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Poll: Few in the middle with Trump

By Steve Brawner

A newly released poll has found that with President Trump, most Arkansas voters have a strong opinion one way or the other, and it’s about half and half. Ideally, those aren’t the results you want in a strong, stable democracy in a big, diverse country.

According to the poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, Trump’s approval rating in Arkansas has dropped from 60 percent in February to 50 percent in July, with 47 percent disapproving and only 3 percent having no opinion.

The drop of 10 points is interesting but not shocking. Running for president is easier than being president, which is why all presidents’ hair changes color, including Trump’s. It doesn’t take long for presidents to start offending people, especially when they try to do it.

What’s more notable is the way those numbers break out. Of the 50 percent who approve of Trump, 39 percent strongly approve and only 11 percent somewhat approve. Meanwhile, 40 percent strongly disapprove and only 7 percent somewhat disapprove. Forty percent, the same percentage as strongly disapprove, want him impeached. Continue reading Poll: Few in the middle with Trump

Repeal, and then what?

By Steve Brawner

© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The Senate health care bill is dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell killed it Monday after it did what President Obama couldn’t do – make Obamacare more popular – and after too many Republican senators said they’d vote against it and none expressed enthusiasm for it.

The unenthusiastic included Arkansas Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, who both remained noncommittal even though Cotton was one of 13 Republican senators who wrote the bill behind closed doors.

McConnell’s new plan is to repeal Obamacare now, but it wouldn’t take effect for two years while Congress creates a replacement. In response, Cotton told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday that he was “pleased” with that direction. He said Congress already voted to repeal Obamacare in 2015, a move supported by all six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation.

Of course, in 2015 everyone knew President Obama would veto the bill. This vote would actually count because President Trump would sign it.

Cotton seems to think this could happen and seems to support it, even though he told “Meet the Press” in January that any repeal vote should include a path forward and that “kicking the can down the road a year or two years is not going to make it any easier to solve.” He told Hewitt that senators who voted once to repeal Obamacare would have no choice politically but to do so again. Boozman also is on board with the idea.

Let’s hope they don’t get that chance.

Here’s the thing about businesses, including health care-related ones such as insurance companies and hospitals: Like a tree growing on the side of a cliff, they can thrive in difficult environments as long as they know the rules. They can make a profit even when taxes are too high, regulations are too onerous, and government is too big.

But it’s much harder to thrive amidst the shifting sands of uncertainty. In that environment, free market providers can’t make business decisions, so they play it safe and wait to see what happens next. If the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) were repealed with only a vague promise from politicians of something coming later, the entire system would be thrown into disarray, leading insurers to leave markets and making health care more expensive and less available.

Besides, working off a deadline is not exactly Congress’ strong suit these days. Time and again, it’s funded the government through continuing resolutions – spending what it did last year, plus some, because it didn’t have time to do a real budget. It’s repeatedly extended the debt ceiling at the last minute, and it’s delayed important legislation because it couldn’t get its act together. One example: After the No Child Left Behind education law expired in 2007, Congress didn’t do anything about it until 2015, when it finally replaced it.

We can’t have years of limbo with health care, because people will die. If Republicans don’t have an answer seven years after Obamacare was passed, they won’t have one in two more. It’s not hard to foresee an inconclusive election in 2018, and then the two-year deadline passes with no consensus, so there’s a new deadline, and then another.

Since “repeal and replace” is dead and “repeal, then replace” is a terrible idea, what’s left? There’s “return” – just go back to the old system, where insurance companies denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions, set lifetime limits, and cut people off based on technicalities. In other words, sell you insurance as long as you don’t need it. Want to go back?

Instead of repeal, replace or return, there’s a fourth “R” – reform. Change current law  incrementally, and then change it again as needed. This would require a bipartisan approach, along with listening to health care providers and other stakeholders, which did not happen this time. It would anger some supporters and media blowhards, and it would mean accepting that you can’t get everything you want in a democracy. But the health care system would be better.

There is another option, offered by President Trump: Let Obamacare “fail,” and then create a new system.

Presumably, he still could get the health care he needs after the system “fails” and policymakers try to figure out how to pick up the pieces.

The rest of us shouldn’t have to live with such uncertainty. Let’s go with the fourth “R.”

Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Could Paul Spencer give Arkansas Democrats a shot?

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

Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District just got more interesting, perhaps even almost competitive, and it might point the way for Arkansas Democrats in other parts of the state.

Paul Spencer is forming an exploratory committee to run for that congressional seat as a Democrat. It’s currently occupied by Rep. French Hill, a Republican.

Spencer was a founder of the group Regnat Populus, which tried in 2012 to get an ethics reform measure on the ballot that would limit campaign contributions. The effort failed to collect enough signatures, but legislators did respond by placing on the 2014 ballot a wide-ranging “ethics” amendment passed by voters. It did limit campaign contributions as well as gifts by lobbyists to legislators, but it also snuck in a provision weakening term limits, a measure Spencer later criticized.

