Bobby Ampezzan

Managing Editor

Bobby Ampezzan 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 curiosity should follow every thing, and that we all should be serious about curiosity. I'm at (501) 569-8489.

 

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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."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol today supporters of ending legal abortion gathered for a rally. Yesterday, another march with very different ralliers called for keeping abortion legal — as well as grooming female political candidates for office, gun control and other liberal aims.

Both marches enjoyed passionate speakers and considerable turnout, but only one enjoyed the presence of the state's most powerful constitutional officeholders, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson down.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s unanimous vote today not to enforce any immediate action following a decision earlier this month to deny C&H Hog Farm an operating permit was a win for the beleaguered and controversial swine operation, but a slight and temporary one.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced on Jan. 11 its decision to deny the permit after more than 21 months. The hog operation has been operating on a lapsed permit until now.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

It’s a small part of Arkansas's overall budget, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed $400 million dollar appropriation for the Department of Health next year got a strong review and a rebuke today by legislators at the capital.

"There are not enough votes to cut" the budget, complained state Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock), "therefore, I’m going to vote for the ER [executive recommendation], in which case the budget gets drafted, and we’ll fight this battle another day."

"Amen, brother," said Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville), Joint Budget Committee co-chairman, after roughly an hour's worth of motions, discussion, voice votes and roll calls.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas’s spending on prisons and community corrections got a lengthy examination before a select committee of the state legislature Wednesday, but no legislator took serious issue with the more than half-billion dollar budget.

The Joint Budget Committee took aim at the 2018 budget for the state’s corrections departments, examining everything from health care and prison farms, to the cost of a phone call behind bars.

“If a guy gets put in prison, not only do we put him down there, we fix it to where he can’t even afford to call his family," said state Rep. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette).

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

 Prompted by the Phoenix scandal three years ago, a team of journalism professors and students at the University of Arkansas took a hard look at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, and they're giving it a good grade.

But the semester-long investigation does highlight two devastating trends surrounding veterans' and their quality of life.

As part of an ongoing collaboration, students and professors in the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism have teamed up with Arkansas Public Media and partner radio station KUAF to publish a series of reports and broadcast the findings.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Bill Essert hasn't lived in Arkansas in years. He's a businessman for an agriculture technology company in Cotati, California — BioTherm.

"What we do, we’re showing two things, the O2 Tube, which is all about dissolved oxygen and enhancing the amount of dissolved oxygen by infusing oxygen into your irrigation water, and the benefits of this is enhancing growth, plant growth, higher yields, less fungus and more yield for the amount of bud as well as higher levels of THC."

His parents still do, though. Live in Arkansas, that is — Conway. 

The Arkansas Public Service Commission can be thankful this season for some very outspoken electricity customers. More than 200, mostly private residents have published comments ahead of a public hearing Nov. 30 on Docket 16-027-R, proposed changes to net metering.

Net metering is a utility industry term. When big electricity providers like Entergy, SWEPCo and the electrical cooperatives send electricity into a home, it's "metered," typically by the kilowatt-hour. The transportation lines between power plants and customers is called the grid. When customers with solar panels or windmills produce more electricity than they consume, they can push electricity back out onto that grid and get credits from the power company. Thus, consumption may be offset by contribution.

C-SPAN

Election night 1992 brought a horde of people to the steps of the Old State House in Little Rock, where Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, along with his wife and daughter, and Tennessee Sen. Al Gore and his family, were waiting. Just after midnight, Nov. 4, the party stepped out onto the portico.

"Gives me goose bumps today just thinking about it," said Jimmy Moses, a downtown Little Rock developer.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Patients awaiting Arkansas's first-in-the-Bible-Belt medical marijuana program will have to demonstrate that other kind of patience.

The agency administering the program has announced that no licenses will be granted this year or perhaps even early next year.

The application period closed Sept. 18 with a surprise, says the Department of Finance and Administration’s Scott Hardin.

