All posts by Steve Brawner

After legislators meet, marijuana more limited but still legal

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

It was a good legislative session for some (gun rights supporters), a bad one for others (supporters of more highway spending), and for supporters of medical marijuana, it was as good as could be expected.

The amendment passed by Arkansas voters in November could be amended with a two-thirds vote by legislators, and at least that percentage likely voted against it, as did Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. There were ample opportunities these past three months for those lawmakers to mostly overturn the amendment overtly or subversively. But the attitude among many legislators and the governor was that regardless of what they believed about the amendment, the people voted for it, so their democratic duty was to make it work.

Uncivil discourse

Sen. Tom Cotton, center, and Rep. French Hill at the town hall.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

There’s regular intelligence, and there’s emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize and control your own emotions and to influence the emotions of others. If you’re a member of Congress, you need both, but if you’re a member of Congress participating in a town hall, and you can only be blessed with one, it’d better be emotional intelligence.

I write that paragraph after attending Monday’s 2 p.m. raucous town hall hosted by Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. French Hill, where it didn’t matter what kind of intellectual arguments they made because they weren’t going to change many minds among the 750 attendees – some of whom totally supported them and many of whom were totally opposed. All that mattered was that they kept their cool amongst the booing, jeering, shouted interruptions and personal attacks, and they did.

British States of America

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

In 1776, the United States declared its independence from the British monarchy. In 2017, the United States government looks like the British Parliament.

In Britain’s parliamentary system, there aren’t really separate legislative and executive branches, and partisanship is designed into the system. Voters elect members of Parliament (MPs) based largely on the MP’s party affiliation. The party winning a majority (or leading a majority coalition, because there are more than two) forms a government. The party’s leading MP becomes prime minister – currently Theresa May, who represents the town of Maidenhead. Other leading MPs administer parts of the government, much like our Cabinet. The other ruling party members, known as “backbenchers,” go along with their leaders on important matters unless they feel compelled to engage in a “backbench rebellion” – enough of which can bring down the government. The minority party, meanwhile, functions as a loyal opposition with limited power as it awaits the next election.

What’s a legislative session like? Controlled chaos

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, testifies before a House committee about his bill allowing guns on college campuses. Often, committee meetings are standing room only.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Now that the regular session lacks only a planned one-day return May 1 before adjournment, 12 legislators have written letters to their chambers asking the record to reflect they didn’t mean to vote a certain way on a particular bill, as reported in Monday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

That’s not a big deal. Over three months, the state’s 135 legislators filed 2,069 bills, 1,074 of which have become law. They recorded, between them, hundreds of thousands of votes, so a few fumbles are to be expected. None of the 12 mistakes affected the outcome of legislation.

The news does present an opportunity to describe what a legislative session looks like, which is, in two words, controlled chaos.