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Schoolhouse Rock genius Bob Dorough dies at 94

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 01:27 PM PDT

In case you missed the news yesterday from Stephanie Smittle over on our Rock Candy blog, Arkansas native Bob Dorough, the jazz pianist and arranger who wrote many of the classic songs on the cartoon series "Schoolhouse Rock!", has passed away at 94.

Smittle recounts her interview with Dorough last May:
Here's that conversation, in which he explains his middle name (Lrod), sings an unreleased song about the square and admires Igor Stravinsky's work ethic. 
In addition to being a world-renowned jazz composer and performer, Dorough, from Cherry Hill in Polk County, wrote "Three is a Magic Number," surely one of the greatest songs ever recorded. He also wrote the masterpieces "Conjunction Junction What's Your Function?" and "I'm Just a Bill." Incredible.

Lots of charming details in the obit from Talk Business. A sample:

Mantels said she thinks Dorough's last concert was March 31 at the Deer Head Inn, a jazz and blues club in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. It's the oldest continuously operating jazz club in the U.S., and might be the oldest in the world, she said. He is well-known throughout the world for the Schoolhouse Rock! franchise, but he is an international jazz icon, she said. He had battled prostate cancer the past several years, and she spoke with him on the phone last month, she added.

"He was a truly unique and multi-talented jazz vocalist, pianist and composer," she said.

Dorough's father was a traveling salesman and the family moved often when he was a child, he said. The Depression made his childhood tough, but he learned how to play multiple instruments including the violin, harmonica and the clarinet.

A woman who owned a local grocery store in Cherry Hill owed Dorough's father money, and she offered to give the budding musician piano lessons to pay off the debt. Dorough received six lessons, and it was the only formal musical training he got during his youth. He learned how to sing during church services on Sundays. The family eventually moved to Texas and during high school Dorough played in the band. Some of the places they moved had a piano, and some didn't, he said. 
There's too many delightful bits to summarize, go read it. Here's more from NPR and CNN.

One way to mourn this loss: A YouTube rabbit hole awaits you.

Tuesday's headlines and your open line

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 01:17 PM PDT

Your headlines for April 24, 2018: Trump's popularity among Arkansas Republicans remains overwhelmingly high; Lake View mandate on school funding 'probably' still stands despite sovereign immunity ruling, lawmakers told; Text messages presented at Woods trial show alleged conspirators' successful efforts to grab GIF cash from multiple legislators.

Former Garland County sheriff's sergeant pleads guilty to theft

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 12:37 PM PDT

A former investigator at the Garland County sheriff's office pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing from the Arkansas Narcotics Officers Association, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reports.

Michael Wright had been the treasurer of the association and had worked for the sheriff's department for 20 years before his arrest in 2017. He was initially charged with a felony (theft of property more than $5,000) but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of theft of property more than $1,000. He was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $11,380 in restitution to the association.

Read all the ugly details over at the Sentinel-Record.

Sen. Rapert paints Jan Morgan as 'Jezebel,' prompting social media blowback from right

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 12:18 PM PDT

Well. It appears a public feud has erupted between two of Arkansas's most inflammatory right-wing politicians: state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) and gubernatorial candidate Jan Morgan, who is challenging Governor Hutchinson in the May 22 Republican primary.

Morgan has highlighted Facebook comments in which Rapert compares her to Jezebel, the Old Testament queen who, in the book of 1 Kings, convinced her husband, King Ahab, to abandon the god of the Israelites in favor of worshipping the deity Baal. Jezebel's transgressions earned her a gruesome death, as well as a place among the Bible's greatest villains. In Christian lore, she's come to represent the essence of a seductive woman who manipulates her way into power.

Morgan, who has made a name for herself with furious pro-gun extremism and open bigotry against Muslims, responded on Facebook. "You know the Governor's water boys have hit desperate times when the 'christian' senator, a pastor, calls me Jezebel and a 'spirit ' putting a spell on Arkansas men who support me," she wrote.

