Thursday, June 25, 2015

Symbols, Victims, and Civilized Adulthood

"Anybody can become angry- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." - Aristotle

Yet another mass-murder by yet another prescription-drug addled young misfit has led to a storm of outrage in America. It is entirely proper that there be a storm of outrage, along with great admiration for the display of Christian forgiveness from the families of many of the victims. I have said before that the victims in the Church have performed well their Godly mission of displaying God's Mercy.  Soon it will be time for the state to perform their Godly function of displaying God's Justice -  by executing Dylan Roof. I say this though I have less confidence in the state's resolve to do their Divine Duty these days, for government has left off its proper duties and has instead set itself to meddling in a host of other things which are not its rightful business.

The rest of the nation has not done so nobly as the victims from the church in their response to this brutal crime. There has been outrage all right, but not rational outrage, not reasonable outrage that makes sense and has a logical outcome of preventing more of the same. The fury of America seems concentrated against a symbol the killer posed with in a photograph- the main battle flag of the Confederacy. 

Here are some of the responses: Amazon and Ebay have quit selling merchandise bearing the symbol of the flag. This is even though they still peddle merchandise with the Nazi Swastika on it! Warner Brothers has even stopped making toys of the car "General Lee" from the iconic 80's TV show "Dukes of Hazard" because the car features an image of that flag on the roof. Suggestions have even been made that Arkansas get a new flag because ours has elements in it which look too similar to the Confederate battle flag.

Look, I have never owned the "Stars and Bars" as it is called. I have never had it on a hat or worn it on an article of clothing. I consider it impolite to display such a flag in public because of the large number of people who (with good historical reason) consider the flag to be a symbol of racial oppression. I already make enough people mad just by telling the truths that some don't wish to hear, I don't want to unnecessarily offend people by wearing a symbol that I can take or leave. That being said, I am uncomfortable with misplaced and disproportionate angry driving us to such lengths over symbols.

Symbols, and I am particularly referring here to abstract symbols such as the "Stars and Bars" and the Swastika, have no power in themselves. They don't even have any meaning in themselves. The only meaning they have is that which has been ascribed to them by those who either use the symbol or see it. It is true that both of those symbols were used by people who were violently anti-social toward those of other races, but not everyone who uses those symbols ascribes that meaning to them. 

Even the swastika, symbol of the repugnant Nazi party, is also used in Hinduism and by Native American tribes as a sacred symbol. The people I know who wear the "Stars and Bars" have more animosity toward the Ku Klux Klan than they do towards blacks. To them, it is a symbol of their southern rural way of life, not racial oppression.

One of the things that makes me most uncomfortable about this is that the outrage which we feel, which we ought to feel, is being directed toward abstract symbol which has no objective meaning either good or bad and is incapable of causing harm in itself. The "right anger" which Aristotle spoke of can be a good thing, but useless anger does nothing to make us better people, or more reasonable ones. The symbol the shooter posed with in a picture did not cause these shootings. There have been over 1,000 shootings in Chicago this year alone, and the symbols the shooters used did not cause them either.

I noticed that a young friend of mine posted on social media a comment to the effect that anyone who displayed the Confederate Battle flag should just "unfriend" him and save him the trouble because they were a "racist piece of {vulgarity deleted}." I have been following this person's comments on social media a long time and at no point did they ever say that anyone who supported abortion being legal should unfriend them. 

Yet unlike the Confederate Battle Flag, whose meaning is subjective to the observer, abortion actually ends innocent human life. One million babies are being torn to bits every single year by abortion, yet there is more outrage over an abstract symbol with no objective meaning than there is over someone supporting spilling rivers-worth of innocent blood. If every American between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains were butchered today, it still would not equal the number of beating hearts stopped by abortion in America. 

Abortion is just one evil. America has dropped a lot of bombs on a lot of countries that did not attack us. We have a political system that is looting the middle class and the next generation to enrich global banksters. None of that injustice evoked the least response from my young friend, yet his rage against this symbol was visceral.

I realize what Aristotle realized, that not everyone is capable of "right anger". Some are just too young to have properly developed their sense of appropriate anger. Some will never reach that place and will live as perpetual adolescents. I don't say that everyone should see it like I do, because like Aristotle I understand that this is not within everyone's reach. But I don't think policy should be driven by those whose anger is irrational. I don't think the rational should give way before the irrational as a matter of course. It is an unproductive, even destructive, road to take which can never make us better only worse. 

