The Real Story of Ethics Reform in Arkansas

There has been a lot of talk in the Arkansas blogosphere about the proposed ethics reforms being proposed by ‘Regnat Populus.’  I myself have recently weighed in as well, finding it fairly easy to support the first two provisions of the act and difficult to support the last.  What has been quite interesting is to see so many liberals/Democrats who have previously opposed real, constitutionally-sound ethics reforms in the past now jumping on the ethical government bandwagon.  Allow me to provide a few examples to demonstrate my point:

  • In 2009, then State Representative Dan Greenberg, who now serves as president of the Advance Arkansas Institute, introduced a bill that would make public officials’ criminal records subject to public review.  Attorney General Dustin McDaniel testified against the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, which led to the defeat of the bill.  Ironically, now that he is seeking the governorship, he has come out in favor of the Regnat Populus proposal.
  • Also in 2009, conservative Rep. Ann Clemmer introduced a bill, HB 1973, that would have significantly reformed legislative travel reimbursement by more clearly defining what travel expenses were reimbursable.  Apparently there was a problem with legislators making trips to conferences on the west coast–by motor vehicle–and making lots of vacation stops along the way, footing taxpayers with the bill.  To his credit, Democrat Representative Darrin Williams, who is now Speaker-designate, co-sponsored the bill–and then the Democratically-controlled House Rules Committee killed the bill (there was only one Republican on the committee).

However, in November 2009, then Speaker Robbie Wills convened a House caucus to set rules for the state’s first fiscal session in 2010.  Clemmer again tried to pass changes to legislative travel, with an amendment simply saying, “All out-of-state travel by House of Representatives members and staff shall be by the mode most advantageous to the State of Arkansas when cost and other factors are considered.”  Darrin Williams voted against the amendment, as did Representatives Kathy Webb and Linda Tyler–who had previously joined as co-sponsors of Clemmer’s HB 1973 and sat on the House Rules committee.  So, if they really supported this reform, why would they co-sponsor it and then vote against its sister amendment on the floor?

To his credit, Representative Bobby Pierce, who also co-sponsored HB 1973 and sat on the Rules committee, voted for the amendment in November, but it was not enough.  The amendment failed.

  • Former Democrat Lt. Governor Bill Halter, who may also be considering a run for state CEO in 2014, has also endorsed the Regnat Populus reforms.   Particularly ironic when you consider his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign was largely bankrolled by unions.  No word on how he plans to finance his future political endeavors if Regnat Populus’ reforms pass.

And here is one more example of ethical hypocrisy by Arkansas liberals, as reported at Arkansas News yesterday:

Perhaps the most comical example comes from State Senate Democratic candidate Zac White — a Heber Springs lawyer challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Missy Irvin. White jumped on the bandwagon last week.

A look at White’s campaign finance reports shows he took a contribution not only from Brent Bumpers, who is one of the chairs of the ethics reform campaign, but from a business that would be banned from contributing to his campaign if the measure passed.

But here is the kicker. The contributing business is McMath Wood PA – a Little Rock law firm that is listed as the location by the ethics group’s website to pick up, drop off, and sign petitions. Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman and ethics reform supporter Will Bond also happens to be partner at that firm.

Max Brantley is very pleased with White, but his pseudo-journalistic sloth prevented him from finding the real story here:  White isn’t practicing what he’s preaching.

These are just a few recent examples of how liberals in this state have blocked meaningful ethics and transparency reforms.  There are plenty more examples from their 125+ years of ruling the state.  Now, as we enter an election season in which, for the first time since Reconstruction, Democrats’ power is legitimately being threatened, they have suddenly found their ethics.

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Will Bond, who has also endorsed the proposed reforms, has said, “Our state has enacted some positive changes in recent years, but we can, and we must, do better in this regard in order to rebuild the public’s faith in the electoral process.”  

I certainly agree that we ‘can and must do better.’  But I am not sure what positive changes he is referring to, unless he means the online checkbook that was originally proposed by Dan Greenberg in 2009 and pushed through by conservatives like Senator Jonathan Dismang last session?

Now, after years of obstructionism, Democrats are rallying behind an ideologically-weak proposal (in my opinion) and trying to champion the issue, beating up on conservatives for not supporting the measure.  But it is simply fallacy to say that conservatives are the ones who have been stalling on real reforms. The fact of the matter is that, on ethics reform, conservatives have been leading for many years.

As I discussed in my article about Wisconsin’s recall last week, part of leading is defending.  It is time for conservatives take their case to the people and defend the substantive reforms they’ve been championing for years–and show the voters a picture of a real conservative majority.

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