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New poll finds Asa Hutchinson with sizeable lead over Jan Morgan, plus support for continuing Medicaid expansion among Republican primary voters

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 12:28 PM PDT

A new poll from Talk Business finds that Governor Hutchinson has a substantial lead over Jan Morgan, the hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs.

In the survey of likely Republican party primary voters in the state, 57.5 percent are backing Hutchinson, with 30.5 percent favoring Morgan. Another 12 percent are undecided (the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points). That's a commanding lead, if a significant irritant for a popular incumbent governor in a primary. Enough of an irritant for Hutchinson to try to toss some red meat to the right-wing base? We'll see.

The most interesting finding in the poll, however, is a substantial shift in the views of GOP voters on Medicaid expansion. A substantial plurality of likely voters in the Republican primary now support the program, continuing a trend toward increasing support for the policy among GOP voters that has been shown in previous Talk Business polls. That's a doozy of a finding, a major turnaround from four years ago when the program was first enacted (and led to wave of primary challenges, with mixed results, on that very issue).

The Talk Business poll found that 41.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state support "Arkansas Works," the Medicaid expansion program that uses Medicaid dollars made available by the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans (this is the same program once known as the "private option" until Hutchinson re-branded it, concluding that the old name had become "politically toxic"). That's compared to 25.5 percent who oppose it and 33 percent who don't know.

Here's the precise wording of the Talk Business poll question (worth noting that responses tend to shift depending on whether the word "Obamacare" is in the question):

As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called "Arkansas Works." Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program? 
The healthy plurality now supporting the Medicaid expansion is a sharp shift from 2014, when a similar question was asked by a Talk Business poll about the program, then known as the "private option" under the Beebe administration. Back then, a 45-percent plurality of Republican voters opposed the program. That has turned upside down in the four years since. It probably helps that a Republican governor is now in office and supporting the program (an interesting counterfactual is whether the legislature would have re-upped Medicaid expansion under a hypothetical Gov. Mike Ross; arguably Hutchinson helped save Medicaid expansion in Arkansas by giving it the stamp of approval of a Republican governor).

Joe Maynard, the Fayetteville businessman who has poured money into the Conduit for Action network — a dizzying array of PACs and other entities in opposition to Medicaid expansion which allow Maynard to skirt campaign finance limits — had some early success in 2014 funding primary challenges, helping to stop then Rep. John Burris from gaining a senate seat and helping then Rep. Terry Rice to topple Sen. Bruce Holland (while a number of other GOP private option backers survived). However, lately Maynard-backed candidates have been trounced in GOP primaries again and again. Conduit has promised to keep fighting, but these poll results suggest that the anti-Obamacare attack may finally have grown stale in GOP primaries.

Morgan herself has made attacks on Hutchinson's continuation of the Medicaid expansion a key plank in her own crusade against the "RINO" establishment. This latest poll suggests she has a decent base of support but most primary voters still aren't buying what she's selling.

Here's some analysis offered to Talk Business by Hendrix politics professor and Arkansas Times contributor Jay Barth, who helped craft and analyze the poll:

Governor Hutchinson is dominant with the type of voters who have traditionally participated in GOP primaries. Jan Morgan is decidedly stronger with those who have been drawn to the party over the last couple of years by President Donald J. Trump. There is little doubt that the traditional Republican voters will show up to participate in the primary next month. The key question is whether the new Trump voters show up to vote without the President on the ballot. If they do, Morgan could close the gap with the Governor significantly. ...

One clear division between the gubernatorial candidates is on Arkansas's distinctive form of Medicaid expansion—now called Arkansas Works. While Republican voters historically were dubious about Medicaid expansion (a 45% plurality of Republican voters opposed the "private option" in January of 2014, when Governor Beebe was still governor), GOP voters have shifted towards plurality support for the program rebranded and redesigned in the Hutchinson era.

Finally, a memorial to the 21 boys who were burned to death at Wrightsville in '59

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 10:44 AM PDT

It has been 59 years since 21 teen-aged boys incarcerated at the so-called Negro Boys Industrial School were burned to death in their locked dormitory. The Times wrote about the event in 2008, after the brother and mother of one of the boys approached the Times looking for someone to remember the event, and headlined the story "Stirring the Ashes." But on Saturday, a monument to the boys was placed at Haven of Rest Cemetery, where 14 of the boys were buried.

The boys were sent to Wrightsville for petty theft, pranks, homelessness. One boy had been caught soaping windows during Halloween. Another was incarcerated for riding a white boy's bicycle, even though the white boy's mother told authorities it was all right.

