Bobby Ampezzan

Managing Editor

Bobby Ampezzan (Bobby@ArkansasPublicMedia.org, (501) 569-8489) is a native of Detroit who holds degrees from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). He's written for The Guardian newspaper and Oxford American magazine and was a longtime staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself: "I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful." Meanwhile, his faith in public radio and television stems from the unifying philosophy that not everything is serious, but we should be serious about curiosity because curiosity impels discovery.

 

Ways to Connect

The real "I-40 showdown" between the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and the University of Central Arkansas is for students not student-athletes or fanbases.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's press conference last month featured representatives of both universities (separated by about 30 miles along Interstate 40) announcing the scheduling of a battery of athletic contests between the small NCAA Division I athletic programs.

The Catholic prelate for Arkansas says he isn’t aware of any recent allegations of clerical sex abuse in the state, at least since the Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

That's a set of procedures for addressing allegations of abuse against priests, and guidelines for reconciliation and prevention of future abuse written and adopted in 2002.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The news of Steven Dishman’s arrest last summer invited comparisons to a well-known Hollywood fiction, that of Dr. Richard Kimble, “The Fugitive,” a man fingered for the monstrous murder of his wife who borrows time as an escapee to hunt the real killer.

“He’s been on the run for 32 years, basically playing the old Richard Kimble part,” says lifelong friend Dennis Dablemont of Springdale, where Dishman was raised. “Just eluding the police, and he’s right underneath their noses.”

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A crowd of perhaps 200 supporters, protesters and counter-protesters gathered Thursday in front of the Arkansas Capitol for the unveiling of the much-publicized Baphomet statue.

The statue is the showpiece of a group calling itself The Satanic Temple. It’s reportedly about 8 feet tall and bronze. Baphomet is a pagan or occult idol; this one is pictured seated before a little boy and a little girl bearing curious, eager expressions.

Jessica Dziurkowski with daughter Hannah, and Holly Parker with son Atlas
Bobby Ampezzan/Arkansas Public Media

For several generations, new mothers who cannot breastfeed had a ready, if not ideal, replacement — infant formula. Today, many of these mothers have another option — others' breast milk.

Arkansas Public Media spent many hours and days with new moms on the frontier of this sometimes charitable, sometimes commercial, community.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Holly Parker, 38, does not cover up when she breastfeeds her son Atlas, 1. In fact, he comes and goes as one does a drinking fountain, not a dinner table.

It's convenient for Parker to pull down one side of her loose-collared shirt. As for the exposure, "it helps that I don't have large breasts."

The North Little Rock high-risk obstetrics nurse and lactation counselor is evangelistic about breastfeeding. She fed her oldest, Story, from the breast until she was nearly 4.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A growing number of Arkansas moms who can't breastfeed are finding milk donors in online communities. Some are turning to online classifieds, where not all of the buyers are new moms.

In a Chick-fil-A parking lot in Maumelle, 30-year-old Mary Catherine Fortier hands Glenda Nielsen, 27, more than $500 for about 1,500 ounces of Nielsen's breast milk.

JERRIKA LONGUEVILLE


Jerrika Longueville is a 28-year-old mother of two in Fayetteville who'd "always known I was planning to breastfeed — never crossed my mind I wouldn't be able to."
 

But Longueville has hypoplasia of the mammary glands. She doesn't have all the glandular tissue needed to produce sufficient milk.

So Longueville has become pretty savvy at finding donated breast milk on social media pages, like the Facebook-based group pages for Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The 91st General Assembly of 2017, in a decision that brought Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp over to the old Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol — now the scene of Senate committee meetings — decided to put to voters this November a big cap on lawsuit awards as well as a legislative power grab.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

As it approaches 100 degrees, the roofline of Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack shades about 2 feet of the sidewalk along President Clinton Avenue in downtown Little Rock.

That's where canvasser Cynthia Ford sets up. She's carrying signature rolls for three ballot items.

UA

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks (47-19) meet the Oregon State Beavers (53-11) Monday night in the finals of the College World Series.

The game, broadcast on ESPN and the Razorbacks Sports Network, begins at 6 p.m. barring weather delays.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The Arkansas Supreme Court today overturned a lower court's ruling, and thus, an appointed commission and a state agency may resume rollout of the state's medical marijuana program, stalled since March.

