It’s Friday the 13th, which is bad news for you if you planned on spending the night at Camp Crystal Lake, or if you are one of the 36 employees of the Arkansas Forestry Commission losing your job today due to the agency’s epic mismanagement.
Oh, guys, this Forestry Commission story, with all its bumbling and bungling, can we talk about this a minute? Never did we dream when the story broke in early December that it would still be boiling along six weeks later, but here we are.
The agency is $4 million in the hole, hence the layoffs of three dozen workers, and in hock to the feds for some $1.2 million for misusing federal grant funds. Gov. Mike Beebe, eager to deflect any blame for the mess, is itching to show he’s in command of the situation by issuing a supreme edict for a legislative audit of the troubled agency. And he means business, boys, so get cracking!
One obnoxious theme in this story that continues to rear its head is the notion that the dispute is simply a function of partisan politics, with those dastardly Republican lawmakers trying to get the better of good ole reliable Mike with their Washington D.C.-style tactics. Boo! Hiss!
But really, decrying the “partisanship” in this dynamic rather misses the point.
OK, fine, Arkansas Republicans are seeking to exploit some political advantage here—because, you know, people in political arenas tend to have incentives to do that. But the more important fact is that without the relentless pressure from minority lawmakers like Rep. Bryan King, Rep. Kim Hammer and Sen. Missy Irvin to keep the story alive, it’s not likely that the facts of the Forestry Commission’s dysfunction and mismanagement would have come to light.
Or perhaps you would prefer the approach of those who would just chalk it up to “partisanship” and move on from all this unpleasantness, like one lawmaker who talked to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Mike Wickline (subscription required):
Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, a Democrat from Crossett, wonders whether [Forestry Commission head John] Shannon will survive this controversy.
“I don’t want to put the governor on the spot, but it just depends on whether or not he is willing to sacrifice [Shannon] as a sacrificial lamb and get on with business or not,” he said. “I think if that should happen, some people think that that will get us over the hump. But then I think that, well, [the Republicans] will have the first bloodletting and will they look around for something else?”
I guess you could say that Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, Democrat from Crossett, can’t see the forest for the trees (“Good one, Dave!”—All Arkansas Project Readers).
Or maybe Jeffress is right: maybe the last thing we need in state government is for these legislators to go poking around “for something else” and turning up more examples of millions of dollars in mismanaged funds and dysfunctional management. That is something we simply do not want. Who knows what they might find?
Who knows indeed.