Will Governor Hear Urgent Message?
State Rep. John Michael Gray, D-Augusta, is a short, round little man with an easy smile and noticeable scuffed-up farmer’s footwear.
Today, he is much the same and still smiling.
Plus, he is wearing out the shoe leather these days. But not back home in Woodruff County walking the soybean and corn turn rows. He is steadily and purposely traversing the marble floors of the state capitol.
Gray has been busy lining up his fellow Democrats and “others” for the impending Arkansas Works showdown.
I’ll admit, at first, I didn’t recognize the easy- going state representative the first time I met him. And I’ll further admit I wasn’t so sure he could do the job of House Minority Leader.
Now he’s easily recognizable by me (and lots of others).
Plus he has more than proved, to me, at least, he is up to the Herculean task ahead of him on Arkansas Works.
Gray has taken on the role as the minority party leader trying to preserve health insurance coverage for more than 300,000 Arkansans. He is doing so, even as some in the majority of the Arkansas Republican Party, seek to dismantle the proposed
To sum it all up, as Gray tends to do in short, easy-to-understand vernacular: “We have to be willing to send a message.”
And what, exactly, is that message?
Does the minority party of Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature hold the key to the passage of Arkansas Works?
The answer is: Well, yes, they do.
Gray, in interviews this week in Little Rock, doesn’t really tip his hand to what he will do to preserve the plan.
His strategy, however, is not any more foretelling than the opposite plans of the Conservative Republicans. Most of that tribe are loudly vowing – not, I repeat, NOT to support the governor’s request for Arkansas Works.
Without the unanimous support of the Democrats in the Legislature, there would be no future for Arkansas Works.
Neither would there be a reasonable, workable state
But that doesn’t affect some of the soreheads like Benton County state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who might have their way with some really outrageous suggestions for Arkansas.
Hester, you see, wants to sell War Memorial Stadium. Sell it to real estate developers, who, no doubt, will tear it down and build heaven knows what on that site.
Remember? Hester is a builder and construction man. What Hester needs is a quick state history lesson — or, better yet, a lesson in simple reading skills.
The facility is named War Memorial Stadium, a facility built as a memorial to Arkansas veterans who served and many of whom died in war.
Still Hester, and others, have some other crazy budget ideas. Some ideas are cutting state aid to Higher Education, or not fully funding UAMS as a teaching hospital.
Other bad budget ideas are still surfacing.
Gov. Hutchinson better get a handle on such highhanded talk.
It is not time to sit back and say: “Oh, they don’t mean It.” or “That’s just a ploy to look good back home.”
It is time for someone —
if not Gov. Hutchinson, then whom? — to bring reality to state government.
Maybe it is that simple, straight-talking farmer from Augusta?
House and Senate Democrats in tow, led by Gray (and others), may make a deal with the governor to restore some of the budget cuts made last session. Restoring those cuts, such as aid to public libraries, afterschool programs and Meals on Wheels, may get the sufficient number of votes for Arkansas Works.
Gray may even be able to broker a deal to quiet the grandstanding rumblings of Sen. Hester and others.
Let’s do it before Arkansas’ budget turns into a Kansas or Louisiana fiscal nightmare.
Arkansas Works might not be the best plan on the planet, but it does preserve the state budget.
And with some country- boy finesse from an Arkansas farmer, the state budget might truly be better than forecast. MAYLON RICE, AN AWARDWINNING COLUMNIST, HAS WRITTEN BOTH NEWS AND COLUMNS FOR SEVERAL NWA PUBLICATIONS AND HAS BEEN WRITING FOR THE ENTERPRISELEADER FOR SEVERAL YEARS.