Will Gov­er­nor Hear Ur­gent Mes­sage?

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - May­lon Rice

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

Arkansas Works.

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.

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