A frightful case study

State Rep. DeAnn Vaught, Republican of Horatio in southwest Arkansas generally respected for hard work to aid rural Arkansas, got all broken-out in gumption Wednesday.

It was as if she'd had all she could take, better late than never.

She spoke in opposition to a culture-war bill that passed, of course. It could make criminals of librarians if kids get hold of books from libraries that somebody might find objectionable. Vaught mentioned "Catcher in the Rye" and the Bible.

Here was her money quote: "I have lifelong Republicans asking me what are we doing down here," Vaught said.

I can answer that. What Republican legislators are doing is going around scared of Sarah Sanders, whose style and policies indeed have begun to seem a bit monstrous.

Rep. Jim Wooten of Beebe, venerable public school-supporting moderate Republican, told KARK-TV, Channel 4, that half the Republican legislators are trying to get on Sanders' good side and half are scared of her.

The word is that the governor's office got so bent out of shape over that little TV news report that Republican legislators got scared for sure.

But then Sen. Bart Hester, the naïvely verbose president pro tem of the Senate, gave a revealing interview to a hyperpartisan national right-wing online publication called the Free Beacon. It was contained in an article on Sanders rapidly making Arkansas cooler than Florida or Texas as a right-wing paradise.

The boyish Hester said in one breath that it's fun to come to work every day to pass all this culture-war stuff. He said in another breath that legislators are more afraid of Sanders than of their local school superintendents.

That sounds enough like perversion--enjoying being scared, which sounds a lot like hurtin' so good--that we may need a Church Lady bill against it.

In the matter of fright, Vaught herself may be a relevant study.

Prior to the session, I was talking with a Democratic legislator--so anonymity will be tricky considering the scarcity--about whether there was any prospect of stopping the school voucher bill. The Democrat said no, that even Vaught, a steady rural public-school advocate on the Republican side who had resisted school-choice efforts, had said passage was so inevitable this time that she'd just go along.

I attempted to get in touch with Vaught on that, but she was scared. Well, I don't know that. Maybe she just found me irrelevant, unworthy of her time. It's a reasonable assessment.

Then, when the school bill passed to undercut public education and subsidize well-off parents' tuition at private and church schools, Vaught made herself tearful as she lamented the way teachers and superintendents had been treated by the Legislature in the lead-up discussion of the bill.

She said, "They teach my kids, they love my kids. I would hate to think that we as legislators would dump on those that I consider to be heroes in my district. I have fears. I have doubts. I have questions. But I trust in the sponsor, that if there's problems with the bill and there's things that need to be changed, we'll work together and make sure they get addressed at a very quick pace."

Let me rephrase her position: This bill is bad, but I'm scared to vote against it.

She'd worked up some spunk Wednesday, as had, it seemed, several of her Republican colleagues, to varied degrees.

The get-the-librarians bill got only 56 votes, with 44 voting against or taking a walk. That's razor-thin by today's all-for-Sarah standard.

The bill provides that a person may file a complaint about a library book, at which point the library must appoint a committee to consider the complaint, after which a complaining person, if losing at the committee level, can go to the relevant local politicians--the quorum court or the city council or the school board, depending on the affiliation of the offending library--and get them to decide.

If the local politicians, perhaps scared, voted to disallow a book, the chief librarian could then be charged with a crime if some kid wound up with that book from the library.

Vaught, in her new fed-up incarnation, spoke from the well of the House to say that local control--once a supposed conservative principle--ought to be trusted to guard community standards about reading materials stocked in libraries.

She said the Legislature needed to do serious things instead of go after librarians.

I am dubious about any enforcement of this law. I can't imagine a prosecutor bringing a case unless the chief librarian was provably a sexual predator, which is already against the law.

That's one of the real atrocities. We have all the laws we need against bad actions. All these scaredy-cats are doing is singling out groups to target and bully.

A transgender librarian in Arkansas, if there is one, had best not go to the bathroom or allow a kid to check out any books.

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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