Monday, July 30, 2007

Odds and Ends

I was in Little Rock today and met with Governor Beebe concerning grant possibilities to fund completion of the Henry Clay Yerger museum. It appears that grant money is available through the Department of Heritage and an application will be forthcoming at the proper time.

Speaking of the Governor, he will be in Hope at the watermelon festival on Saturday the 11th, to participate in the "politically correct watermelon eating contest". He will also be doing a little politicking himself, so if you want to have a word with the Governor, here's your chance.

I will be back in the capitol city on Wednesday for a presentation of $44,000.00 to UACCH for construction of a community walking trail to be located at the college. This is grant money from the Tobacco Settlement Commission that the college applied for and it will be awarded on Wednesday. This will make a nice addition to the campus and our community.

Here's my take on Barry Bonds and his quest to break Henry Aaron's record. I HATE IT!!!!
Hank Aaron was one of the all time good guys in the world of sports, who never complained or acted the prima donna. Bonds is a great player with or without steroids, but his wonderful ability and place in history will be muted by his lack of class and respect for the game. Hank will always be the home run king in my book.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Local Appointments

Governor Beebe announced today the appointment of two local people to state commissions. Hope Mayor, Dennis Ramsey, was appointed as a member to the newly created Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Criteria and Qualifications for Chiefs of Police. This task force was created by Act 287 of 2007 to detail and review the criteria and qualifications for Arkansas Chiefs of Police. They will report their findings to the 2009 legislature and the task force will be disbanded at that time.
Karen Massey, a Special Education Coordinator for the Southwest Educational Coop, was named as a member of the high profile Children's Behavioral Health Care Commission. This 20 member commission was created by Act 1593 of 2007 and will focus on improving the system of children's mental health care and treatment to hundreds of Arkansas families. This was the commission that Mrs. Beebe toured the state touting back in the spring and summer.
Congratulations to Dennis and Karen. I know both will do an outstanding job in their public service to our state. Also, thanks to our Governor for keeping Southwest Arkansas involved.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Speaker of the House

Many people believe that the second most powerful position in state government, right behind the governor, is the speaker of the house. I don't really disagree with that assessment and the race for speaker in 2009 has been hot and heavy for quite a while. The four announced candidates are Rep. David Cook (D)-Williford, Rep. David Dunn (D)- Forrest City, Rep. David Rainey (D)-Dumas and Rep. Robbie Wills (D)- Conway. I believe all four are good candidates and I like each one personally. The speaker election which is voted on by the 100 member House of Representatives, will take place on January 8th, 2008 in the House chamber. A great many of the House members have already committed to one of the four candidates and I have gone on record in supporting David Cook as the next speaker.
As I said, I believe all to be quality candidates, and my reasons for supporting Rep. Cook are many. First of all, I think David Cook is one of the premier education experts in all of state government. He reached out to this freshman legislator early on and included me in his Tuesday morning educational caucus. It was a great learning experience and allowed me an opportunity to absorb some of his passion and committment to our state. As a retired educator, David has effectively led thousands of young people and personnel in his years as a teacher, principal and Superintendent. I believe that background will provide him all the tools and insight needed to lead a pretty diverse group of 99 representatives.
His leadership style is low key, but organized and effective. Now don't think for a moment that this Vietnam veteran is some type of wallflower who doesn't speak his mind. I recall him standing awfully tall during the charter school debate, and that proved to me a willingness to fight for what he believes in. I consider that a very admirable trait. I also like the way he handles himself under pressure. The fact that he always kept his composure during a hot topic or debate, indicates to me an ability to handle the heat sure to come his way as speaker.
David has also been a successful businessman who knows the ins and outs of budgeting and priortizing needs. Most of all, I like his thoughtfulness on complex issues and the understanding that everything is not always as black and white as it seems. That quality enables him to always dig a little deeper before making tough decisions. In the end, they are all fine men, but I think David Cook is a natural leader who will make an excellent Speaker of the House.