(An aside that must be mentioned: Arkansas Times reporter and noted Biblical scholar David Ramsey pointed out to me that Jezebel's time in the northern Kingdom of Israel roughly coincides with the reign of King Asa in the southern Kingdom of Judah. Signs and symbols, everyone, signs and symbols.)

It started, as these things do, with a Facebook post. Rapert shared a link to a recent Talk Business & Politics poll showing Hutchinson enjoys a commanding lead over Morgan among likely Republican voters. "There is no comparison. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is doing a good job as our governor and we need him to continue," the senator wrote.

Rapert is familiar with online controversy. He's built his political identity on demagoguing social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights and embraces a conspiracy-laden narrative in which Christians in the U.S. are the subject of continual persecution by a radical, deviant Left aided by Islamist extremists. He's a master of raising liberals' blood pressure — and, seemingly, his own — with outrageous statements, coupled with his willingness to endlessly and angrily argue his points with disgruntled commenters. Rapert considers himself a conservative's conservative.

But in this case, Rapert's mundane endorsement of Hutchinson earned the wrath of a different group: Jan Morgan supporters. One user wrote, verbatim, "You are an idiot, look up Aca's voting record, he votes with the Democrats he is taxing us to death an spending like a Democrat an if you support him than you need to be gone to." Many others piled on, calling Asa a "liberal," a "globalist" and (that dreaded label among the GOP base) an Establishment Republican.

True to form, Rapert waded into the comments to battle it out with his detractors. Which led to the following exchange:

Morgan's supporters pilloried him for the comment. And Morgan herself was quick to seize on the opportunity, slamming Rapert both for his coziness with Asa and the obvious sexist connotations of the Biblical epithet. She also touted her own evangelical cred:
His attack on me is based on his relationship with my opponent in this race. It's unconscionable that a pastor would resort to this kind of baseless personal attack.

I served two terms on the Executive Board of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention, on Sr. Staff of a church for several years, and co-hosted a tv show with Governor Mike Huckabee on the first Christian Tv network in Arkansas ..

Why don't you just step out there and call me Satan incarnate, Jason Rapert?

By the way, your implication that men in Arkansas support me based on my appearance is insulting to all educated men in this state who support me because of my fiscal and Constitutional Conservative policy platform .

In addition, your remarks are sexist and insulting to all women in Arkansas who are victimized by men like you who accuse them of professional success based on their physical attributes .
The spat may seem odd at first, considering Morgan and Rapert seem to share certain views (most notably, their extreme animosity toward Muslims). But hot button social issues aside, Rapert has often tilted toward the more establishment wing of the Republican Party when voting as a legislator, a fact masked by his firebreathing online persona. He's supported the governor on Medicaid expansion, for example.

Most importantly, Rapert's love for rhetorical combat really only manifests when it's directed toward the Other Side, meaning liberals and their ideological allies. In the endless partisan trench warfare that defines our political era, he's among the most enthusiastic warriors to be found. In contrast, Morgan seems happiest when attacking Republicans from the right. A self-styled Trumpian, she imagines herself waging a guerrilla war against RINOs like Asa and his enablers — Rapert included. And, as the response to the senator's post shows, Morgan has plenty of supporters among the GOP base, even if Asa outpolls her two-to-one.

Rapert doesn't have a primary challenger, so he's in no danger in the May 22 election. (He will have a Democratic opponent this fall in Maureen Skinner, though it's hard to imagine Morgan supporters defecting to support her candidacy.) Still, ugly intra-party fights like this one run the risk of dampening GOP enthusiasm and suppressing voter turnout in both the primary and general elections.

One can hear echoes of Republican elections past, in which conservative pols who thrived for years on fostering the anger and resentment of their party's shrillest voices found themselves placed on the defensive by an ascendent Donald Trump more skilled at raw demagoguery than they. Jason Rapert made his name throwing bombs on social media; now, suddenly, he's being called a shill for the globalist elite. It calls to mind Matthew 26:52: "For all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

Man sentenced to 30 years in prison for drive-by slaying of 2-year-old girl

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 11:10 AM PDT

Deshaun Rushing was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison for the murder of a 2-year-old Little Rock girl in a 2016 drive-by shooting, the D-G reports.