Instead we should make appropriate use of our anger. It should help us insist that the right questions be asked. For example, every one of these recent mass murderers have either been on or just come off of certain types of prescription drugs. Are such psychotropic drugs over-used? Are they really safe? Americans are the most medicated people on the planet, and we haven't really had a national discussion about how normal it should be to have a nation operating on mind-altering drugs. 

 I get the idea that big pharma  has a lot to lose if people ever start asking too many questions about that. So do institutions in this nation which medicate a lot of people- like our government itself as a matter of fact. But big media doesn't talk about that - instead it gets us stirred up about things that, if not irrelevant, are at least relatively unimportant.  

Some abstract symbols have a history associated with racial hatred, and so out of respect for the feelings of those who take that symbol to be associated with that hatred I choose not to display the symbols. But the abstract symbol is not the problem. I am not obligated to hold their beliefs about what any particular abstract symbol means. And while I may choose to respect their feelings on it, I refuse to be a slave to those feelings. Their feelings about things should not control my behavior because while I may choose to defer to them from time to time ultimately their feelings about what they believe an abstract symbol stands for are their problem, not my responsibility. 

To take any other position will hasten us down the path where everyone seeks the role of aggrieved victim because claims of "victimhood" are the basis for power claims over one's fellow citizens. There was a time when people had too much dignity to seek out the role of "victim", but that was before it became the smoothest path to getting one's way. This will lead to a degenerate society where those with the least dignity will have the most power. That is what I urge you dear reader, to resist.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to File for Office as an Independent

I am affiliated with Neighbors of Arkansas, a group which believes that state politics should be disconnected from the dysfunctional national party system which is controlled by two private political clubs. That means electing candidates which are independent of any national party and answer only to the people they are supposed to be representing, not a hierarchy which ends in D.C.(or worse, ends in the global interests which fund them both).

Americans have been so seduced into out-sourcing the job of selecting their candidates to these two corrupt entities that they have mostly forgotten what it means to self-govern. Even though we have gone from the richest nation on earth to the most indebted nation on earth in a single generation while Team Red and Team Blue took turns following increasingly similar policies, most of us don't seem to know how to go about taking things back into our own hands. If we wanted to end-run this terminally corrupt system which has so mismanaged the country, what would we do?

You do this: Get a few friends together locally and recruit someone to run for public office (such as state legislature or county office) as an independent candidate. Then help them get on the ballot and win. You don't need thousands of dollars for a filing fee- you would not pay anyone a filing fee. It does not take millions of dollars to win these races, nor hundreds of thousands.  Rather it only takes sums which are well within reach of a decent candidate. A $100 contribution to a campaign for a state office is essentially free with the use of the state tax credit for modest contributions.

It is not like it would take much to improve on what we have now. For example, consider the ten worst bills that became law last regular session. If you can find a candidate who would vote against most of those bills, the odds are very strong that they would be better than what you have now.

Is following the instructions below a hassle? Yes. More than they should be, but far, far less than what our forebears went through in order to grant us the heritage of living in freedom. Let's not be the generation that loses it because we could not be bothered to wade through some paperwork!

Here is a rundown of what it takes to get on the ballot this cycle:

1. For state legislature and county offices, you have 90 days, starting August 11th and ending noon on November the 9th to collect voter signatures from the district equal in number to 3% of the vote for Governor in the last election within the boundaries of the office in question. The signatures are to be gathered on the petition form on page 51 of this book for state legislative offices or the petition form on page 52 for county offices.

For state legislative district boundaries, look here. For County JPs district boundaries, check your County Clerk's office.

How many good signatures does it take? For State Representative seats, usually around 380. For State Senate Seats, it takes 800 or so good signatures. The Elections Division of the Secretary of State's office has a duty to provide the exact number for any state office. Here is their contact information.

Phone: 501-682-5070
Toll Free outside the Little Rock area:  (800) 482-1127

For County offices, the number of signatures required will vary widely depending on the population of the County. Your County Clerk has a duty to provide that data. We can help you did it up if they refuse their duty. Remember that you need at least 20% more signatures than the minimum because some of them could be disallowed because they are not registered voters or don't live in the right district. The SOS website has a place where you can pre-check your voters to see if they are valid.