Problems at DYS

I attended an Aging, Children and Youth committee meeting on Tuesday for discussion regarding the Division of Youth Services at Alexander. For those who don't know; DYS is, for lack of a better term, our juvenile prison system. At issue was the Divisions' non compliance of special education standards. The general feel of the committee seemed to be that everyone is tired of the talking and ready for some results. There are a number of problems at DYS, and I feel that anything done at this point will only apply a band-aid to a gaping wound. We can continue to grill the director of DHS, DYS and everyone involved, but I believe we will need to retool and rethink this entire agency before significant progress can be made. The first step should be regionalizing these facilities and equipping them with teachers and educational facilities suited for success. I believe our juvenile system, if done right, holds the key to success for thousands of young Arkansans who will only end up in the adult system if we don't get it turned around. I will say this for sure--the way we do it now doesn't work. Having said all that, I do have a positive feeling that the new director, Ron Angel, is going to give it his best shot, and we as legislators need to give him the opportunity to bring this monster under control.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Another Memorable Carnoustie

You don't see that headline very often. I'm speaking of the famed course in Scotland that hosted this years British Open. They just call it the Open Championship across the pond. I've made it known that there are few things I'd rather do than settle in for a good major championship; and in many ways the British is my favorite. The play-off between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia really capped a great four day championship. You have to love the unpredictable weather, deep bunkers, undulating fairways and of course the gorse. If you don't know about gorse, then you haven't watched enough British Opens. As I've said before, there's nothing better than a hot cup of coffee and a soft recliner on that Sunday morning when the Open Championship comes around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Madden Got It Right

I may not hate to fly as much as the former Raiders coach, but I'm not far from it. In my case it's not the fear of flying, it's more the discomfort of flying. I just want to know who designed the seats in an airplane. I'm guessing that one of Judy Garland's munchkins went on to bigger and better things after the Wizard of Oz to became an aeronautical design engineer; whatever that is. Nobody I know fits comfortably in one of those seats. For sure I don't. Now let me be the first to admit, I'm what the old folks would call big boned. I could stand to lose a few. But jiminy christmas-- I'll never be 5' 8' 145 lbs. Seems to me that a guy could make some money with an airline that caters to those of us with the larger frames. All I need now are some deep pocket investors to realize my new business dream--"Big Butt Airlines."

Legislative Trip

I got back Tuesday night from a trip to Wyoming where myself and eight other legislators toured the Peabody Coal mines just outside Gillette. This is the company that will service the coal needs for the proposed AEP-SWEPCO power plant in Fulton. It was an interesting trip that provided insight into the process of coal extraction and how it is shipped throughout the country. Wyoming boasts the largest coal reserves in the United States and some of the largest in the world. We had an opportunity to sit with company executives and question them about the problems facing their industry; and also their take on environmental issues regarding coal fired power plants. Obviously they feel that technology has improved the process of burning coal, and believe the ultra super critical coal fired plant is an economical and enviromentally safe way to produce electricity. I asked a question regarding nuclear power and they acknowledged the need for continued growth in that sector of energy production. But they pointed out the time and money to incorporate nuclear plants will not be feasible for the near future and short term demands for electricity. The ultimate question on how to meet the demands of our energy consumption will depend on advances in technology and consumer conservation. Without question, both the consumer and producer are in this together. They just have to realize it. P.S. For full disclosure-- this trip was sponsored by the Arkansas Eletrical Cooperatives.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Busy Week

There has been a lot going on this week with meetings in Little Rock and back here at home. Tuesday I attended a Public Health committee hearing at UAMS. About 25 legislators were given a tour of the campus to see the new construction going on. One item on the agenda that gathered a lot of attention was the proposal of putting a satellite medical school in Northwest Arkansas. The data seems to support this step is needed to continue supplying Arkansas with doctors to every region of the state. The general consensus was to be supportive of the idea at this time and continue to study the feasibility of doing so.

Thursday I was in LR and met with an informal committe of mental health providers, educators and others who have an interest in improving the ever growing problem of juveniles and their families becoming involved in the court system. It was more or less a brainstorming session to try and get those who come in contact with these kids all on the same page. I believe a level of consistency is crucial to help stem the tide of delinquency, along with school and family problems. It was a productive meeting with several ideas and areas of concern coming forth.

I will be out of the state until next Tuesday, but will return that night to attend a Rural Development conference in Arkadelphia on the17th. The meeting will take place at the Clark County fairgrounds beginning at 6:00. This is a meeting for Clark and Nevada counties that is being sponsored by Sen. Malone, Reps. Roebuck, Hardy and myself. The Rural Development folks and several other state agencies will be there to provide information on how they can best assist our towns, municipalities and rural fire departments. Hope to have a good turn-out.

