LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A collection of editorials from some Arkansas newspapers.
El Dorado News-Times, June 21, 2015
State Rep. Justin Harris has mercifully announced his decision to not seek re-election. Thank you, sir. The announcement is long overdue, but not as long overdue as the announcement that should have been made already - the announcement of his resignation from the state House.
Harris gave his adopted daughters to a man who later admitted to sexually assaulting one of them and two other children. Harris says he gave the girls away because he perceived the 5- and 3-year-olds as a threat to his biological children. His actions led to two pieces of legislation aimed at preventing foster parents in Arkansas from re-homing the children in their care and custody. His poor judgment and refusal to resign dominated headlines for much of the recent Legislative session and the following special session.
Harris got crossways with the state Department of Human Services - first accusing the agency of trying to block his adoptions of the girls and then later when he decided he didn't want the children, said DHS prevented him from returning them to state custody. He did, after some scrutiny, step down in mid-March as vice chairman of the House Aging, Children, Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs Committee as well as a position on the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee. Both of those committees have oversight of DHS.
The problem is that he stopped there. He should have resigned. Period.
Harris was absent for all three days of the special legislative session that was held in May. He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he stayed away, in part, because of an ongoing Arkansas State Police investigation.
"I felt that was important and I was taking care of some family matters," Harris said, adding that he planned to finish his term strong and not miss any more legislative sessions.
A state police investigation is important and family matters should come first. Unfortunately for Harris - and more so for the people of his district and the state, he doesn't see that his actions combined with all of the local, state and national attention have resulted in him being ineffective and a distraction to the legislative process.
Sadly, Harris doesn't feel a moral obligation to do the right thing in the glaring spotlight of his wrongdoing.
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 22, 2015
Hang on, Fayetteville
Well, there you have it.
Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people drafted their second anti-discrimination proposal for Fayetteville outside the public's view, then two aldermen -- Matthew Petty and Adella Gray -- brought it to the Fayetteville City Council. With Mayor Lioneld Jordan casting the deciding vote to suspend the rules of normal procedure, the City Council on the same night the measure was formally introduced voted 6-2 for the ordinance, which sets up a Sept. 8 special election.
What's the point?
Fayetteville aldermen chose to hash through debate on discrimination through a political campaign rather than collaboration.
Yes, there was public feedback in the meeting, but none of it ever stood a chance of affecting the proffered ordinance. Its backers had the votes, a supportive mayor and no inclination to let anyone monkey with their idea of what Fayetteville needs. Alderman John LaTour, one of the two who voted against the measure, offered 14 amendments but none of them received the second necessary to require a City Council discussion and vote, not that it would have mattered much.
For advocates of public deliberation on legislation, the process leaves much to be desired. Rather than collaboration in a public setting, this is handed to voters as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. For those who desperately want something -- anything -- in Fayetteville municipal law they can claim as a victory for gay equality, none of that matters. And, if one is entirely honest, it's highly unlikely such a process would have swayed opponents to suddenly cheer in support of the measure.
Our sense is a vast majority of Fayetteville residents would agree that nobody should face discrimination. In housing, a gay person who can pay the rent has every right to expect fair treatment as someone is not gay. A transgender person sitting down to order a meal at a local restaurant should never face being ignored, at least any more so than any other customer. (We've all been to places where bad service was just bad service.)
The election will turn on emotion: When voters make a choice, they won't decide based on the intricacies of the law. Some will cast a ballot based solely on one question: Are you for discrimination or against it? Others, as in last year's clash over a far more complicated anti-discrimination law, will oppose it due to concerns about religious freedom in operating private businesses -- the ol' catering a gay wedding argument. Between now and Sept. 8, Fayetteville voters will witness a political campaign more so than a community discussion.
The most important questions are unlikely to be settled by a vote. Proponents have lawyered the measure extensively, trying to navigate the state Legislature's move in the spring session to prevent municipalities from passing precisely this kind of ordinance. Backers believe the state law was sufficiently porous it ultimately failed in its goal. Fayetteville's city attorney, Kit Williams, wisely predicts litigation will come.
There are also other legal questions: Can the city legally establish a confidential process for complaints and mediation under Arkansas' open government laws? Generally speaking, cities can't just create a secret process that skirts such laws, no matter how well-intentioned that process may appear.
And, of course, there's the ongoing question of whether local laws are best suited to handle the concerns of discrimination that, for every other class of people offered protection, is dealt with in state and federal law.
Those matters may ultimately be determined in the courts, but it won't necessarily prevent an election from happening. The city's aldermen have chosen to have this measure vetted through a political campaign rather than within the chambers of city government. So voters will, in the next couple of months, need to pay close attention. We recommend Fayetteville voters read the law (Uniform Civil Rights Protection at http://nwadg.com/documents) and evaluate its merits. Then listen to the opposing sides and evaluate what sounds reasonable and what doesn't. Perhaps reading the ordinance will inoculate voters from the effects of some of the more hyperbolic statements one can expect in the days ahead.
There will also be talk about how Fayetteville needs to send a message of this or that sort. In our view, Fayetteville sends a message by how its residents treat each other day in and day out far more than it can by a single vote. Generally speaking, Fayetteville earns high marks in that regard.
The central question is whether city government should be given the power that this law would create, and does the law do that effectively.
We suspect the campaigns for and against the measure will cast the decision in more simplistic terms.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 22, 2015
Education, not indoctrination
Last week, the federal government announced that it had awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects to preserve memories of those Japanese relocation camps during the Second World Catastrophe. More than $300,000 was awarded for projects in Arkansas alone, which makes sense. Thousands of Americans whose only crime was to be of Japanese descent were forced from their homes on the West Coast in 1942 to be housed in camps in Arkansas_guarded, secure, barbed-wired camps_until the war was over.
Much of the grant money from the feds will be used to help folks at the University of Arkansas digitize archives, documents and other artifacts. Which should help explain what happened at those camps to the generations to come.
Here's hoping the effort, when completed, tells the whole story, and not some black-and-white, tidy, sterilized, politically correct version of events.
Was the federal government, back in 1942, wrong to move hundreds of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent inland, taking them from their homes and livelihoods, and shoving them into prison camps? There's no doubt about it. Easy as that is to say looking back three-quarters of a century. After all, they were Americans, just Americans, before hyphenated Americans became popular. They should have been treated as any other citizens. That they were not is another unfortunate chapter in American history.
Sure, there were those in the government (including, can you believe, J. Edgar Hoover) who thought the whole exercise was baseless. But the president at the time, who's now often referred to by his initials, FDR, listened to folks like Henry Stimson and Francis Biddle, and they saw a Fifth Column and a potential Imperial Japanese invasion of the West Coast any day.
Imagine the country's nerves at the time. The attack at Pearl Harbor had destroyed much of the United States Navy in the Pacific. In 1942, one by one, islands were falling to the Japanese. MacArthur fled the Philippines in early March. Deep in the heartland, little towns appointed air wardens. The Axis was on the move.
It's obvious that the camps in Arkansas were wrong. It just wasn't obvious they were wrong then.
If we're going to preserve history, bravo! Let's preserve even more of it. But let's be sure to tell the whole story. This should be about education, not indoctrination.