Two days before Thanksgiving ,the child, Ramiyah Reed, was in the backseat of a car, sitting in her mother's lap, when it was struck by gunfire near South Harrison and Charles Bussey Drive. Rushing pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He will be eligible to apply for parole in 21 years. Prosecutors attributed the shooting to gang-related violence.

Rushing's co-defendant, Larry Jackson, was 17 at the time of the shooting; the capital murder case against his appeal of a ruling that he be tried as an adult.

New "Rock the Culture" podcast: How you gonna fight that?

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 09:59 AM PDT

Please check out the latest edition of "Rock the Culture," a new podcast in our burgeoning podcast network. It's the brainchild of Antwan Phillips, a lawyer at Wright Lindsey Jennings, community activist and frequent Arkansas Times guest columnist. State Rep. Charles Blake is a regular guest host.

In this week's episode, they offer perspective and conversation on the "Freaky Friday" incident at UA Little Rock, ongoing campaign finance issues at city hall and diversity and de-escalation training for police officers. They also discuss the state teachers union and the looming battle for the preservation of state teachers' retirement fund with guest Tracy Ann Nelson, the executive director of the Arkansas Education Association.

Subscribe via iTunes. You can also find it on Overcast and Pocket Casts. More soon!

Also, check out KARK's story on the show.

Text messages presented at Woods trial show alleged conspirators' successful efforts to grab GIF cash from multiple legislators

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 09:32 AM PDT

In the ongoing federal corruption trial against former state Sen. Jon Woods, the prosecution yesterday presented text messages, emails, and bank records that provided more details about the alleged kickback scheme involving Woods, consultant Randell Shelton Jr., Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and former Rep. Micah Neal. Neal and Paris have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the prosecution.

The text messages demonstrate the efforts by the alleged co-conspirators to influence other lawmakers to throw public money toward Ecclesia, a tiny Christian college in Springdale, Doug Thompson reports for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. These efforts were apparently successful, as multiple legislators other than Woods and Neal directed tens of thousands of dollars via the state's General Improvement Fund (GIF) grants toward questionable spending on Eccleisa. Most of these legislators remain in the General Assembly.

As Thompson takes some pains to point out, the other legislators have not been charged or implicated in the kickback scheme. But let me take pains to point something else out: These lawmakers, unnamed in Thompson's article when it first appeared yesterday, helped Ecclesia nab more than $700,000 in public GIF funds during a time when they were targeted by an alleged criminal conspiracy trying to influence them. The recipient of that money is an institution that operates as a church for tax purposes, raising constitutional questions to begin with. It is an obscure school with 200 students (around half of whom are enrolled in distance learning) that requested the money to make land purchases of no obvious need for educational purchases. Though most of the money was supposed to be for construction of student housing, there's no evidence of construction or structural renovation and the land was purchased at well over its appraised value. The stench on this was rank, and at least eight other legislators were happy to grease the wheels. Put it this way: Woods and Neal were able to nearly double their own contributions in the alleged kickback scheme through the help of at least eight of their colleagues. 

The text messages between the alleged co-conspirators discussed who would approach which lawmakers and how much they would ask for. Unfortunately, Thompson does not state which particular legislators were specifically named in these text messages, but presumably they include some or all of those who directed GIF money to Ecclesia. Thompson's previous investigative work under the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered which ten lawmakers, including Woods and Neal, did so between 2013 and early 2015. This information was included in a helpful sidebar from Thompson in the Northwest Arkansas edition of the D-G this morning but not, for some reason, in the central Arkansas edition of the paper (which also failed to immediately print those names when Thompson first reported them last year).

Here are the legislators who directed GIF money to Ecclesia during that timeframe (again, only Woods and Neal have been charged with wrongdoing):

Woods (R-Springdale) $350,000

Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) $60,000

State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) $60,000

Neal (R-Springdale) $50,000

Former state Rep. Randy Alexander (R-Rogers) $26,500

Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) $25,000 (for matching money for a federal student aid grant)

Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) $14,000

Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) $13,500 .

Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) $8,500

Rep. Debra Hobbs (R-Rogers) $10,000

Thompson did a great job contacting all of these lawmakers last year and rounded up their excuses. Meeks said he directed the money more than 100 miles away from his district because he had visited it and supported its mission. Hester said it was a "worthy project." He explained the public largess for the tiny school, gathered up from so many lawmaker buddies, by opining, "It's a very conservative school, and there's lots of conservative legislators." Ballinger said, "My feeling and sense is the college got wrapped up in something it had nothing to do with." Oops.

In addition to the grants above, the college received $100,000 via the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District in Hot Springs (200 miles from the college). It's unclear from public records who directed that money but earlier testimony in the trial indicated that then Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux (who later worked as chief of staff under Gov. Asa Hutchinson), applied pressure to push those grants through despite faulty applications.

That covers the GIF windfalls from 2013 through March of 2015 but the tap didn't turn off after that! For example, the Arkansas Blog has previously reported on GIF pledges from lawmakers to the college in the summer and fall of 2015 in the name of "workforce development," including $1,000 from Sen. Uvalde Lindsey (D-Fayetteville), $5,000 from Rep. Grant Hodges (R-Rogers), $5,000 from Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers), $10,000 from former state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), and $5,000 from (again) Collins.

In short, while Woods and Neal are the only lawmakers who have been charged or implicated in the alleged kickback scheme, it's clear that Ecclesia was only able to get by with a little help from their friends.

Hester testified earlier in the trial that legislators had total control of sending their allotted amounts of GIF money to pet projects (Neal testified that it was a "slush fund"). The regional development districts ostensibly in control of the approval for GIF grants rubber stamped them for lawmakers, Hester testified (despite the Supreme Court calling direct legislator control of such local grants unconstitutional). According to Hester, Woods would spend his allotted GIF money quickly, then approach other lawmakers who still had available funds, such as Hester.

It's nice that Hester testified for the prosecution about a GIF system that was a perfect breeding ground for corruption. But it's worth noting that Hester twice approved grants for Ecclesia. (At least one of these came at Woods' request, according to Hester; though Thompson doesn't explicitly say so in his report from the courthouse, he wrote that the text messages presented yesterday corroborated Hester's testimony, so I presume that Hester was mentioned in some of those texts.) In fact, Hester steered more cash to the college than Neal did! No, Hester is not implicated in the alleged kickback scheme, but the alleged kickback scheme was apparently much more successful thanks to Bart Hester.

Hester testified that he pushed the grant money to the school in part because he toured the facility and as a contractor could tell that the dorms were in disrepair. Of course, in addition to being a contractor, Hester is also a lawmaker. One might hope that he would deign to exercise some due diligence regarding where he personally sends public money. Many things, it seems, are in disrepair.

Trump's popularity among Arkansas Republicans remains overwhelmingly high

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 08:27 AM PDT

Surprise, surprise: The most recent polling from Talk Business and Hendrix College finds approval ratings for President Trump among Arkansas Republicans remains at sky-high levels.

In a recent survey of 676 likely GOP primary voters, the pollsters found 86 percent said they approved of Trump's job performance. Only 10 percent said they did not, and 4 percent said they didn't know.

Hendrix political science professor Jay Barth — who is a columnist for the Arkansas Times — noted the poll results did not show a gender gap. "Both men and women in our sample had nearly identical levels of support for the President, contrary to some national numbers showing more wariness about the President among women, including Republican women," he wrote. He also remains extraordinarily popular among churchgoing voters.

It's important to emphasize that this is a poll of likely Republican primary voters, not the general electorate. I have no doubt a poll of all likely voters in Arkansas (or of all Arkansans) would still show high approval ratings for Trump — but not so high as 86 percent. Only about a third of Arkansan voters are affiliated with the GOP.

