OPINION

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Communicate? Ha!


Last week the state Corrections Board hired a new member for Gov. Sarah Sanders' cabinet, which otherwise she's picked for herself, as is customary and, in a sane world, obviously right and fair.

Considering a television news report the other night about the background of Sanders' recent appointee to head the Parole Board, our governor may be out of her depth and in need of all the help she can get.

Leaving that new Parole Board problem aside for now, you recall that the Corrections Board issue began weeks ago. The board fired Sanders' appointee to the position of cabinet secretary for prisons--the top prison job--after he told the board he worked entirely for her, and not at all for the board. That was inconveniently contrary to words in Amendment 33 of the state Constitution.

Sanders has now put her man in a holding pattern on her gubernatorial staff at a cabinet member's high salary. He reportedly will make recommendations to her on the prison matters they've made a complete mess of.

To date the governor has never talked with the prison board on her and her man's plan for a mass increase in inmate population without Corrections Board input or Correction Department planning. So, yes, she brought this on her haughty self.

But now the board seems to be taking the tit-for-tat a little further than necessary. The prison system is getting run well enough on an interim basis under the prison director, a longstanding authoritative position that formerly was at the top of the chart. But it got placed under the new position of cabinet secretary for corrections by former Gov. Asa Hutchinson's reorganization of state government.

The board needn't have gotten in the governor's face by declaring former state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams the acting cabinet secretary for prisons, the job she intends to give back to her guy as soon as the state Supreme Court contrives a way to rule in favor of her incorrect side.

Williams seems a strictly political choice, perhaps based on his potential to smooth relations with legislators. I was told Williams was judged ideal for this interim prison secretary position because he has relevant experience as mayor of Cabot. I wish to defend the city of Cabot on any intimation it's like a prison.

I recoil at the colliding ridiculousness of it all, especially since I've otherwise been exploring lately a better world revealing the logical benefits of well-meaning communication and cooperation in and around state government.

I will be writing later about a matter not quite ripe at this point for full treatment. But a part of it serves today as helpful comparison and contrast.

A group pushing one of these state constitutional amendment initiatives consists of strange bedfellows. There is a left-of-center attorney, public initiative whiz and mild disrupter, a veteran legislation drafter, a Democratic state senator, a former Republican legislator turned independent, a media association executive, and a law professor and fiery hide-peeling columnist coming from a kind of libertarian outsider perspective and a sweetheart in private, or so they say.

I've visited individually with three of these folks. About the first thing all three said was that everyone in the group became friends, the kinds you can count on, even as they hold entirely different views on issues that polarize nearly everyone else.

They're likely to produce needed and popular constitutional law on the right to freedom of information. They're talking about staying together and being on the lookout for other matters they might officially resist--matters of government overreach based on over-zealous ideology and the arrogance of overwhelming one-party dominance.

What they may be showing is that people are, or can be, generally better than their political representation. It is that naturally adversarial people, given the opportunity, can deal with each other on a respectful personal level, rather than wallow in the divisive racket all around them. It is that they can speak truth to power with words that aren't merely rhetoric, but quite possibly headed to enshrinement in the state Constitution.

I'd suggest the governor's office and the Corrections Board take notes. I'd suggest in their case a public meeting to air differences. They might begin to see each other's good attributes and good arguments.

Sanders might give up her prison secretary that she saddled them with, and the prison board might give up the one it saddled her with last week. They might pick a different one together.

Rather than wind up in court over whether the board may order the paying of its outside lawyer, they might agree to go together to seek legislative approval of the expenditure to wipe their slate clean for going forward.

I've written that this governor is not well-meaning. I've contended she is all about imposing national conservative talking points on Arkansas government for her own political advancement. I stand ready to write a happy correction.


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.


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