2. So let's say you start August 11th and get the required voter signatures by September 30th. What is next? Next is that you file for office between noon on 2 November and ending at noon on November the 9th. If you are filing for the state legislature, you take your signatures, along with a few other docs we will mention, to the Capital Building in Little Rock and file. If you are filing for a county office you take them to the County Clerk. No filing fee is required as an Independent. You just bring signatures saying that voters want you on the ballot, you don't have to pay thousands of dollars to a private political club to get on the ballot.

3. What other forms do you need to file for office besides the petitions?
A. The "Notice of Candidacy" on page 48
B. The "Affidavit of Eligibility" on page 47
C. A "Political Practices Pledge" which is discussed on page 38, but no sample form is given. We suggest you create one which meets the standards described on that page just in case there are none available when you file (the SOS Office normally makes up such forms and has them on hand during the filing period).
D. A "Statement of Financial Interest" from the Ethics Commission


A new requirement has been snuck into the law books for independents filing for office, one that it appears has not yet made it to the SOS Candidate Handbook. That is found on the second page of this new law. It says you have to include another affidavit saying that the signatures on the petitions were produced lawfully and within the prescribed times. I would anticipate the SOS Office will have the new forms available, along with a notary to vouch them, during the filing period. Many court houses may not know about the law though, so I would create a form from the wording on page two and sign it in front of a notary just in case.


That wraps up what it takes to file for public office. Running and winning is another question. If you want to help someone get elected and want help from Neighbors on the process, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Document links:
Arkansas Secretary of State's Candidate Handbook "Running for Public Office". This is the key publication.

Find the district lines of a particular state legislative district.

Election Dates Calendar for 2016.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Ten Worst Bills that Became Law in the 2015 Regular Session

The Worst Legislation of 2015

In years past we have had a list of "Worst Legislators" to go with our list of "Ten  Best Legislators." This year we are going to change it up some on the "Worst" side. So many legislators were so disappointing that it probably would not be fair to the readers or the legislators to narrow it down to the worst ten legislators.

Instead, we decided to list the ten worst bills that became law in the regular session. That way instead of making it personal and saying "X is a terrible legislator" we can say "here is a bill that most of the legislators voted for, see if you agree with us that this is a bad bill..."  This will also allow readers to look at the votes. I think some of you will be surprised at the bills that "your" legislator voted for. (Note: The special session had its own terrible bills and deserves separate coverage.)

Members of the panel were particularly down on bills which were misleading in nature. This is a natural consequence of the tiresome series of deceptions which members of the legislature have perpetrated in recent years, such as the claims that the "Private Option" was "not Medicaid Expansion" and "the furthest thing from Obamacare", as well as Referred Amendment 3 from 2014. That last one described itself as an "Ethics Reform" bill which would "Establish Term Limits" when in fact it greatly weakened existing term limits laws and left mile-wide loop-holes for the unethical behavior it purported to stop to continue. The bottom line is, while they can fool some of the people most of the time, we are not fooled and are increasingly repulsed by the dishonesty.

The Ten Worst Bills that Became Law in the 2015 Regular Session

1. SB 967 Senator Jon Woods (R) Springdale and Rep. Warwick Sabin (D) Little Rock

This bill makes it essentially impossible for the ethics commission to catch anyone taking bribes, since if they do get caught, the new law says if they just give the money back within 30 days the Ethics Commission is powerless to sanction them. Yes, its that bad.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?
House    Senate


2. SB 96:  Senator Jim Hendren (R) Gravette and Rep. Joe Farrar (R) Austin.

The fake bill to "end the Private Option" and reverse Medicaid Expansion under Obamacare in Arkansas. It was sold as a way to end Medicaid expansion, but Conduit for Action summed this bill up as "Medicaid Expansion Continues." The "Private Option" was built on temporary waivers from the Obama Administration that would route the Medicaid expansion money through an extra set of private hands. Those waivers were always set to expire at the end of 2016 so "ending" the PO when it was set to end anyway was meaningless.  The bill then pretends to obligate a future legislature to end the underlying Medicaid expansion- which is of course also meaningless because the acts of a previous legislature don't bind future legislatures.