The 2017 Arkansas Poll from the U of A's Janine Parry showed about 32 percent of likely voters identified as Republican, 25 percent as Democrat and 35 percent as Independent. In the press release accompanying the publication of those poll results, Parry noted that her numbers showed a "modest shift" in the proportion of Independents who said they lean closer to Democrats, and a similarly small drop among those who said they were "closer to Republicans." She said at the time:
"I'm unconvinced either party should get too worked up about this," said Parry, "But it does mark a reversal from the dramatic move to the right we've seen among Arkansas independents since 2010, a move that has flipped election outcomes upside down. So, it's something to watch as we approach the next big round of state elections in 2018."
Worth noting, too, that the president's approval ratings nationally were lower in October (when the 2017 Arkansas Poll was performed) than they are today. If any of the "modest shift" described by Parry was driven by Trump fatigue, support for the GOP among Arkansas independents may have since rebounded.

In any case, I would expect Trump's support among Independents in Arkansas remains extremely high, but it'd be interesting to see some polling that targets that group specifically.

Lake View mandate on school funding 'probably' still stands despite sovereign immunity ruling, lawmakers told

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 04:15 AM PDT

A January ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that broadly reinterpreted the sovereign immunity provision of the state Constitution continues to confound one legal issue after another. Can farmers sue the State Plant Board over a regulation banning dicamba? Can spurned marijuana cultivation applicants challenge the Medical Marijuana Commission's process for awarding licenses?

Can anyone ever sue the state, for any reason?

On Monday, the legislature's Joint Education Committee heard from staff attorneys about the potential effects of the new sovereign immunity ruling on a decades-old court case that has become the cornerstone of public school funding in Arkansas: The state Supreme Court's Lake View decision, which proceeded from a lawsuit by the Lake View School District over the state's failure to provide an "adequate and equitable" education for all students as demanded by the Arkansas Constitution.

As a result of Lake View, in the early 2000s, the court required then-Governor Mike Huckabee and the General Assembly (then controlled by Democrats) to overhaul Arkansas's method of paying for schools. What resulted was the establishment of a biennial process — known at the Capitol as "adequacy" — in which legislators regularly increase the money appropriated to public schools by an amount prescribed by a funding formula. As the legislature has grown more conservative in recent years, it's started making the annual increases smaller and flirted with disobeying the strictures of adequacy outright. (The court itself has entirely turned over since the Lake View decision.)

Yet Lake View still stands, which may be one reason Arkansas has avoided the punishing cuts to public education seen in places like Oklahoma and Kansas. In 2017, legislators Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) and Sens. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) and Blake Johnson (R-Corning) proposed two constitutional amendments that targeted Lake View. "We're getting the courts out of our education system," Clark said at the time. Neither proposal gained traction.

But if the state can't be sued, does that mean the mandate that resulted from the Lake View district's suit against the state is still applicable? "Based on what we know, probably yes," attorney Matthew Miller told legislators on Monday.

The recent sovereign immunity ruling came in a case called Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas v. Andrews, in which a bookstore manager at Rich Mountain Community College sought overtime compensation from the state. Arkansas's minimum wage statute — crafted by the legislature — says sovereign immunity is waived in such cases. The Supreme Court said in the Andrews case that the legislature did not have the ability to waive sovereign immunity, because its authority is superseded by the Constitution. Article 5, Section 20 of the Constitution says "The State of Arkansas shall never be made defendant in any of her courts." (Two justices dissented from the majority opinion to warn the court against this departure from recent precedent.)

Still, it's unclear just how literally the justices want to construe their newly enhanced prohibition on lawsuits against the state. The court seems to have decided the legislature is never allowed to waive sovereign immunity by statute; it affirmed as much in a subsequent decision on the state's whistleblower act. Lake View, however, is a "fundamentally different" question, Miller said, because the plaintiffs in that case based their suit on the Constitution itself.

