OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Jason Rapert’s war

Jason Rapert says an aide to Gov. Sarah Huckabee called and asked if he would be interested in serving on the state Library Board. He says he told the aide he'd need a couple of days to think about it.

He says he investigated what the Library Board does, which is largely pass through $6.9 million in grant funds, both federal and state. He says he felt well-qualified for that because of his legislative experience on state fiscal matters and as an audit committee chairperson.

He says he's long been engaged in literacy programs and figures he has given away about 7,000 books, many, but not all, Bibles.

And he says he values the law, including the new state one commanding libraries to sequester from children's access certain books about gender and sex. He says, yes, of course, he would want to withhold funding to libraries that sued or flouted that law.

Some Arkansas libraries already are in litigation against the law, which has been successful thus far mostly on freedom-of-expression grounds. Rapert would cut off money to freedom of expression.

So, Rapert called the governor's aide and said he would serve if the governor wished, and the governor so wished.

There are two things to consider in his account.

I believe he tells the truth. I have no quarrel with him on truth-telling.

There is no dishonesty in what I've always objected to about Rapert, which is his preachy arrogance that all of us should live by laws stemming from his personal Christian beliefs.

So, if he is telling the truth, then his service on the Library Board was Sanders' idea or initiative. This would not be a case of her simply obliging the request of a supportive constituent.

Instead, Sanders would be purposely putting a lightning rod of a political figure on the Library Board to draw attention to the politically and culturally divisive controversy surrounding libraries. That would be a trap into which, yes, I am hereby falling.

She might even be sticking it in liberals' faces because she doesn't like them owing to their haughtiness toward her and her family.

She could have advanced her views on libraries by appointing someone with Rapert's views but not his profile as someone whose mere mention riles tens if not hundreds of thousands of Arkansans.

The second thing to consider is just what Rapert's entry into official state library supervision might mean.

Such things can best be addressed anecdotally, and I recall a matter from last year.

The Central Arkansas Library System won a grant from the Arkansas Community Foundation to borrow an idea from the library in Salt Lake City to familiarize young people on new laws affecting transgender persons. CALS added a crafts element in which participants made pronoun badges.

Rapert, then a state senator running for lieutenant governor (unsuccessfully), went on the CALS open email forum and blasted the program as "sexualizing" children.

Nate Coulter, head of the library system, sent an explanation that the grant program sexualized nobody but merely looked to do what libraries do, which is attend to public needs and public information.

Transgender persons are allowed to learn things in a library, too.

Rapert responded that he'd like Coulter to come testify in the matter to a legislative committee. Coulter suggested instead a one-on-one meeting. Rapert didn't reply except to assail Coulter as arrogant and dismissive.

So, I asked Rapert this week about that. He described the CALS program as part of a "woke agenda," even accusing CALS of waging a "war on Arkansas."

He brought up books with photographs or depictions of oral sex that had been accessible to children in Arkansas libraries, though he did not specifically allege that such materials were part of the grant program in dispute, which they weren't.

As our conversation escalated--into, yes, personal disagreement--Rapert said that, should any Arkansas library make such filth accessible to children, "you can rest assured I'll make the motion to withhold funding."

The rest of our conversation centered on our disagreement on whether his religious beliefs about what God commands should be applied through law and state government policy to everyone.

Alas, it ended with his saying I knew better than some of the things I said and wrote, and my saying that his comment was the most arrogant thing I'd ever heard, after which he said he was mainly talking about occasions when I turn to mockery.

I have called him Church Lady. I do not know if I can stop doing that after having given up Queen Sarah. What he considers mockery is something I find observationally humorous.

I thanked him for always being accessible to me in my quest to supply informed commentary on topical matters, which I believe he's helped me carry out here.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.