have been a strong contender for #1. He is the young man who came from nowhere to beat former Rep, John Burris, a co-architect of the Republican sell-out on Obamacare in Arkansas. Even based on an absolute scale, Flippo accounted very well for himself.

Looking at his voting record, Flippo has clearly picked some good people to listen to. If there is one area of concern it is that he is young. We wonder if he is settled on who he is enough to resist catching Marble Fever? The usual suspects will doubtless try and contaminate him, but so far so good.

It was not easy to be a South Arkansas Republican even in the pre-Huckabee days. Those are Lane Jean's roots. He was a Republican, in a Democrat-dominated part of the state, back when being a Republican meant something. It took a certain grit, a self-confidence and reliance on principle to be a South Arkansas Republican in those days. Now that the Republican party has been taken over by crony capitalists and me-too socialists, such characteristics serve Jean well. He has not changed just because those who have taken over his party have.

Honorable Mention

There were more than ten (OK, twelve) legislators who did a good job and were recognized by one or more panel members. Sometimes it is hard to settle on who the top ten are. This year it, took ten points from the panel to make it into the top ten. As in the past, and legislator who received five or more points from the panel earned a place on the "Honorable Mention" list.

Rep. Joe Farrar (R) Austin
Rep. David Meeks (R) Conway
Rep. Josh Miller (R) Heber Springs
Rep. Michelle Gray (R) Melbourne
Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh (R) Van Buren
Rep. Jack Ladyman (R) Jonesboro
Senator David Johnson (D) Little Rock
Rep. Jana Dellarosa (R) Rogers
Rep. R. Trevor Drown (R) Dover
Rep. Richard Womack (R) Arkadelphia


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