Arkansas Week Tonight: McDaniel, Shoffner, #ARLEG, Medicaid & Wal-Mart

Arkansas Week on AETN

8 p.m. Friday.

A packed, fast-paced show tonight on AETN’s “Arkansas Week.” I join host Steve Barnes and Michael Hibblen, news director of KUAR-FM, 89.1, in Little Rock and Dr. Price Dooley of the political science department of the University of Central Arkansas.

On the agenda, Dustin McDaniel’s “meet-the-press” moment, more woes for Martha Shoffner, the coming legislative session, the great Medicaid expansion debate, the week in Wal-Mart and Tom Cotton’s first days in Congress.

Lots to cover! You can watch at 8 p.m. tonight or right here as soon as the video is available.

Video: My Conversation with Arkansas State University System President Dr. Charles Welch

Above, I sit down with Arkansas State University System President Dr. Charles Welch to talk about a range of issues facing ASU and higher education in Arkansas. You can watch other segments of our 40-minute interview on YouTube here, and you can read our Arkansas Business cover story on Welch by Kate Knable here.

The interview is part of Arkansas Business’ blow-out issue on higher education and business, which happens to be the topic of the clip above. Colleges and universities play an important role in workforce training and attracting new industry, but they can often get caught between trying to please big, local employers and staying true to their mission of providing a well-rounded educational foundation. Welch has some interesting things to say about that above.

Want to hear from the president of Arkansas’ other university system, the University of Arkansas? Arkansas Business Assistant Editor Luke Jones talks to Dr. Donald Bobbitt here.

Let’s Get Ready to Talk About Arkansas Term Limits

A quick note I added to Arkansas Business this week about the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas gauging members’ appetite for loosening Arkansas’ term limits law sometime down the road:

Randy Zook, president and CEO of the state chamber and AIA, says modifying the law is not officially on the group’s legislative agenda. But he says the law’s constraints are resulting in fewer business leaders serving in the General Assembly. Legislative issues have become more complex, requiring more education, more meetings, more time that business leaders simply don’t have.

As Chamber EVP Kenny Hall puts it in recent presentations to the business community, the Legislature needs more “institutional knowledge” among members. Longer periods of service would help provide that.

The chamber also wants more business leaders in the General Assembly. But the demands of such limited terms are difficult to meet when you’re a time-crunched businessman or woman. With only a few years in office, your service requires lots of extra meetings and seminars to get up to speed on complex legislative issues.

State Chamber President and CEO Randy Zook says it wouldn’t take much of a change to make an impact. You can read the full report here for an idea about what possible changes they’re floating. Blogger Jason Tolbert is also thinking about what he’d like to see:

[blackbirdpie url="!/TolbertReport/statuses/118330403105935360"]

No doubt the idea would be popular among legislators. Gov. Mike Beebe is on record as saying term limits weaken the Legislature. His point is one of many conclusions reached in this 2004 study of term limits (PDF) by Art English of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Brian Weberg of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lobbyists also bemoan the lack of experience:

[blackbirdpie url="!/BradleyPhillips/statuses/118332020312113153"]

So where are we headed? The state chamber hasn’t officially put a term limits proposal of any kind on its legislative agenda. Right now, it’s testing the waters. Just get ready to hear more about it in the coming months.

(Thanks to Tolbert for a link to that Art English study.)
(Updated to add THVideo from “Today’s THV.” And no, that isnot Jeff Hankins.)

This Week in Arkansas Business: Education Department to Seek More Scholarship Money

This week in Arkansas Business:

At the rate Arkansas is awarding college scholarships, money in the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s reserve fund will run out by 2013. So director Jim Purcell says he’ll ask the Legislature this January to provide more money for scholarships or allow the department to cut the number awarded.

Meanwhile, the DHE is investigating how schools waive out-of-state tuition for certain students.

The latest list of the state’s top colleges and universities shows tuition up at most Arkansas schools.

