Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lessons in Statesmanship from our General Assembly (UPDATE - Response from Rep. Creekmore and Rep. Adcock)

By Brett Hooton

The most blogged about story on this blog over the past few days has been the Cigarette Tax which passed the House last week. Since we devoted so much of our time and Jason’s blog space on this issue, I thought it was important that we take a quick look back on how this tax was able to pass in the House.

One of the resources that I used, and I’m sure Jason as well, was Speaker Robbie Wills’ blog. I was disappointed to see him so frequently call other members out in the name of partisanship. Apparently anyone who disagrees with you on an issue must be doing so because they’re partisan? To the Speaker’s credit, since before the session started he frequently stated the importance of statesmanship. However I’ve heard of several examples that represent anything but statesmanship. I decided to poke around and find out if there was more to the story of how the Speaker and the Governor were able to achieve this major legislative accomplishment (accomplishment for government, not for taxpayers). I quickly realized there is more to this story than what you may read on Speaker Wills’ blog. Below is a collection of the accounts I received from legislators, some of them somewhat bitter about the way the votes were attained (and these concerns came from both sides of the isle). Please note that any of the legislators mentioned did not comment directly to me in regards to this subject. I imagine they didn’t want to jeopardize any of the bills they’ve introduced.

Four Steps to Raising a Tax

Step 1) Abuse your power

Several first-hand observers who were in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon had the unfortunate opportunity to observe Representative Dawn Creekmore notably distressed. Rep. Creekmore, who has championed several bills regarding women's rights, was herself a victim of abuse as a result of her position on the tobacco tax. According to several legislators, Rep. Creekmore was told under no uncertain terms, a "no" vote against the Speaker and his agenda would result in her "not passing another bill all session".

Current bills sponsored by Rep. Creekmore (in other words, the ones that would have been refused passage by the Speaker) include a bill banning partial-birth abortion and another stiffening the laws regarding sexual assaults and rape.

Is this Statesmanship?


Step 2) Forget those closest to you

Rep. Pam Adcock recently achieved a great legislative accomplishment. She was the lead House sponsor on the Animal Cruelty legislation that was just signed by the Governor last week. Her compelling (and tearful) testimony swayed many of the votes the bill needed to pass.


That was last week. This week, Rep. Adcock could be seen in tears because of the way she was being treated by the members of her own party. She stuck by her convictions and voted "no", but the toll it took on her relationships with other members of the Chamber is not hard to see.

Is this Statesmanship?


Step 3) Teach a man to lie (and pay him well to do it)

Rep. Garry Smith was as solid of a "no" as you could find, at least on Tuesday. By Thursday, his convictions had changed. He voted "yes", despite a promise to his constituents during the campaign to vote against any tax increases. So, what happened? Rep. Smith had a lot of time to think about his position the night before the big vote. He took a road trip with other legislators (who were supporting the tax increase) to go Fayetteville and watch the Arkansas Razorbacks take on Tennessee. By his own admission, Rep. Smith changed his mind "as they pulled into Fayetteville".

The only questions that remain are a) how much pressure does it take to get a man to go back on his word, and b) where did this group of esteemed legislators sit while at the game? Could it have been one of the lavish boxes often furnished to legislators by the lobbyist (an ethical violation)?

I hope for Rep. Smith it takes more than a trip with his "buddies" and a free ticket to a Razorback game to make him forget about the people who elected him, on the promise of no new taxes.

Is this Statesmanship?


Step 4) Learn to spell "plausible deniability"

Finally, if face to face threatening just won't do, there's always the cell phone. Several legislators have a collection of voicemails from a variety of people, including folks at home. These voicemails relay threats others received then passed on to their legislator. Voicemails relaying threats from staffers for the Governor and the Speaker have been replayed across the Chamber since the vote was taken.

Is this Statesmanship?

.....

Tolbert Report Note – I asked Rep. Creekmore, whom I have grown to respect, if she had a comment to add and she sent me the following…

"Speaker Robbie Wills NEVER told me that a "no" vote would result in not passing another Bill. Speaker Wills has always been very supportive of me and my legislation and has ALWAYS acted in a professional manner, and is a friend of mine.

"What was distressing to me was that I had a special order of business on Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary committee to run my domestic violence Bills, after presenting the first Bill, getting no questions and no-one speaking against the bill, Senator Luker voted against it. Everyone else on the committee voted for it, but it failed because of very few members present in committee. After this, I decided not to introduce the remainder of the Bills until I had a chance to speak to Sen. Luker.

"This caught me very caught off guard and it only took one no vote to fail the first Bill, and basically the rest of the package. I do plan on running these Bills again; I will just have to work hard to ensure that other committee members are present."


.....

UPDATE – I also received the following comments from another one of my favorite Democrats, Rep. Pam Adcock

"I must correct your statement – “could be seen in tears because of the way she was being treated by the members of her own party.” That information is false. I was under a lot of pressure and stress but never to the point of tears. I was unhappy, disappointed with some, but never to the point of tears.

"I voted no because the overwhelming majority of people that contacted me said VOTE NO! The general consensus of those people stated it’s an unfair tax placed on the back of a group to support something for everyone. Many mentioned the tough economic times. I agree with those statements. “She stuck by her convictions and voted "no",” isn’t exactly right. I voted NO for them… I was elect to represent the people, not myself."


5 comments:

Nick said...

Hey Jason, Thanks for stepping out there and corrected the information on Rep Creekmore, who is doing a great work for her constituency. I personally have not followed her that closely, but most of her laws seeking tougher penalties for rapist are desperately needed.

LawHog said...

I'd put a bit more work into vetting your "sources" next time...

Anonymous said...

"I voted no because the overwhelming majority of people that contacted me said VOTE NO! The general consensus of those people stated it’s an unfair tax placed on the back of a group to support something for everyone. Many mentioned the tough economic times. I agree with those statements. “She stuck by her convictions and voted "no",” isn’t exactly right. I voted NO for them… I was elect to represent the people, not myself."
I wish Clark Hall had the same convictions. He stated in a Sat. speech that he recieved 235 against and 2 for messages from his constituents. His statement was that real statesmanship was voting like you "knew was best for your constituents cause most of them were too uneducated to understand for themselves". Greg Reep was also present and agreed with this position. Arkansas Dems have a strange view of statesmanship.

Nick said...

Anonymous, I have to take issue with your post. We operate in a very much republican (as a system of government) manner and not a true democracy. Our elected officials frankly should do what they think is best regardless of the pressures from their constituency. He is doing what he thinks is right, and in ignoring his constituents and admitting to doing so he will bear the consequences in the election. I can't fault him for this.

If the tables were turned and more were for it than were against it, us conservatives would hail him as a hero who does not bow to the pressure.

Anonymous said...

Nick,
My problem was not with his voting in opposition to his constituents as it was his view of their level of understanding of the issue. His arrogance about their educational status and indifference to a 235-2 difference in constituent contact was offensive to me. If it was 235-200 or was even close enough to indicate a divided constituency I would agree with your position.