The rest of the bill, the heart of it really, establishes a panel picked by those who saddled us with the "Private" Option in the first place to find a way to tweak and re-brand it so that the same basic Obamacare program lives on with another name. The "Private" Option has been discredited, but even if it had not been the fact is that neither the state nor the federal government has the money to sustain this program. The panel was incensed at the continued deception used to try and keep alive a bad idea that must fail anyway once our credit runs out.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?
House  Senate


3. HB 1402 Matthew Shepherd (R) El Dorado.

Exempts capital gains of over 10 million dollars from capital gains taxes. It is just not right. It's not right that when your mom and dad sell their home to downsize for retirement that they have to pay a higher rate on state capital gains taxes than Walton billionaires do when they harvest a $100,000,000 dollar gain on stocks or property. I have heard the argument made that the big boys can make the moves to evade the tax if we don't give them a lower rate. It is still wrong.

The right answer is to give everyone a lower rate so that its not worth the trouble to evade them and your mom and dad have more for retirement. But to really reduce taxes it is necessary to reduce government spending, and few in the legislature seem willing to do that anymore. This bill means that once you get through all of the shell games, the real reduction in taxes in the Hutchinson tax program goes to those who obtain capital gains well in excess of ten million dollars. The income tax cut passed this session, which may or may not actually happen starting next fiscal year, is largely funded by increases in capital gains tax rates on that same group of people (middle and upper middle class). It is a disgraceful tax policy which confirms every negative stereotype about the Republican Party.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?
House  Senate


4. SB 810 Senator Joyce Elliot (D) Little Rock and Rep. Mary Broadway (D) Paragould –

DHS must to investigate calls of “educational neglect” from an anonymous hotline even if they have not gone through due process. The issue of children being taken from their homes and families being harassed by DHS for not living a life that meets all the conditions on a government check list is an explosive one. Even if the children are not taken, just getting a visit from DHS and being subjected to their demands and inspections can be disruptive, and even damaging for a family. That's why it should only be done when there is probable cause of real harm occurring. Due process is supposed to be among the government recognized rights anyway, but government is increasingly reneging on its agreement with The People. This bill is another example of that.

All the legislators who claimed to be "conservative" should have known better than to vote for a bill sponsored by Elliot. I am not saying that she can't have a good idea, just that when Elliot is the sponsor of a bill it already has two strikes against it, the third pitch is on the way, and the batter forgot to bring their bat.

How did your legislator vote on these bills?


5. SB 975  Senator Jeremy Hutchinson (R) Little Rock and Rep. Bob Ballinger (R) Hindsville

The “religious freedom” bill that overall goes backwards on “religious freedom”, to the extent it does anything, and mirrored a federal measure so worthless that even Obama supported. Even more disgusting was the speed with which the Governor and the Legislature hopped to it when Wal-Mart called. They did not want the originally proposed "religious freedom" bill which contained a provision which might have actually protected religions freedom. The Governor and the legislature then fell all over themselves pulling the original bill and substituting this facade. For the long version of the story see this. Jeremy Hutchinson later admitted he sponsored the bill because of “cowardice.”  It was actually brave of him to admit it, but it was still a fake bill and we are furious with fake, and the way it went down.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?
House  Senate


6. SB 101  Sponsored by ‘Joint Budget Committee''( How is that for evasion of responsibility?).

This was the bill which funded the "Private" Option- i.e. Obamacare in Arkansas. What makes it particularly galling is that only 25% of either chamber could have stopped this bill because appropriations bills require a 3/4th majority. Surely the state founders put such a measure in our constitution for exactly such an occasion as this- to block a massive spending bill opposed by most of the voters but supported by powerful lobbies. Blocking it would have forced the rest of them back to the table to negotiate a compromise, or maybe even do what most of them ran on- ending Obamacare in Arkansas. Of course that is not a tactic which should be used by a party interested in growing government, and that's both of them now so the tactic goes unused.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?


7. SB 343  Another one by Governor Hutchinson's nephew, Senator Jim Hendren (R) Gravette

The fake bill to “eliminate” the Obamacare Exchange which took the steam out of the strong bill to do so. It allowed politicians to claim they voted against finishing setting up an Obamacare Exchange while actually voting for a bill which would allow the opposite. Don't be fooled by the double-talk, Mary Bentley's bill on the subject was the real "End the Exchange" bill, this was a fake one to provide cover while the kept it going. Details here.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?


8. SB 681 Senator Alan Clark (R) Lonsdale

The bill weakens requirements for Education Commissioner so political appointee and Common Core supporter Johnny Key could get the job.  Why is Key so indispensable that the law had to be changed to accommodate his lack of qualifications? I don't know, but he is on the wrong side of two major heads of the same Education Hydra- Workforce Education and Common Core.