But the court's majority opinion hewed closely to a procedural consideration, and its chief justice appears to be cautioning the Medical Marijuana Commission to re-evaluate its procedures.

The whole scene may end up back in court before long, says one lawyer close to the process.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In Pine Bluff, Levon Lee sits at a table in his garage, the centerpiece of which is a decorative tin filled with marijuana cigarettes. “Matter of fact,” he says, toward the end of an afternoon, “it’s time for me to get to one now. I ain’t had me one all day!”

Lee is one of many Arkansans who would qualify for the state’s legal medical marijuana program but isn't waiting for legal marijuana. In his case, he flies to southern California, to where he had been legally acquiring medical marijuana through a doctor before that state made all marijuana legal Jan. 1. He wouldn’t say how that supply makes its way to his tabletop tin.

Jack Cross in Eureka Springs is a medical marijuana patient in Illinois, but he lives in Eureka Springs.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Today the state Supreme Court takes up the matter of the state’s medical marijuana program, stalled since March. If it upholds Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s decision nullifying the Medical Marijuana Commission’s top five picks for marijuana growing licenses — indeed the very selection process the Commission used — it could push the forecast for available medical marijuana into 2019.

That would mean money out of the pockets of many early investors such as entrepreneur Brian Teeter.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansans seeking a medical abortion with the aid of mifepristone or misoprostol will have to find them in another state.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week not to hear an appeal from Planned Parenthood paves the way for Act 577 of 2015, and conservatives in the state are applauding the court’s decision.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction. Arkansas is a pro-life state, and we will continue to be so,” says state Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), president of the Arkansas Right to Life board.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson won his Republican Party primary with room to spare Tuesday, beating challenger Jan Morgan by a margin of more than two-to-one.

Likewise, roughly 200,000 Arkansans chose a GOP ballot — almost twice the number who voted in the Democratic primary.  

Hutchinson didn’t extend any appreciation to his opponent in his election night speech or so much as mention her by name. And for her part, Morgan said afterward she would maintain her campaign promise and not endorse her party's nominee in the general election.

Just minutes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Pulaski County Circuit Court, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked a federal court to take up a lawsuit against her that alleges she’s obstructing ballot initiatives.

It did, and the hearing was postponed.

In a statement afterward, her office said the attorney general “removed this case to federal court because the plaintiffs asserted claims under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the federal court is the proper forum to hear the case."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is expected to appear in court Friday before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. She’s being sued by Alex Gray, a lawyer representing two ballot measure groups, who says she’s not letting the state’s voter-initiated referendum process work.

“Our claim is that the specific subsection the attorney general is using to reject what is now 70 of 70 proposed ballot measures, that provision is unconstitutional,” Gray says.

Actually, another subsection of Article 5, Section 1 of the state constitution — subsection B — allows for the attorney general to rewrite ballot language in anticipation of certification. Rutledge has not done that, Gray alleges in the suit.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The state's two leading constitutional office holders — Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge — have had very different springs. Both face re-election contests in November, but only one has a GOP primary challenge May 22.

That may explain why he was on his knees, hands cupping an amphibian, waiting for the start of a toad race at the annual Toad Suck Daze in Conway.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

New data from Arkansas's investor-owned utilities and electrical cooperatives offers evidence that the number of private solar and wind electricity generators is surging. Whether that's fair market forces or a looming, potentially gloomy regulatory decision on rates is up for debate.

Solar power generators, also known as "net metering customers," jumped 56 percent in 2017, from 632 to 988. That's a fraction of the 1.4 million customers in the state who's rates are set by an agency called the Public Service Commission. 

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When it comes to ballot initiatives, David Couch is a numbers man: for instance, 58 in 2020.

In early March Couch, who's authored or campaigned for more than 20 ballot initiatives, told those gathered at a Rotary Club 99 luncheon that he has ballot language all ready for a personal use or "recreational" marijuana amendment. It's just sitting on his computer.

He just needs to see the question poll at or above 58 percent in Arkansas. Then he will introduce it — the next available presidential election. 

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The Arkansas Public Service Commission is expected to close a docket soon that could substantially lower a cash incentive for Arkansans (and Arkansas companies) who invest in solar and wind energy production.

The commission is the representative authority over investor-owned utilities, sanctioned monopolies. The commission can affect utility rates — that is, bills. The docket’s been open for three years.

