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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A prix fixe school agenda

by John Brummett | January 18, 2023 at 3:25 a.m.

In this week's regular video and podcast with Roby Brock of Talk Business and Politics, Brock said he'd been told the single consolidated education bill that Gov. Sarah Sanders is demanding will run in the vicinity of 500 pages, which seems short.

Or at least he said that's the legislative over-under.

And he enlightened me, as he sometimes does, by suggesting that the tactic of everything in one bill was not at all about inconveniencing Democrats or owning the liberals, as I'd speculated. Democrats and liberals, after all, are wholly irrelevant in Arkansas.

He gauged Sanders' purpose as all about herding the Republicans.

They, it turns out, may have individual differences of opinions, indeed their own gradations of conservatism. Those vary from a few pragmatists to several regular conservatives to the greater gaggle tied to Sanders' hostile and resentment-driven blend of Trumpism and DeSantism.

The thinking is that conservative Republican views will vary on, say, a greater emphasis on pre-K education, which is Sanders' best thing--only good thing--so far. And they may vary about school choice; some may be beholden to their small local schools and sensitive to the concerns of their superintendents. Some conservative Republican legislators might not want to give teachers $4,000 raises until teachers have done something new and different.

If you give Republican legislators an opportunity to vote on those independent issues separately, then you risk the repetitive inconvenience of pushback. But, if you insist that legislators take it all or leave it all with a Washington-style "omnibus" bill, then you can consolidate not just disparate issues into one big bill, but power unto yourself.

A single big bill tells pre-K opponents to swallow pre-K if they want school choice. It tells Democrats--not that they matter--to do the inverse. It tells conservative legislators beholden to their superintendents to swallow school choice or tell those superintendents they'll risk doing without teacher raises.

I can't fault her tactically. She may be that most frightful political animal of all, a wingnut with tactical savvy.

She wields a 65 percent mandate. Fox News, the dominant Arkansas news source, touts her. She's in her honeymoon stage politically. If she chooses to use that leverage to cow legislators into giving her all that she wants the way she wants it, then we can only say, literally, more power to her.

Is there any chance the legislative leadership would stand up to her and say, no, we insist that members be allowed to consider these issues individually? You couldn't possibly mean Sen. Bart Hester, the president pro tem, who is on record saying he's for whatever she's for. He's that sycophantic character who followed around Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Veep." Or he's that guy in the White House who followed Donald Trump around carrying hairspray.

My view of centralized power in the executive depends entirely on the identity of the executive. My principles of government vary according to my assessment of the varying principles of the executives.

I was all for Asa Hutchinson's assertion of unilateral emergency powers during the pandemic. I actually was fearful for my health of legislative involvement.

At the same time, I wanted the then-president, the clown named Trump, to have no powers at all, whether in a pandemic or out.

In this school regard, I can assert a sustaining trans-partisan principle.

I wrote repeatedly during the Obamacare debate that the massive bill ought to be broken out and considered element by element. Just last year, I wrote that Democrats ought to break up that so-called "Build Back Better" spending orgy into separate proposals, which, I'm happy to say, is what happened.

Now, here in Arkansas, I want a severed bill and individual votes for expanded pre-K, for big teacher raises and against freewheeling school choice.

But I don't think the new empress is going to let us dine on a buffet.

She intends to hand us a one-item menu with a price that's fixed, and, I fear, high.

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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