The Log Cabin Democrat in Conway lays off two staffers, leaving a newsroom of six, in the aftermath of parent company Morris Publishing Group’s emergence from bankruptcy.

Go Red Wolves! This Arkansas State University graduate is now a VP at Verizon.

The 87th General Assembly Comes to Close

From @dgoins, a shot of Gov. Beebe addressing the Senate today.

Memories: Gov. Beebe at the Senate today, by @dgoins.

What’s that light at the end of the tunnel, you say? Why, it’s the end of the 87th General Assembly! Pretty soon, all the goings on of the last three months will be a distant, bittersweet memory, leaving us with only a stockpile of pre-tax-increase cigarettes and lotto tickets — and a voluminous archive of lawmakers’ incessant blogging and tweeting.

All good things must come to end, we suppose. Or at least recess — until the fall!

Major Job Losses, State Revenue and the Legislative Session on 'Arkansas Week'


Update: Listen to audio, see video of tonight’s show.

It’s Friday, so you know what that means: “Arkansas Week”! Steve Barnes hosts another panel of Arkansas journalists to discuss The Week That Was. On tonight’s episode, me, John Williams and Brenda Blagg try to put the whole messy affair into some perspective. The topics:

Today’s painful U.S. unemployment numbers, which showed 650,000 jobs were eliminated last month, taking the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent — the highest it’s been since 1983. But: Wal-Mart wins!

The February state revenue report. We’re still waiting for the bottom to follow out, and experts say we’ll certainly see it happen soon, if not this year, definitely 2010. On the bright side: We can still cut the grocery tax! As for the other tax cuts — well …

Concealed weapons! A snarky blog post leads to possible legislation that will limit public access to information on who’s packin’. Also wasting legislators’ time: Another fruitless go-round with the Equal Rights Amendment.

And: Legislation to limit teenagers’ driving and our slow, wobbly march to alcohol sales on Sunday.

Plus: Only a passing reference to state lottery. An improvement!

Catch “Arkansas Week” tonight at 8 p.m. on your local AETN affiliate.

Ed Garner, Little Rock Family Join the Arkansas Twittersphere

There’s a new thing on the Internets! It’s called Twitter! No one really knows what it is, and some people are mad about it, but damned if they’re not signing up for it in droves. Who’s the latest to join the Arkansas Twittersphere? Let’s see, shall we?

Rep. Ed Garner, R-Maumelle – Garner, who floated an alternative plan to raise money for the state trauma system, thought he might limit followers to legislators. But now it’s a free-for-all! Sadly, “no secret stuff.”

Jeff Hankins – The Arkansas Business president and publisher discovered Twitter over the weekend. And now he wants to know Everything. About. It. And he’s asking me. Constantly.

Jennifer Pyron, Little Rock Family magazine – Jennifer brings Twitter goodness to all the Twittering moms in Little Rock and beyond.

Aristotle, Rockfish and Mass Enthusiasm – Web developers all, and they’re Twittering. About Web developing.

Jordan Johnson – Spokesman for the Clinton Library and director of public policy for Little Rock ad firm CJRW.

Want more? Check our informally updated guide to the Arkansas Twittersystem here.

Robbie Wills on the Lottery at

It’s lottery week! Yes, that time of year when everyone in town draws a little piece of paper in anticipation of seeing the little black dot, a harbinger of the coming harvest and the sacrifice we must make to insure –

Oh wait! Wrong lottery!

No, this lottery is about education, and the kids, and opportunity for everyone! Not stoning! And now that the voters have had their say, it’s time for the Ledge to get the job done. In his commentary for and, Speaker of the House Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway, talks about the next steps in setting up how the lottery will be governed and ushering our fair state into “a modern-era of lottery policy.”