At issue is something called “net metering,” the act of sending electricity (generated by solar power system or windmill) out onto the grid from home or business and getting bill credits from the electrical utility. Created by Act 1781 of 2001, Arkansas’s net metering rate structure currently is 1-to-1. 

Anne Cusack / LA TIMES via GETTY IMAGES

Friday is the deadline for two sides to file arguments with the Arkansas Public Service Commission, the state's three-member panel that sets usage and administrative rates for most utilities in the state.

At issue is "distributed energy generation" — private, typically small solar and wind power systems in the state — and the state's net metering program, whereby those systems get credits worth the full retail rate for every kilowatt-hour they export onto the electrical grid.

Utility companies want to make those credits much smaller. Solar power investors, both private and corporate, as well as advocacy groups like Audubon Arkansas and the Sierra Club that celebrate renewable energy, want further examination of the issue (and no immediate change in rates).

Creative Commons

Arkansas school students are expected to join thousands around the country March 14 in a national school walkout at 10 a.m. (local time). Billed as “Enough,” the demonstration is a coordinated public response to the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It’s expected to last 17 minutes — one for each victim.

In Fayetteville, school officials are helping students coordinate a walkout at 10 a.m., though a district document also recognizes that some students have obtained a permit from the city to march on the Washington Count Courthouse — a demonstration the district has gently warned against.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) cast the decisive 27th vote in favor of granting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appropriation to the Department of Human Services funding the state's health care coverage for low-income Arkansans called Arkansas Works. 

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote, and then on to Hutchinson, who's expected to sign it.

CSPAN

Days after Arkansas's biennial fiscal session began last month the CSPAN bus rolled into Little Rock, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson hopped aboard. The very first question moderator John McArdle put to Hutchinson was about a balanced budget — specifically, does Arkansas have one?

"Oh, absolutely. We don’t have a deficit in this state. It’s mandated by the [state] constitution to have a balanced budget, which means that we forecast the revenues, then we spend according to that forecast, and if during the course of a year, we don’t meet forecast then we reduce spending. ... We call it the 'Revenue Stabilization' law, which is a toggle, if you will, but it makes us control spending, reduce spending as needed, to make sure it mirrors our revenue picture.  There’s a few things the federal government could learn from this."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration announces its five highest scoring applicants to own and operate a marijuana cultivation facility for the state's germinating medical marijuana industry, it will be a surprise to the Medical Marijuana Commission who scored the 95 applicants.

"These 95 applications were scored individually by each commissioner. They were then brought back to the Alcoholic Beverage Control office [and] turned in individually; so at this point the commissioners are also going to learn along with everyone else those top five scores," Scott Hardin, spokesman for the department, said Monday.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Secretary of State Mark Martin banged a gavel officially opening the one-week filing period to run for office in Arkansas this year. The first candidate to file was state Treasurer Dennis Milligan, and within minutes he was followed by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson — all seeking second terms.

Nationally, politicos and pundits are predicting victory for Democrats in this the first midterm election of the Donald Trump presidency. The president's approval ratings to date have been lower than any candidate since Gallup began surveying voters' opinion, and Democrats won high-profile  gubernatorial and special elections last year, including a surprise upset in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama.

Governor's Office / You Tube

Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will likely see most of his approximately $5.6 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2018-19 adopted without changes. It goes to the House of Representatives this week, where three in four voting members are Republican, and the Senate, with its strong Republican majority.

"I created a balanced budget that actually has a $64 million surplus that funds education, the priority needs of our state," Hutchinson said. "I'm hoping the legislature will greet that well, and will pass that, and as I give the State of the State address" today, "that'll be something I emphasize."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

There was a time when Anthony Freeman wanted to be a Razorback. Arkansas’s original land-grant university was the very picture of "college" he held in his mind. He visited and applied and, he says, got in.

That's as far as it got.

A North Pulaski High running back and a Christian youth minister, Freeman had worked to become an Academic Allstar, a best-of-the-best, at the state’s second-biggest community college, Pulaski Technical College (now UA-Pulaski Tech), and he was preparing himself to be an architecture major, a degree field with comparatively few African Americans.

"My mind was set on UA. My heart was set on UA. I'm going to get to UA."

Pages