"It alleged that the school funding system was unconstitutional based on provisions in Article 14 and Article 2 of the Arkansas Constitution," he said. "To argue [sovereign immunity] in this context, you're arguing one piece of the Constitution against itself, basically. ... If someone files a challenge, we may get an interpretation that illustrates some implications, but as we sit here today it's difficult to argue that Andrews mooted the Lake View decision on its face."

He also noted the Supreme Court issued and later recalled a mandate to the legislature to address it complied with the school funding directives of Lake View. "Given how clearly the court issued its mandate, I'm hesitant to say that such a pronounced holding could be overturned without direct precedent," Miller said. "So, while Andrews probably overruled some past cases, Lake View was probably not among them."

What happens to future cases along the lines of Lake View? What happens if a plaintiff attempts to sue the state for making changes to its funding formula in the future? Miller said the answers to those questions were less clear. "Currently, there's more that we don't know than we do [know] about the impact of Andrews on future educational challenges," he said.

Rep. Lowery, who sits on the Education Committee, asked legislative staff how closely the Lake View's adequacy mandate is tied to the state's funding formula, which is laid out in a spreadsheet often called "the matrix." Attorney Isaac Linam told him that the "matrix itself isn't adequacy. The matrix is a tool that the General Assembly has used in order to get there, to decide what sort of funding you need to give the students an equal opportunity for an adequate education." The legislature could do away with the matrix and come up with a different system, Linam said.

Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), one of the few lawmakers who was a member of the General Assembly when the resolution to Lake View was ongoing, asked Miller what would happen if one part of the Constitution — the sovereign immunity clause in Article 5, Sec. 20 — should conflict with another part of the document, such as the provisions requiring the state to provide an adequate and equitable system of public schools.

"What's your notion again about what prevails on a case like that?" she asked.

Miller replied. "I'm hesitant to speak on that, and it's going to be kind of a novel question that we've never had in this context when it comes up," he said. He noted that a Pulaski County circuit court — that of Judge Wendell Griffen, incidentally — recently ruled on a case involving marijuana cultivation licenses, the dispensation of which are laid out in the voter-approved amendment to the Constitution legalizing medical cannabis, Amendment 98. Griffen rejected the sovereign immunity argument raised by the state attorney general's office. However, as Miller noted, the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on that case.

"We're perhaps on that road with the medical marijuana cases and the disputes that may erupt out of that, because those are based on the Constitution itself. Those are going to be challenges against Amendment 98. So, hopefully, that might glean us something fairly quickly that might be helpful," Miller said.

Here's the presentation from the Bureau of Legislative Research attorneys on the Andrews decision and education funding.

Bob Dorough dies at 94

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 06:11 PM PDT

Word comes late this afternoon that Arkansas native Bob Dorough died today, at age 94. The jazz pianist and arranger from Cherry Hill (Polk County) was responsible for some of the most beloved tunes on the cartoon series "Schoolhouse Rock!," as well as decades of original material, collaborations with Sugar Ray Robinson, Blossom Dearie and Nellie McKay.

I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Dorough ahead of an appearance at CALS Ron Robinson Theater last May. Here's that conversation, in which he explains his middle name (Lrod), sings an unreleased song about the square and admires Igor Stravinsky's work ethic.

Attorney General Rutledge rejects full marijuana legalization ballot initiative

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 05:04 PM PDT

Speaking of weed, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today rejected a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. The measure would go well beyond the tightly controlled medical marijuana amendment passed by voters last year. It would simply legalize marijuana, full stop. 

The proposed Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment would allow "the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, sale, possession and use of the cannabis plant (genus cannabis) and all products derived from the cannabis plant (genus cannabis) is permitted in every geographic area of each and every county of this State." The legislature could regulate weed, but not prohibit its growth or sale.

The amendment, proposed by Robert Reed, who has been working on the issue for years, was largely similar to a proposal submitted in 2016 and rejected by Rutledge, who cited ambiguities in the text, as is her wont. This time around, Rutledge crankily noted the lack of significant revision: "I rejected your proposed ballot title, and I instructed you to redesign the proposed measure and ballot title. For whatever reason, you have now submitted for my approval a popular name and ballot title for essentially the same proposal." Rutledge also rejected five previous attempts by Reed to propose the amendment in 2015.

