Politics

Arkansas politics is wild and woolly. From the split decision to secede from the United States to the Brooks-Baxter War to the current fit over a proposed 10 Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, Arkansas politicians have found just about every reason not to get along — and no reason yet not to get through it.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Reports this week from Supreme Court "Special Masters" split the fortunes of two popular ballot measures set to go before voters Nov. 6. 

The two voter-initiated proposals turned in the required number of petition signatures this summer to qualify for the midterm election ballot.

Jayaprakash Veeramreddy / KASU

Activists on both sides of tort reform say they’ll proceed with their voter education campaigns despite a judge’s ruling stated that so-called Issue One is not qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas.

At a Northeast Arkansas Political Animals forum held at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, speakers debated the merits of caps limiting medical malpractice awards and said the conversation will continue, despite Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s ruling on Sept. 6 that the proposed amendment does not meet a “single-subject test.” 

That ruling is being challenged by Arkansans for Jobs and Justice.

Daniel Breen / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Wednesday released her full personnel file from her time at the state Department of Human Services, two days after a judge ordered the files opened.

In a conference with reporters Wednesday, Rutledge produced the eight previously unreleased pages of her file regarding work performance and filing for unemployment benefits.

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.

Arkansas Board of Apportionment

On a gray afternoon, Nick Wiench walks to the University of Central Arkansas's Torreyson Library. He studies philosophy and film, not political science, but he's concerned about an easily-overlooked part of the electoral system.

"I know gerrymandering is the thing where they split up basically the districts almost by Republican and Democrat to try and get the most votes into their own political party. It's kind of biased, in a way… but I'm not sure exactly how we can fix it," Wiench said. "It's not exactly a smooth thing that we can do."

Daniel Breen / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's departure from the state Department of Human Services more than a decade ago is the subject of a new lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the state Democratic Party.

The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of party spokesman Reed Brewer, alleges the Department of Human Services violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding parts of Rutledge's personnel file during her time as a staff attorney at the department.

Arkansas Department of Transportation

A final public meeting on plans to expand a 6.7 mile stretch of Interstate 30 in Little Rock took place Thursday evening in North Little Rock. The Arkansas Department of Transportation presented an environmental assessment on the project, which would run through the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The environmental assessment is a nearly 4,000 page report on the proposal to expand I-30 to 10 lanes. Department spokesman Danny Straessle says the $630 million project is necessary to fix unsafe ramps downtown.

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.

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.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas is at the forefront of a national experiment to see whether requiring work for health care coverage helps lift people out of poverty.
 
Starting next month, many who are on the state’s low-income health care program, Arkansas Works, must show they are working, volunteering, in school, or getting job training for at least 80 hours each month. The Arkansas Department of Human Services estimates 42,000 Arkansans will be impacted.

Bill To Limit Challenges To Hog Farms Awaits Final Vote

Mar 14, 2018
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A bill is up for vote by the general assembly  that would protect hog farmers from lawsuits for certain environmental issues once their waste permits are approved.

The legislation was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly today, and it's meant to reassure hog farmers as well as the banks who lend them money.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers have a couple more weeks in this year’s budgeting session to re-approve funding for Arkansas Works, the state’s healthcare program for low-income people. Yet, a handful of state senators and their votes to continue the program remain on the fence.

Arkansas Works  covers about 285,564 low-income people. It also brings in federal dollars that are important to the state budget. The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it would cost the state $148.9 million extra in fiscal year 2019 to continue serving the program’s population without the federal match from Arkansas Works.

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.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Eric Westcott is the manager of Central Rental and Supply, a construction equipment company that sits about three miles from Premium Protein Products, a meat rendering plant that turns animal carcasses into pet food.  

“Imagine the most disgusting smell you’ve ever smelled in your life and then add the heat, and that’s what we deal with here in Russellville,” he said.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In Brinkley, halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, Sandra Kemmer is volunteering in a local cafe to promote the area’s economy by giving out rice products on metal trays.

“Hey ya’ll. You can have some cookies when you come back; it’s rice month,” she tells a couple passing by her stand.

Agriculture is the center of life here, but for decades rural towns like Brinkley have been dwindling and with them a linchpin of daily life, the town newspaper.

Jacqueline Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin in early June pronounced the American veterans health care system to be in “critical condition.”  One northwest Arkansas VA hospital, however, appears to be thriving, and that prompted U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (R-3rd District) to invite Shulkin to take a look.

