Opinion

OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Sanders so far isn’t the governor this state deserves

Endorsed by her mentor and political role model, Donald Trump, and loaded with lots of campaign cash generated by her affiliation with the former president, Sarah Sanders coasted into Arkansas's highest public office without breaking a sweat.

But there's a big difference between being a bigwig in Trump-world or at Fox News versus being governor in the real world of Arkansas.

Elections always have consequences. Now that Sanders has been governor since January and already been through one regular session and one special session of the Arkansas Legislature, the consequences of electing her are plain to see. It's not a pretty picture.

Last month Sanders called a totally unnecessary special session of the legislature for the intended purpose of gutting the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Big mistake. The governor failed miserably. Even most Republican legislators pushed back.

Now it seems the main reason Sanders sought to cripple government transparency was so she and others could hide stuff from the citizens and taxpayers of Arkansas. The controversy now surrounding the governor's purchase of a $19,000 lectern on the taxpayer's tab has Gov. Sanders in a pickle. An ongoing legislative audit will get to the bottom of it and provide Arkansas taxpayers with the answers they deserve.

Time will tell whether Sanders can justify the expenditure. Regardless, it's a bad look for the governor. At a minimum, the public is left with the impression that in some manner she misused taxpayer money. Sanders' obsession with secrecy and her raging sense of entitlement are the root cause of the mess she has created for herself. The governor needs to learn she's not untouchable and that the rules the rest of us have to follow apply to her, too.

Sanders' lack of effective people skills hamper her ability to convincingly lead. Unbridled arrogance and blind ambition make it difficult for anyone, including a governor, to win friends and influence people. A constant scowling demeanor and the absence of a sense of humor don't help her either. The governor's habit of ignoring people, angrily dismissing those with a different opinion and treating others like they are stupid or irrelevant is beginning to catch up with her. In the long run, treating the people you got hired to work for with contempt is not a recipe for a successful governorship.

Members of the governor's senior staff, populated with out-of-state political operatives who parachuted into Arkansas after Sanders was elected, have only made matters worse for the governor. The people Sanders surrounds herself with in the governor's office know nothing about Arkansas and its people nor do they really care about our state's future. Their primary role in the Sanders administration is to hurl insults at Arkansas citizens who disagree with the governor's policies and to assist the governor in advancing a national political agenda instead of measures tailored to the vital needs of our state.

The way in which Sanders and her lieutenants govern is sometimes juvenile in nature and often disrespectful toward others. In the mold of Donald Trump, they are hyper-partisan bullies who employ threats and intimidation at every turn to get what they want. They don't listen to citizens or care what they think. They are poor communicators and fear debate. Sanders herself rarely engages with Arkansas media and seldom answers questions from the public or press.

A prime example of how the Sanders administration operates is the governor's education reform bill that became law earlier this year. As columnist Rex Nelson recently pointed out, the governor's education package "was nothing more than a national template designed by out-of-state groups rather than an Arkansas-specific bill with input from teachers and administrators."

Sanders chose to ignore the legitimate questions and concerns of countless Arkansas citizens, opting instead to mindlessly and childishly label those who simply wanted answers to their questions or disagreed with her education reforms as "extremists" or "the radical left." With lightning speed, cowering Republican legislators did the governor's bidding by cramming her education bill down the throats of all Arkansans.

The governor's so-called education reforms garnered her a lot of air time on Fox News but there's a widespread belief in Arkansas these new laws will do irreparable damage to communities and to our state's public school systems and will prove to be harmful to many schoolchildren, especially those from poor families.

We are stuck with an Arkansas governor who cares more about herself and her national political aspirations than she does the state she got elected to govern. The people of this state expect Sanders to put Arkansas first but it often seems her priorities are elsewhere. One might conclude the Arkansan governorship is merely a means to an end for our self-serving governor.

Arkansans deserve better from their governor.

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