It was early in the morning of March 5, 1959, when a fire in a stove spread to the "Big Boys" dorm, which had only two exits, both padlocked. Some boys escaped by prying loose metal metal screens from two dorm windows. No one came to their aid. Many bodies were found piled in a heap in one corner of the room.

The building burned to the ground. The Arkansas Democrat, then an afternoon paper, ran a picture of the fire on its front page. The Arkansas Gazette ran a photo of Gov. Orval Faubus, standing amid the rubble the following morning.

The bodies of the 14 buried at Haven of Rest were so badly burned that they could not be individually identified. The other seven boys were buried privately.

Helping stir the ashes and ignite the effort to create a monument to the fire was the 2017 book by Grif Stockley, "Black  Boys Burning." Stockley told the crowd that Arkansas's "racial history is still hidden and glossed over, but by your commitment to honor and remember the boys who died in the fire at Wrightsville,  you've taken a giant step toward coming to terms with that past."

Former Sen. Irma Hunter Brown, who is leads the Friends of the Haven of Rest and who was part of a group that raised funds for the monument, told the gathered group gathered graveside, "We don't want this to be a forgotten part of the history of Little Rock, of the state of Arkansas, of this country, because the entire world looked at what happened here. This part of our history, as painful as it is, will always be remembered."

UA Little Rock history professor Dr. Brian Mitchell spoke, saying, "If you look honestly at the situation the conclusion we come to is that these boys died of racism, the same racism we live with today. The "benign neglect" [as the state termed the incident] that allowed them to lock up these children is a consequence of that racism, the same consequence we have when legislators tell us we need to close SNAP programs for children, the same neglect we have when we're told that there's not enough money for our schools, the same same when a grand jury says there will be no justice in black shootings. ... It isn't benign neglect that killed them. It is racism."

Michael Young
, who was himself incarcerated at Wrightsville, laid the wreath. Ardecy Gyce, sister of victim Amos Gyce, who was 16 when he died, spoke briefly. She recalled Amos as a "loving brother who was always protective of me."

The location of the unmarked graves at Haven of Rest was turned up in the 1959 records of the cemetery by the brother who approached the Times, Frank Lawrence. Thanks to a grant from the Curtis Sykes Memorial Fund distributed by the Black History Commission and other donations, a bronze plaque embedded in a stone now memorializes the names of all 21 victims. The architect Kwendeche and former Mosaic Templars Cultural Center director Constance Sarto put together the grant application.

Those buried at Haven of Rest include Lindsey Cross, 14; Charles L. Thomas, 15; Frank Barnes, 15; R.D. Brown, 16; Jessie Carpenter Jr., 16; Joe Crittenden, 16; John Daniel, 16; Willie G. Horner, 16; Roy Chester Powell, 16; Cecil Preston, 17; Carl E. Thornton, 15; Johnnie Tillison, 16; Edward Tolston Jr., 15; and Charles White, 15.

The others were William Piggee, 13, the boy incarcerated for riding a white boy's bike;  O.T. Meadows, 13; Henry Daniels, 15; John Alfred George, 15; Roy Hegwood, 15; Willie Lee Williams, 15; and Gyce.

More documentation of the Razorback Foundation's fiction of independence

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 08:03 AM PDT

Another big report from the D-G's Eric Besson this morning with more evidence of the Razorback Foundation's fingerprints being all over the activities of the University of Arkansas. That's no surprise to readers of this blog, but Besson unearthed new supporting details, including documentation that Razorback Foundation officials directly participated in university athletic department job interviews.

The Foundation, which supports UA athletics, is ostensibly an independent nonprofit — a status that is has used to declare itself exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act. It's a flimsy and risible fiction that the Foundation has used to shield its activities from public scrutiny.

The D-G has reviewed 22,000 pages of emails exchanged between the Foundation and university staff, acquired by FOIA request to the university itself. In addition to the Foundation's participation during candidate interviews, which included offering feedback to the university, Besson's reports that those public records reveal that Foundation officials attended exclusive, high-level athletic department strategy sessions; the involvement of Foundation leadership in a discussion over the structure of staff positions in the athletic department; and close coordination between university and Foundation staff over ticket sales and donations to the Foundation. 