To proceed, the ballot measure first needs to be certified by the attorney general. At that point, the amendment would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.

Reed did manage to get the the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment, in relatively similar form, approved by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in 2014. That approval came after years of back-and-forth (McDaniel had rejected half a dozen previous attempts) — but it came in June, giving the campaign just a month to collect the needed signatures and get them certified by the secretary of state's office. The group was unable to collect the needed signatures in time.

The marijuana business hits Manhattan

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 01:41 PM PDT

Colorful profile in Vanity Fair of MedMen
, a California distributor of legal weed that is opening a dispensary at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue:

Founded in 2010, MedMen has quickly become a press darling of the quickly growing legal marijuana market. While the company likes to call itself the "Apple Store of cannabis," there seems to be some confusion as to what its actual best retail analogue is. Fast Company called it the "Starbucks of weed." Page Six called it the "Barneys of weed." Chief Marketing Officer B.J. Carretta, an imposingly tall person who came to MedMen from the sports world, pushed back on the last designation. "If I were to actually compare it [to fashion retail], I would probably say from the volume we do, Nordstrom and Target. Target has amazing branding and amazing in-house brands that they sell, and the experience is great. It's not super down here. It's not super up here. It's accessible."
As happy as I am to see the pointless and self-defeating government war on weed finally winding down, state by state, I confess that reading about the commercialization of the industry starts to harsh my mellow. Sample sentence from the Vanity Fair article: "It's more bro-y than the sort of androgynous luxury Barneys stores employ."

But I guess that's the end game for the normalization of marijuana sales: There will be fawning business-section articles overstuffed with branding and biz-whiz jargon and bubbly ad copy, just like any old American business. Puff, puff, gag.

Medmen operates 12 stores nationally with three more on the way. This is its first store in New York City. The state of New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014. Madmen has a weed factory in Reno designed to grow 10,000 pounds of weed per year. Vape pens at its stores run from $20 to $200.

If Arkansas can ever get past the obfuscation, red tape, and bureaucratic turf wars, perhaps the Barneys of weed, or whatever, will some day open in the River Market. 

Full disclosure: Based on the bulging papers in Colorado, the weed business provides a serious advertising boost to alternative weeklies. Here's a sample of what MedMen's mad men came up with:

The walls are decorated with life-size photos of MedMen's latest ad campaign, featuring 16 "non-stereotypical" cannabis consumers from around the country overlaid with the word "stoner" crossed out. Each one was tidily labeled, Chelsea gallery style. A photo of an octogenarian in red art-lady glasses read: "Barbra Rubin - Grandmother, Doctor with a PhD, professional meditation teacher, and avid Hula-Hoop-er, Barbra enjoys swimming, reading, and connecting with close friends over a dish of edibles."

State Supreme Court rejects casino group's petition challenging AG on ballot measure hurdles

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 01:34 PM PDT

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a terse ruling Monday that rejected an attempt from Driving Arkansas Forward to sue Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge over her repeated rejection of a ballot measure pushed by the group.

Driving Arkansas Forward seeks the creation of two casinos in the state — one in Jefferson County, one in Pope County — and the enhancement of gaming at the Oaklawn and Southland racetracks for the sake of funding state highways. The group is represented by law firm Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson.

After Rutledge rejected the group's fourth draft of a proposed constitutional amendment to be placed before voters, Driving Arkansas Forward submitted a petition to the Supreme Court requesting an injunction compelling the AG's office to approve the proposed measure. The petition states the group "specifically addressed all concerns raised by the Attorney General" with each resubmission to the AG. The group also requested an expedited consideration of its petition and an accelerated briefing schedule.

In a response filed Friday, the attorney general's office said its rejection of the measure was warranted. The court appeared to fully agree. Its order today reads, in full:

A second group, Arkansas Wins in 2018, is also seeking a ballot measure that would authorize casinos in Arkansas. So far, it's also been rejected by the AG's office.