We have now unveiled for public scrutiny that portion of the proposed Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Act governing the establishment and operation of the lottery. The operation of the lottery will be governed by a nine-member Arkansas Lottery Commission. This commission will be given the authority to determine lottery games, lottery ticket sales, and prize amounts. The commission’s goal will be to maximize revenues for scholarships. In the next week or so, we will propose the second half of the measure, governing the scholarship programs themselves. Through a deliberate two-step process, legislators, the citizens they represent, retailers, educators and others are having the opportunity to provide welcomed input on the creation of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Act.  With this collaborative effort, a new law of this state, like other models of successful lotteries in such states as Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, will bring Arkansas into a modern-era of lottery policy, first proposed and effectively used by our nation’s founding fathers for the advancement of our people.

Much more here.


Robbie Wills’ blog and Twitter feed

It's D-Day in the House for Beebe's Cigarette Tax

Holy crap this is going to be close.

Gov. Mike Beebe’s 56-cent increase in the cigarette tax comes up in the House today. The action begins a 1:30 p.m. If you can’t get a seat at the Ledge (did Tolbert camp out last night to get in first?), you can watch the madness unfold on Comcast’s Channel 18 in Little Rock.

The question this morning: Do the Democrats have the votes? Democratic Rep. Steve Harrelson says yes. House Speaker Robbie Wills says hell yes. Blogger Jason Tolbert, meanwhile, names names, saying these are the swing votes.

But here’s what seems to be the conventional wisdom of the moment: If it passes, it passes with 75 votes — the exact number required to get a two-thirds majority.

It’s gonna be a squeaker. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.


Philip Morris USA raises cigarette prices ahead of federal tax

The 87th General Assembly: The Most Watched Arkansas Legislature Ever?

If you’re not blogging, Twittering, podcasting, videocasting, columnizing, editorializing or reporting on the 87th General Assembly, you might be in the minority.

A quick glance around the Interwebs reveals several sites claiming to keep an eye on the Capitol, and many of them publish continually as news happens.

Among them:

  • My day job, In addition to posting Associated Press reports as they pop, we’re working with new legislative bill tracking service to get the latest word out of committee meetings and other happenings at the Capitol. We Twitter updates as necessary here, publish a “Capitol round-up” in our Daily Report e-newsletter at noon and have taken the weekly Government & Politics e-newsletter daily during the session, publishing Capitol news updates in the afternoon. Oh, and’s Insiders’ Blog offers commentary.
  • A brand-spanking new site for the Stephens News Bureau updates with news reports from Capitol throughout the day. Its blogs, meanwhile, offer comment and analysis on the fly. John Brummett is posting regularly on legislative matters. James Jefferson curates the new Politics in Arkansas blog. Doug Thompson has his own blog and Twitter account.
  • The Arkansas Times: Editor Max Brantley keeps the conversation going on his Arkansas Blog, but even more daily legislature coverage is coming from John Williams via his newly established Legislative Beat blog.
  • Others bloggers, like Jason Tolbert, take a break from their day jobs to report legislative matters that interest them, with heavy doses of photo, video and, naturally, partisanship.
  • The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is continuing its strong work watching the Ledge as newspapers around the country reportedly scale back on their own state legislative coverage. The D-G’s work can be found online, though most of its coverage is, sadly, locked down.

But all that’s to say nothing of the growing roster of legislators who are regularly blogging the session themselves: Rep. Robbie Wills (who also Twitters), Rep. Steve Harrelson, Rep. Dan Greenberg, Rep. David “Bubba” Powers and Sen. Larry Teague.

Here’s several state legislators, including the Speaker of the House, cutting out the middlemen of the press and taking their message directly to constituents. They’re giving us early word on what happens under the dome, from the hottest issues of the day to some of the more mundane details of public service. Greenberg’s even fighting back against media coverage with which he doesn’t agree.

These blogs are a great way to keep up with the legislature, and they’ll only grow in number. But it’s important to remember that these sites, like most opinion blogs, represent the views of those who are running them. They’re one food group in a diet of media consumption that’s changing, but still requires balance.

While I’ll read (and enjoy) the legislator blogs, I’ll also rely on the objective eyes of others outside the dome, as well. Fortunately in Arkansas, there’s no shortage of those.


Jill Zeman of the The Associated Press on legislator-bloggers here.