Scott Varady, the executive director of the Foundation who keeps a tight grip on the foundation's records by claiming its independent status, told the D-G that Foundation staff were allowed to meet with job candidates as a "matter of courtesy." There can be little doubt that the Foundation has a significant say in the school's choice for football coach and athletic director, since it's footing the bill for the process: The deals are struck in consultation with Foundation officials who promise to keep the money flowing to meet those obligations; the Foundation is paying the massive severance packages to fired coach Bret Bielema and fired athletic director Jeff Long; it funded the outside search firms hired to find replacements; and it doled out the $2 million required to get new coach Chad Morris out of his previous contract. The records reviewed by Besson reveal that the Foundation also got involved during the search process for candidates for lower staff positions related to ticket sales, including account executive for premium seats and associate director of ticket operations. Candidates for these positions had interviews scheduled with the Foundation as part of the interview process, records show.

Foundation officials also communicated and coordinated directly with account executives at the university regarding fans interested in tickets or purchasing upgrades, including Foundation members who had complaints about their seating arrangements. In one case, a Foundation staffer helped a fan sign up for basketball seats; in response a university account executive wrote asking whether he should fill out the fan's paperwork for a donation to the Foundation.

Athletic department spokesman Kevin Trainor told the D-G, "For the convenience and benefit of donors and ticket holders, the [university-funded] Razorback Ticket Office and the Razorback Foundation work together to make the donation and ticket purchasing process as convenient as possible." Heh.

There's much more in Besson's report, including Varady's involvement in high-level discussions over staffing structure and the attendance of Foundation officials at regular meetings of the athletic director's executive and senior staffs. They've attended these high-level meetings, along with a very small group of top staffers, since 2012. Varady told the D-G, "To be clear, our attendance in these meetings does not make us 'part' of the 'athletic director's executive staff' or the senior staff. In these meetings, we do not make decisions for the Athletic Department, and the Athletic Department does not make decisions for the Razorback Foundation." I'm sure they're just quiet observers and university staff pays them no mind!

No point in going too far through the looking glass with Varady's obfuscations and legalese. The question is whether someone is going to file a lawsuit to demand that the Razorback Foundation end the charade and comply with the FOIA. It would require serious funding to go up against the Hogland legal team, although there's reason to believe it's a winnable case. This fight has been going on for more than thirty years, as Max Brantley has recounted on this blog.

A records request by the Arkansas Gazette in the 1980s led to attorney general Steve Clark issuing an opinion that the records were public; after a protracted fight, the Gazette got the records. In response, the Foundation moved off campus and took other steps to shield itself from public sunshine, hiding all records from public view from that point on. It has been "independent" ever since, refusing every effort by the public to know what it's up to, despite its obvious affiliation with a public university. The D-G has been doing yeoman's work this year using records directly from the university to establish that the Foundation is not meaningfully independent from the athletic department it supports.

It would make for compelling evidence, if the newspaper, or someone, decides to sue.

Don't eat romaine lettuce open line

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 02:46 PM PDT

The CDC has expanded its warning. Don't eat romaine lettuce, y'all, unless you get it from Lindsey's backyard.

Here's the latest from the CDC:
* Based on new information, CDC is expanding its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. This warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine.

* Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

* Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you're uncertain about where it was grown. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.

* Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

* The expanded warning is based on information from newly reported illnesses in Alaska. Ill people in Alaska reported eating lettuce from whole heads of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.
Over to you, what's cooking?

Second March for Science held in Little Rock

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 01:07 PM PDT

Demonstrators gathered in downtown Little Rock this afternoon to march to the steps of the Capitol as part of the second annual "Arkansas March for Science."

The event was organized by the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. There were hundreds of other similar events around the world this year, with many of them taking place last week, including a large event in the nation's capitol. It was held today in Little Rock to coordinate with Earth Day tomorrow.

A press release from the Sierra Club described the march's goals: "to demonstrate that science matters to all Arkansans, and to demand that Arkansas elected officials rely upon sound science in their public policy decisions."

Glen Hooks, Director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, stated the following in the release:

Today, we are calling on our elected officials to both support science and to rely upon science when making important decisions,. When it comes to air and water quality, or protecting hunting and fishing spots, or farming, or health care, decisions should be made based upon science—and not upon the platform of one's political party. Arkansans need leaders who respect science and govern with science in mind—not leaders who ignore science.
This year's march was focused on teachers and students in the state, the organizers said. The speakers included Katina White, a teacher at Sylvan Hills Middle School; Rachel Hendrix, Ph.D neurobiologist; Jazz Johnston, a teacher at Russellville High School; Derya Bracy, an emergency room nurse; Izzy Jones, a student at Jonesboro High School; and Derek Brooks, a chemist.