How did your legislator vote on this bill?


9. SB 891 Senator Jane English (R) Little Rock

Work Force education is Socialism. It is a Planned Economy with respect to labor inputs, and it will misallocate resources just like planned economies always do (detailed rant here). It is not being sold as that, because even though planned economies always fail, they do succeed in redirecting resources to those closest to the central planners. Beyond that though, this bill reminds us of Senator English directing the path of her bribe money.  Maybe it is her nerve in directing the spending of this money so soon after she took an open bribe, in the form of money for this program, to change her vote on the PO that bothers me.

How did your legislators vote on this bill?
House Senate


10. SB 956 Senator David Sanders (R) Little Rock, again.

The bill had some changes that made it less repulsive, but that was not Sander's idea! He called it "The Health Care Transparency Act”. In Sanders-speak, “transparency” means the government sets up an Orwellian health data collection system so they can know more about you, not you knowing more about them. This is not the public's real need for transparency in medical care. The need for transparency in medical care is for consumers to be able to easily get pricing information from medical providers before treatment so they can comparison shop based on price like they do with any other product. Of course, that is pointless under the socialized medicine plan even the Republicans seem to be pushing us all toward.

How did your legislators vote on this bill? 


Wildcard: One we suspect belongs on the list but do not yet know how to rate-

HB 1665 by Charlie Collins (R) Fayetteville. If what we fear is right, this bill will result in a substantial increase in utility rates for homeowners and small business in order to finance a rate cut for the largest corporate users and pay larger dividends to stock holders who were already doing OK relative to the low rates on bonds and CDs (which is a comparable investment to utilities). Or maybe it won't do much of anything. Time will tell.

How did your legislators vote on this bill?
Senate: Unanimous

The worst bill which failed to become law:

Panelists were asked to select bad bills that actually became law- with one wildcard. Our panelists were allowed to pick one bill to put on the "worst" list that did not become law. The hands-down winner of that one was HB 1006 from the regular session. This bill actually passed the house (see vote) but was stopped in a Senate Committee in large part due to the legislator who was #1 on our "Ten Best Legislators" list- Senator Bryan King of Green Forest.

Why was the bill rated so awful? It would take half an hour to begin to describe it all, and if you have that half an hour, here it is in detail. The bill was a particularly bad way to bring about what is, with our present Congress, a particularly bad idea- an Article V convention to propose amendments to the federal constitution.

 I know some people are keen on an Article V Convention to propose amendments. I and the rest of the panel are strongly opposed to giving today's ruling class, and that would be who would be running the thing, a chance to re-write the constitution. If the problem is that they are ignoring the Constitution that we have, then amending it can't be the answer.

Still, not all proposals to amend the constitution are the same. This one was the worst of the bunch and plenty of people who are open to an Article V convention could find a lot not to like about this particular approach to it. Again, listen here for details, but the gist of it is, the plan for a compact is unworkable without the approval of Congress anyway, and the so-called "balanced budget amendment" would not be a catalyst for a balanced budget so much as it would be a catalyst for a change in the tax code to something highly favorable to global corporations at the expense of what is left of the American middle class. Its a tax change bill posing as a balanced budget bill.

I know that many folks out there are favorable to what they call a "fair tax", but even if they back the policy honest people should be against packing into an amendment to the constitution that claims it is about balancing the budget, not changing the tax code. In addition, the so-called "Fair Tax" is not all its cracked up to be (hear this for details) and the version in the amendment was one of the worst forms of so-called "fair tax". It was a retail sales tax that would have allowed corporations that have been outsourcing production from decades to bring all of their stored-up foreign profits home without paying a penny of tax on it while crushing Americans on fixed incomes or with limited ability to increase their income.



I have no idea what brings these legislators, who seem so normal and even pleasant in person, to vote for all of this terribly immoral legislation, and then to hold it up to be something other than what it is. They don't seem like villains, yet they act like them. I am reminded (in a very small way, the bills were bad but there is no comparing the two in terms of degree of evil) of the shock writer Hannah Arendt experienced watching the Adolph Eichmann trial.  I am not comparing the legislators to Eichmann, but rather my reaction to Arendt's on witnessing a person who seems urbane and "OK" embracing something very wrong. Eichmann embraced the genocide which he helped carry out. When she went to his trial she expected to see a monster. But he appeared to be a normal, sane human being who simply chose to embrace evil. Seeing this terrified her even more than seeing the monster she expected, because it showed how even people we might think of as civilized and normal can chose to follow the darkest of paths.

