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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Paying to be insulted

by John Brummett | January 24, 2021 at 8:47 a.m.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who so wants to win a Republican gubernatorial primary in 2022, is spending your money to serve her personal and partisan interest while insulting your intelligence.

She has put recently retired state Republican Party chairman Doyle Webb on her public payroll for $150,000 a year to direct her office's constitutional role this year in legislative redistricting.

She says this career partisan will lead a strictly nonpartisan exercise as he oversees her office's participation on the Board of Apportionment redrawing state legislative districts to reflect the new census. She says he'll take into account only citizens' needs and considerations such as compactness and logic.

Presumably, then, he'll concern himself not at all with the self-perpetuating interests of super-majority Republican legislative incumbents wanting their districts redrawn either to protect their Republican advantage or enhance it.

Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, told me he didn't hire extra office staff a decade ago when the last legislative redistricting job got done pursuant to the new census.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe, who served on that Board of Apportionment with McDaniel and the Republican secretary of state, Mark Martin, said he didn't hire anybody either. He was eventually reminded that the board itself, not any individual office, hired a director, though not for any $150,000.

By the way, the Republican secretary of state, Martin, did hire an outside attorney to sue Beebe and McDaniel, and lose. The attorney Martin hired was named Hutchinson. Asa, I think.

So, then, to summarize: The gubernatorially aspiring attorney general is throwing your tax money at the former state GOP chairman so he can assume a generous salary in an unprecedented and seemingly unnecessary job on her public staff. She's boasting of the diligent nonpartisan essence of the work this highly paid career partisan will do in her behalf.

I guffaw.

Let us be serious: Legislative districting is entirely about partisan politics. A man whose job for years has been helping elect Republicans is not likely to give up those Republicans to nonpartisanship. And Rutledge is likely not using your money to rent herself a longtime state GOP chairman for his fairness to Democrats or mathematical or mapping skills.

A decade ago, Beebe and McDaniel ran roughshod over Martin with a redistricting plan that protected their Democratic mates and friends and tried when the opportunity arose to inconvenience nettlesome Republicans. State Sen. Jason Rapert was aghast at what Beebe and McDaniel had done to his district.

It turned out they hadn't done nearly enough.

Redistricting authority is the reward for taking control of the three big state constitutional offices at the turn of the decade. It means you get to draw legislator districts to your partisan advantage to last 10 years.

To the victor goes the decade.

The only way to change that is to adopt a constitutional amendment turning redistricting over to an independent commission. We had such a proposal headed for the general election ballot last year until the Arkansas Supreme Court threw it out because the signature canvassers had sworn only that they had acquired background checks, not passed them, though they'd passed them.

Because of one word, Doyle Webb gets $150,000.

As GOP chairman, Webb opposed the proposal. He made the point that it was interesting that someone was proposing that redistricting become nonpartisan only after Republicans took over. Now he seeks to reincarnate in a costume of detached objectivity.

Webb's new gig will improve his public retirement income. That

money-for-life funnel is based on years of employment and salary level.

He formerly was a part-time legislator and a modestly paid aide in the pointless lieutenant governor's office. This assignment is a golden-year boon for him and his wife, who, as a Republican delegate to the Arkansas Supreme Court, won't retire pennilessly either.

Less offensive--and less expensive--is Rutledge's retaining two former Republican legislators, Andy Davis and Doug House, as month-to-month contract consultants on redistricting. Also less offensive and expensive is Secretary of State John Thurston's retaining another former state GOP chairman, lobbyist and consultant Richard Bearden, as his contract help.

Their job is to determine how Republican legislative incumbents want their new districts to look and to get them drawn that way if at all possible.

Webb's job is less clear. He supervises, apparently.

As usual, the aforementioned Asa Hutchinson, the third member of the apportionment board this time, is a little more pristine than other Republicans. He's bringing in a contract Republican consultant on redistricting--to deal with "stakeholders," a euphemism for Republican incumbents--but is keeping that contractor off the taxpayer breast. He is paying him with party funds.

So, to summarize again:

Leslie Rutledge is seeking partisan and personal political advantage by going all in-your-face on taxpayers.

She also is insulting us by asserting a nonpartisan interest.

Webb isn't missing a paycheck.

Arkansas Democrats are SOL at least for the 2020s.


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 Twitter feed.


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