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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Straw in the boxing ring

by John Brummett | January 27, 2021 at 3:51 a.m.

Do you believe the state Legislature needs to step in to keep your local city council from defunding your local police department?

Are they boarding up police stations all over Arkansas and I've not heard a word about it?

Do you honestly fear that your local leaders would leave you without police protection if brave legislators meeting in Little Rock didn't pre-empt their authority to do so?

Do you not trust local control? Have you not long preached that very thing, especially for your schools?

Speaking of that, do you fear that your local school board would teach only liberal versions of American history if heroic legislators in Little Rock did not handcuff them otherwise?

This is what recently filed bills at the legislative session might imply.

Some will say with substantial evidence that hypocrisy is a major characteristic of the contemporary conservative moment in red-state concentrations like Arkansas.

Contemporary conservatives profess to want small government, yet they pursue an activist one. They impose different kinds of things than liberals impose, but roughly the same number. If it's a nanny state one way, then it's just a different nanny the other way.

Contemporary conservatives preach that local people should run their own lives. Yet their practice is to issue edicts from Little Rock as if local people are incompetent or far-out leftists.

It turns out, though, that this behavior may be as much about hollow grandstanding as hypocrisy.

These contemporary conservatives are presuming to pre-empt things not threatening to happen.

They seem largely to be about erecting scary-looking strawmen and preening around throwing jabs as if Muhammad Ali, stinging like a butterfly and roping the voter back home as the dopes.

We have three newly filed bills at the legislative session representing either hypocritical big-government conservatism or hollow grandstanding, or, my nominee, both.

HB1223 by Rep. Kendon Underwood and Sen. Bart Hester is titled "Back the Blue." It says no municipality in the state may "defund the police," defined as reducing police spending by more than 25 percent in a year unless the municipality has endured a revenue decline necessitating such a cut.

The punishment for violation would be a reduction in certain state turnback funds, which would seem to compound the defunding of the police that is at issue.

Think about it: If you were worried about local municipalities not funding the police, why would you propose to reduce funding to local municipalities?

Then there is HB1218 by Reps. Mark Lowery and Sens. Mark Johnson and Gary Stubblefield. It would fine a school district or college 10 percent of its state funding if it got caught permitting classroom conversation about anything that "promotes division between, resentment of, or social justice for a race, gender, political affiliation, social class, or particular class of people."

The history teacher presumably could say that the United States had an internal conflict from 1861 to 1865 caused by a disagreement about states' rights and nothing else so far as he or she was permitted to say.

The same legislators also sponsor HB1231, which says any local public school or college in the state teaching anything related to the so-called "1619 Project" will have its state funding reduced by whatever it spent on the verboten instruction.

That will be a difficult calculation, mainly one of a teacher's time. Teachers tend to be too busy--teaching in person as well as virtually--to keep detailed billable-hours records.

The "1619 Project" is a long-form journalism project undertaken on a 400-year anniversary theme by The New York Times. It weaves a historical narrative about slavery's formative role, from 1619, in the settling and economic flourishing of the American colonies.

It faces the fact that this nation has a detestable history on race, having engaged from colonial settlement onward in practices defying its founding national principle that all men are created equal.

Conservatives say the United States began in 1776, and that's that. They believe this narrative about the relevance of anything occurring before makes America out to be a bad place.

The project indeed contains disputed assertions, such as the American Revolution was fought at least in part to protect slavery lest England outlaw it.

But this bill presumes to prohibit discussion of the basic and accurate elements as well as any critical analysis of the controversial ones.

A couple or three right-wing state legislators are saying they know better than trained educators how and what to teach.

That's not academic freedom. It's not academic professionalism. It's not thoughtful curriculum regulation. It's not development of critical thinking. It is sure as heck not local control.

It is right-wing legislative haymakers unloaded on a strawman, and that is all.

I'm on record predicting that no right-wing bill could possibly fail in this Legislature. One or more of these might test my prediction a little. All three ought to test it a lot.

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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