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.

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.

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.

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.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

University of Arkansas Medical Sciences sonography student Debra Howell is a nontraditional 35-year-old whose father came from Belize. She has one more year to finish her bachelor’s degree. In addition to a 40-hour a week residency, Howell must find time to study — and care for her kids. She works 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays as an X-ray technician.

Arkansas’s Legislature took a step toward its pledge to trim $835 million from the state’s Medicaid budget over five years today when it voted to limit group therapy for about 10,000 low-income Arkansans from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, 25 times a year.

With virtually no notice from the Arkansas Health Department and no word from the media, legislators reversed direction last month and renewed the state’s contract with Denver-based National Jewish Health and its 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline for smokers.

A contract worth more than $1.8 million was reviewed by a Legislative Council subcommittee on Aug. 16 and accepted by the entire council three days later. The new expiration is June 30, but state Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) says the end is nearer than that.

Pride Day at American Legion Post 114 in Batesville looked a lot like a Tuesday. By mid-afternoon a handful of regulars sat at the bar sipping cold beer and ice water, telling lawyer jokes and staring absently at a Law and Order episode.

Arkansas's governor and attorney general went to bat for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by smacking  Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton back-to-back Tuesday night in prime-time speaking slots at the Republican National Convention.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told delegates Tuesday night that electing Clinton after President Barack Obama's eight years in office would "double your trouble."

Governor Signs Arkansas Highway Plan Into Law

Jun 23, 2016

The Arkansas Legislature finished up a three-day special session Monday that concluded with Governor Asa Hutchinson signing a $50 million state highway funding appropriation that was initially rejected by the Senate’s transportation committee.

The Department of Human Services director today announced the roll out of a new command structure, and with it, a number of raises for a handful of its directors.

At the 104th commencement for Central High School, more than 600 graduates formed two lines and marched through the bowels of Verizon Arena. The crowd inside the stadium filled all of the lower bowl and much of the upper.

On stage sat not a single elected representative of the local school district. For the second commencement in as many years, the city’s schools are being managed by the state and Education Commissioner Johnny Key.