Turk Power Plant

There was a packed house last night at UACCH for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality hearing on the proposed Turk Power Plant at Fulton. This hearing provided an opportunity for questions and public comment on the AEP-SWEPCO plant. There were plenty of both. Environmental concerns regarding the plants emissions of mercury and carbon dioxide were the focus of those who voiced opposition to the plant's construction. Economic opportunities was the basis of support for those in favor of the project. ADEQ and SWEPCO both had representatives there to answer questions. During the public comment section, Senator Horn and I both voiced our support for the plant's construction and operation. There is a great deal of passion on both sides of this issue, as I believe there should be. Questions about the environmental safety and quality should continue to be asked. AEP-SWEPCO and ADEQ should continue to provide the answers. I belive the company should and will be held to the state and federal standards regarding emissions and air quality. But to suggest that AEP pull up stakes and ditch this project without going through the entire process of checks and balances, is not a viable option in my opinion.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Where's Rufus?

The supposed new Seven Wonders of the World were named this weekend after 90 million votes were cast in an online poll for 21 sites. Here are the results:

The Great Wall of China
Petra in Jordan
Brazil's statue of Christ the Redeemer
Peru's Machu Picchu
Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid
The Colosseum in Rome
India's Taj Mahal

I have no doubt all seven are deserving of the honor.

However, some may wonder if this christening of a new top 7 is a legitimate undertaking. Well this news release I found on the web should clear that up-- Lisbon, Portugal: A star studded announcement celebration for the new Seven Wonders of the World was held in Lisbon yesterday, with headliners Jennifer Lopez and Chaka Khan performing.-- Well there you go. Nothing validates centuries old man-made wonders like Chaka Khan does. (Chaka Khan Chaka Khan). Although, I personally would have replaced Jennifer Lopez with Patti LaBelle. That's just me though.

In the end, our grandchildren's children will know if these seven wonders stand the test of time. But before we all jump the gun and annoint this as the definitive list, a word of caution: Let's wait until the Coach's poll comes out.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

In The Black

With a new fiscal year off and running, the Department of Finance and Administration reports the state surplus to be just over $1 billion. Most of that money is already accounted for, with almost half going to school facilities. According to the DF&A, when all is said and done, state government should begin the new budget cycle with roughly $112 million to spare. A rainy day fund if you will. Speaking of which, I endorsed a bill by Rep. Maloch back during the session to create just such a fund of $200 million with specific spending mechanisms tied to it. Even though it never got traction, I still believe that is a prudent plan and will be supporting similar legislation in the future. With the recently enacted tax cuts now in effect, and hopefully more coming in 2009, that $112 million is an encouraging sign.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Looking for Jobs

I attended an organizational meeting this morning with the Governor's Dislocated Worker Task Force, to address the recent loss of 137 jobs at Champion Parts here in Hope. This downsizing or layoff, whatever you choose to call it, is going to be a big hit to our local economy. It is imperative for those displaced workers to have every bit of information possible to find future employment and what the state can offer in helping them to do so. Representatives from several state agencies were at the meeting to develop a plan in reaching out and providing assistance to these workers. A workshop for the Champion workers has been set for Thursday July 19th, at UACCH, beginning at 9:00 that morning. Agencies offering services to the workers will be available that day, and hopefully, many of the 137 will be able to attend. The most disheartening aspect of the meeting was discovering the company's failure to cooperate with the agency's request for information to identify the workers. With their cooperation, valuable time could have been saved in identifying all those affected. The Task Force will now rely on mass advertising to get the word out about their services. It is always difficult when a company downsizes or closes down, but cooperation must come from all sides. Here's hoping it will.

Kudos to the First Lady

First lady Ginger Beebe has done a wonderful job of bringing focus to a very serious problem in Arkansas--children's mental health services. Her travels throughout the state, talking with dozens, if not hundreds of families caught up in this bureaucratic maze, was the subject of a front page story in this morning's Democrat Gazette. Act 1593 of 2007, created the Children's Behavioral Health Care Commission to determine ways we can shore up and improve services to so many Arkansas families. Mrs. Beebe will report her findings to the commission in the near future, and hopefully the commission will come forward with some definitive ideas to improve mental health services to these young Arkansans. Mrs. Beebe has the ball rolling in the right direction and it's no time to stop that momentum.