After an early morning tour of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville Monday, Shulkin, at a press conference on the grounds, characterized the forested campus facility as extraordinary.  “It is a five-star facility. That means it is the very top of performance across the country in VA’s.” 

Tyson Foods

Springdale-based Tyson Foods has confirmed that one of the victims of a shooting incident in Alexandria, Virginia this morning is Matt Mika, its Director of Government Relations.  The attack also injured Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson), a Congressional aide and two Capitol police officers.

Mika is hospitalized in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, according to his friend, former Michigan Congressman David Palsrok.  Mika's parents also released a statement confirming that he is in critical condition as he undergoes surgery for multiple gunshot wounds.  

They are on their way from East Lansing, Michigan to Washington DC to be with their son.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Echo Soza lives at Our House, a homeless shelter for the working poor in Little Rock. The 47-year-old housekeeper was uninsured a few years ago when she had a stroke.    

“I actually was hospitalized and then lost my housing and then came here,” she says.  

Danny Johnston/AP

Democrats in the House and Senate have filed a number of ethics bills, none more than Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis. But the Senate Committee set to evaluate his legislation hasn’t a single Democrat on it, and at least one Republican says he’s not enthusiastic about the amendments.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Following the national election last month the din of news stories about news stories seems to have reached a crescendo. Academics and even online social media sites like Facebook are examining what, if anything, is an appropriate response to “fake” news stories. They’re light on facts, but no less alarming for it.

University of Central Arkansas political scientist Heather Yates studies the input human emotion has on politics. This year Palgrave MacMillan published her most recent book, The Politics of Emotions, Candidates, and Choices, but she’s been researching voter behavior since the 2004 election, focused on emotions and how they influence voters’ choices and even cognition.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Davida Walls never thought she would be teaching high school biology, let alone in the first few months after graduating from college at 22.

“Teaching was not my initial goal. It was kind of an opportunity that just, you know, became available so I took it.”

She is trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse, and plans to apply for a program to train for one or the other this year.

White Christian Nationalist organizers, including two groups operating in Arkansas, are lauding the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.

After the election, Thomas Robb, founder and national director of the Knights Party, a faction of the Ku Klux Klan based in Boone County, issued a press release declaring that the white voting majority has finally spoken.

“I have been saying for a long time there’s been an anger among white middle class working class America,” Robb says, “who’ve been betrayed by the political establishment.”

Thomas Robb and his daughter Rachel Pendergraft  produce an online radio show and quarterly newspaper, host summer Klan camps for both adults and children, and sell KKK memorabilia for income. Robb concedes Trump is not a White Nationalist, but his isolationist political agenda is attractive to the movement.

“His opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, his stance on pro-life, his stand on the Second Amendment, his claim that he’ll destroy ISIS — these are all reasons that everyone should support Donald Trump. He’s altering the political landscape of America.”

SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE

Arkansas voters will decide to legalize medical marijuana November 8th. But medicinal hemp is already available for purchase over-the-counter.

Hemp, like marijuana, contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol, an ingredient in supplements and creams boasting this active ingredient are best sellers at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, says wellness manager, Carrie Hilderbrandt.

“We carry a wide variety of soft gels, liquids, oral applicators, lozenges and topical balms.”

This member-owned cooperative, the only store like it in Arkansas, sells two brands of hemp-based cannabidiol products, one organic and the other conventionally grown, ranging in price from $20 to $70.

Statehouse Standoff Over Education Funding A Matter Of 'Adequacy'

Nov 1, 2016
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Legislators Monday missed a deadline to agree on a plan for education funding increases known as "adequacy."

A 22 year-old Arkansas Supreme Court decision, commonly referred to as "Lake View," requires lawmakers to fund education adequately before other appropriations are taken up. But lawmakers in the education committee were unable to agree about how much of a funding boost to give to schools.

Cou

LITTLE ROCK — Former White House reporter turned White House historian and author Kate Anderson Brower visited the capital city today as the latest Fred K. Darragh Jr. Distinguished Lecturer of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Last Minute Effort Fails To Stop Mental Health Funding Cuts

Oct 3, 2016

Funding cuts for mental health services through Medicaid are taking effect October 1, despite a last-ditch effort at the state legislature Friday to walk back a change that some say could have dire consequences.

The cuts, finalized last week, would limit group therapy length from an hour and a half to an hour and set a cap of 25 counseling visits per year for Medicaid recipients who might otherwise go every week.

The vote to revisit the decision failed to gain two thirds from the Arkansas Legislative Council Friday morning.

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