What to do? The human evil part has no cure other than repentance. We have to pray for revival, one that is not just a "church thing" but one which renews one soul at a time our whole sick culture. For the broken system part, our view is that the system is so rotten that it is time to bypass the national party system altogether and revert to self-government. Most Americans have no idea what that means any more, even though it is our heritage and our birthright. That means replacing most of these legislators, those who close their hearts to repentance, with independents that we recruit and support through local citizens groups which you form for that purpose.

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

Friday, June 05, 2015

I Salute Nate Bell

Readers of these columns, and of my blog before that will know that I have long dueled with State Representative Nate Bell of Mena over various policy issues. I am even involved in a lawsuit against the State of Arkansas because of a bill pushed by Bell. The bill put more restrictions on people who run for office as an Independent compared to running for public office as a member of one of the two terminally corrupt DC-based and globally funded parties which have so mismanaged America. I even donated $500 of our family's hard-earned money to one of Bell's opponents last go-round- Libertarian (more classical liberal really) candidate Marc Rosson.
It was not always this way. Early on in Bell's career he made my blog's "Top Ten" list. The panel of activists doing the rating, including me, admired his courage but gave this warning "If there was a place he could improve, it would be responding to criticism with grace equal to the panache he displays when going after the bad bills."  He did not get better though, he got worse. And that started a long feud between us. I wrote a number of columns calling him on one thing or another. All the while, I maintained that I was not attacking the man, but the behavior. In my mind the problem was his positions on the issues and his behavior rather than a personal grudge.  I said that if he ever did the right thing he would have nothing but praise from me.
Recently Nate Bell resigned from the Republican saying he believes he can best represent his west Arkansas district and his values as an an Independent. At first, I was incredulous. This was the guy whose bills were laying more burdens on independents. This was a guy who carried a lot of water for the state GOP. As a member of Neighbors, a group who encouraged people to run for office outside the two-party system, did I even want this? I suspected his motives. Privately, I mocked his choice.
I now realize that I was getting uncomfortably close to making it personal, instead of about principle. Nate Bell is only wrong when he is wrong, he is not wrong because he is Nate Bell. Indeed on this one, and its a big one, he is right. His act forced me to look at myself and my claim that when he does wrong I would call him on it, and when he does well I will praise him for it. Did I mean it?
The truth is, on this one, he was right. He can best represent his district and values as an independent, especially on the issue which was the final straw. He objected to the primary season being moved up at the behest of the national Republican party and a man who has no chance to be President- Floridian book-seller Mike Huckabee. For local candidates, especially ones thinking of challenging incumbents, it is a disruptive change. The legislature is supposed to represent the folks back home, not their national party. Yet here was a blatant example of a change being made, not because the folks back home demanded it- indeed it will be very disruptive for a lot of them, but rather because the national party wanted Arkansas to align its primary with the Republican primary in other states.
Thinking back, I wonder if much of Bell's belligerence, particularly when he was carrying water for the GOP and his measures which discriminated against independent candidates, were signs of a man wrestling with his conscience.  Sometimes that can look a lot more openly offensive than a man who has no conscience to struggle with. You may know the type- calmly and coolly explaining why they just have to do the wrong thing. They have no inner-conflict with cronyism to boil over into external turmoil.
That fits the pattern I see with some of my Republican friends who are struggling against the party establishment and are adamantly opposed to what I am doing with Neighbors. Meanwhile, establishment figures may join in the same actions, but they do so without emotion. They are simply logically pursuing their best interests, which is serving the higher-ups in their national party rather than folks back home. The ones struggling with their conscience in this course of action are lashing out and blaming the victims as a coping mechanism. The real bad guys don't need a coping mechanism because they have no guilt to cope with.
Whatever the reason, Nate Bell was right to do what he did, and I salute him for it. What he said about being able to best represent his district as an independent was a true statement and a conclusion so obviously true that I figured some elected official would come to it someday. I am just shocked that he was the first one to reach it rather than one of those with whom I have cordial relations. This is why I must stop, swallow hard, and salute Nate Bell for the choice he made.