OECC

For interested onlookers like Arkansas Energy Office program manager Chet Howland, the filing today by the Net Metering Working Group is a not-unexpected, slight disappointment.

The group is the creation of the Public Service Commission (at the request of the General Assembly) to examine net metering: the practice of pushing the electricity generated by windmills or solar power systems back onto the grid, and getting credit for it from energy utilities.

AR Dept. of Corrections

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today has asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to set the next execution, this after the state made international news for scheduling eight executions in 11 days in April in order to make use of a lethal injection drug set to expire May 1.

Arkansas's three-drug execution protocol calls for midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, in that order. The state's supply of midazolam expired May 1. The state doesn't have any alternative protocol to execute anyone sentenced to death. 

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On a blistering Monday afternoon in July, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. George Hollingsworth sat down with Hot Springs Village Voice managing editor Jeff Meek to talk about the Vietnam War.

"I hope this," Hollingsworth said, meaning Ken Burns' The Vietnam War, and perhaps his own small part here on this set, "could start a national dialogue again about America, not only its tendency to war, but its tendency to govern in a dishonest fashion."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

CLARKSVILLE — Before a gathering of Rotarians enjoying corn on the cob and barbecue pork, inside a cool room at the University of the Ozarks, the state’s former lieutenant governor and the city’s utilities manager explain the prescience of a 20,000-module solar array in 20 slides.

 

It's a roughly $10 million investment, or about what the city itself spends in just eight months for power, since it doesn’t generate any itself, according to the manager, John Lester.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas announced Monday he's pursuing charges against the rapper Finese 2Tymes.

Meanwhile, local authorities are still calling for the community to come forward with information about the Power Ultra Lounge mass shooting Saturday.

On Facebook, Ricky Hampton, aka Finese 2Tymes, posted his condolences for the shooting.

“THE VIOLENCE IS NOT FOR THE CLUB PEOPLE," he wrote Saturday. "WE ALL COME WITH 1 MOTIVE AT THE END OF THE DAY, AND THATS TO HAVE FUN."

C-SPAN

The relationship America's Baby Boomer generation has with marijuana cannot be explained by teenage infatuation, followed by early adulthood ambition, followed finally by later-life acceptance, says Brookings Institution senior fellow John Hudak.

"I think that one of the important things to caution about when thinking about the Baby Boomer generation is that they are often characterized as a bunch of hippies smoking weed and having sex. In reality, marijuana use always was and continued to be something that is done by a small percentage of the population."

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The city of Little Rock and its police force are asking the community for help finding those responsible for a mass shooting downtown today at Power Ultra Lounge, 220 W. 6th St, at about 2 a.m.

At last report, 28 people were injured in the incident, 25 directly from gunfire.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

UPDATE: Police tweeting the number injured is 28 — 25 shot.

Shooting broke out at a late-night club in downtown Little Rock Saturday morning, injuring 28 (earlier, police had numbered the injured at 17).

Footage shot by a patron and uploaded to Facebook captures a spray of gunfire at about 2 a.m. At the end of the video patrons can be heard checking each other for bullet holes. The Little Rock police responded shortly after.

Zhelun Lang / THE DAILY CAMPUS

The state of Arkansas today begins accepting applications for marijuana licenses, both to grow it and sell it commercially. It becomes the first so-called Bible Belt to do so, and the 29th state nationally to have a state-regulated marijuana cultivation and retail industry.

Of course, it’s still a  Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act and illegal under federal law.

On the eve of this Independence Day weekend, Arkansas Public Media offers you this interview of John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Marijuana: A Short History, by managing editor Bobby Ampezzan. 

NATIONAL CENTER FOR LESBIAN RIGHTS

In emphatic language, the Supreme Court of the United States Monday reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court’s lopsided decision to deny non-birth parents in a same-sex marriage a place on their child’s birth certificate.

In a per curiam order, not a decision, in Marisa N. Pavan, et al. v. Nathaniel Smith, the six-member majority further staked out the court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

BOBBY AMPEZZAN / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission meeting veterans might have looked around the board room inside the Alcohol Beverage Control Division last week and wondered where the dreamers went. Gone were the cowboy boots and branded T's, the men (some women, not many) who clearly are interested in marijuana and, if given the chance, the business of growing it and selling it — legally. They were replaced by lawyers and other men and women in suits.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Without any official program, anti-death penalty protesters busied themselves Monday evening with song and prayer. And Twitter.

"'The court reinstituted Marcell Williams' death sentence for procedural reason no more.' What? Hold on, let's figure out what's happening."

Laura Hardy said the thing that’s most gotten under her skin the last couple of weeks of Arkansas executions has been the seemingly gleeful, baiting comments made on Twitter and elsewhere from Arkansas politicians. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

A legal challenge to Monday's planned execution of Jack Jones was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

In an Arkansas Public Media story yesterday reported Jack Jones’ attorney Jeff Rosenzweig objected to the jury in Jones' sentencing. Specifically, they filled out paperwork to show contradictory findings about whether there were valid reasons, or mitigating factors, to avoid a death penalty sentence.

His attorney Jeff Rosenzweig argued precedent in Arkansas is to grant re-sentencing when there’s been such an error.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkanas Public Media

Reporters, as a rule, don't like waiting or wondering. For those covering Arkansas's executions, the night begins around dinner time and, at least this week, didn't end until after midnight, and as late as 11:00 no one knew what exactly would happen.  With his death warrant set to expire at midnight, Ledell Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56pm from the three-drug lethal injection cocktail that had been administered some twelve minutes earlier.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas has executed Ledell Lee, who was convicted of murdering a woman in 1993.  The execution came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the lethal injection.  Bobby Amepezzan covered the story from the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.  This story aired on Morning Edition on April 21.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

While a small group of local protesters gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock Monday night, a larger group of international journalists convened death penalty coverage from within the visitation center inside the fenced perimeter of Cummins Prison.

 In February the state announced it would execute eight death row inmates in pairs between Monday and April 27. Friday, the first, Bruce Ward, was given a temporary reprieve, leaving Don Davis, but on Monday afternoon the state Supreme Court issued a stay pending an independent psychological evaluation. Still, the state went ahead with its plan, had even brought the victim’s family and witnesses to the prison’s execution facility, when at the 11th hour the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s appeal. The stay held.

Among the television reporters from around the state and print guys from the Associated Press and the New York Times was the U.S. correspondent from Svenska Dagbladet in Stockholm, documentary teams from the BBC and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, a correspondent from Al Jazeera English and another from the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Night Of The Stay

Apr 18, 2017
Michael Hibblen / KUAR

I've always wanted to be picked. Who doesn't? Little League, passing out papers, taste tester of Meemaw's pasta sauce. So when it came to filling the last of three media witness slots at the Arkansas Department of Correction's first execution in 12 years, I threw my name in the hat. 'Maybe I get picked,' I thought, with some small amount of delight not unlike making your Mega Millions pick.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Easter morning Arkansas politicians shared their faith with Twitter followers. Have a blessed Easter, He is risen, went a Arkansas House Majority account tweet that was dutifully retweeted by some members of the House Republican majority. 

Tonally it was a shift from the day before, and before the day was over it would shift again, back to the big news of the weekend, two judges' stays of Arkansas's scheduled executions set to begin today. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

  

Monday the state begins executing death row inmates. Seven in all. But today, as Christians everywhere marked the Passion of Jesus, an anti-Death Penalty throng converged on the steps of the Capitol.

 

Little Rock Diocesan Bishop Anthony Taylor reminded the crowd — those who stood in judgment of Jesus were pretty sure he deserved to die. For that matter, Moses too. He’d murdered an Egyptian.

 

"If God could use a murderer to set his people free and lead them to the promised land, then there is hope for everyone."

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