Spencer has continued to stay active in politics, his primary focus being campaign finance and ethics reform. He’s also pro-life, which is kind of interesting considering the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, recently said all Democrats must support abortion rights. In his day job, Spencer is a history and government teacher at Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys.

It’s just an exploratory committee, but Spencer sounds like he’s running. In a statement, he said that “only the needs of special interests are being represented in the 2nd District.” He said recent Republican health care policy “demonstrates reckless disregard for the people of Arkansas.”

Arkansas Democrats have been beaten up pretty badly in recent years. In 2008, the party controlled five of the state’s six congressional offices, all seven statewide constitutional offices, and 102 of the 135 seats in the Legislature. Now Republicans control everything at the state and national levels, although Democrats still control the majority of local offices for now.

In 2016, the Democrats only managed to field one congressional candidate, and not a strong one. That was in the 2nd Congressional District, the one Democrats have the best shot of winning because it includes Little Rock and Pulaski County along with outlying counties that are much more Republican. Hill lost Pulaski County, while Hillary Clinton beat President Trump there by 19 points.

Spencer – who, let’s be clear, would be a long shot – truly believes in what he’s saying and can articulate why he’s running. His candidacy would give the party what it often lacks: a passionate, recognizable candidate who can offer a contrast with the Republican incumbent. Hill, a successful banker, is more of an establishment Bush Republican trying to navigate the party’s waters now that it’s led by President Trump, who is not Hill’s kind of candidate. His policies are conservative, particularly when it comes to business-related issues, but he has a moderate, measured style. So Hill the banker versus Spencer the crusader could be interesting.

One challenge for Spencer would be how to fund his campaign. After dedicating himself to limiting campaign donations, how would he collect enough money to run a credible race? On the other hand, as the 2016 presidential race showed, maybe money and the things it buys – an avalanche of 30-second ads and an army of consultants – isn’t as important as it used to be.

Spencer’s type of candidacy may point the way forward for Democrats in other parts of the state. The party’s traditional message –“We’re Arkansas Democrats, not national Democrats” – isn’t working anymore. Moving forward, the party can’t merely bash Trump and promise more government goodies like more pre-K classes, and it certainly won’t win in Arkansas embracing Hollywood-style cultural liberalism. You can call Spencer a liberal, but his message is bigger than that: It’s that the system is rigged against the little guy and needs to be fixed. For Democrats to make any gains in Arkansas, that’s the message that might work – less about providing more stuff, more about providing a fair shake.

The system’s rigged. Hmm. Come to think of it, that’s the same message that helped Trump take over the Republican Party.

Related: What matters: Voters’ view of the world

For foster parents, mercy triumphs over judgment

Andrew and May Baker were name Foster Family of the Year.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

On May 16, an awards banquet was held where no one really cared who won.

That was the day the Arkansas Foster Family of the Year and 10 regional winners were honored by the state Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS). They were honored for doing what foster families do: giving loving homes to children removed from their biological families, giving those biological families a helping hand during difficult times, and giving the taxpayers a heck of a good deal.

Foster families temporarily take care of many of the 5,200 children whom the state has removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect and other reasons. The arrangements can last from days to years. Sometimes the foster child is ultimately adopted by the foster parents, and sometimes the child is adopted by another family, but in most cases that’s not the goal. The goal is to provide support services to the children’s biological families so they can be reunited.

Here are some of the ones who “only” won regional awards. Ben and Lora Yother from Greenwood, two nurses, have cared for 13 foster children, including medically fragile ones. Steve and Ruth Hale from Conway started fostering in 2012 after they already had eight grandchildren. They’ve fostered 53 children and adopted their first one, seeing her through a teenage pregnancy that produced their ninth grandchild. Charles and Ginger Blue of Nashville have opened their home to 75 foster children in seven years. Terra Cobb of Texarkana, a single mother, has fostered 66 children since 2012. Meanwhile, she’s adopted three children ages 3,4 and 5 and cares for her 80-year-old grandmother in her home. Shantel Moore of Sherwood, another single mother, specializes in fostering teens and teen girls. Tate and Tammy Pfaffenberger of DeWitt have fostered 20 children since 2014. Last year, Tammy continued to care for two foster children – along with her own – despite undergoing radiation treatments for breast cancer. Then, while still undergoing the treatments, she accepted a third foster child.

As someone wrote about her, “Through chemo, losing her hair, staying up all night with babies, going to sporting events, you name it, she never complained.”

That’s some tough competition.

That said, somebody had to “win,” so the Foster Family of the Year was Andrew and Amy Baker of Searcy. He’s a leadership in ministry professor at Harding University, while she’s a speech pathology professor there. They were selected not because of the number of children they’ve fostered (nine long-term over three years) but because of their efforts to reunify the children with their biological parents or other relatives.

The Bakers learned to care about these kids during their own upbringings. When Amy was a child, her parents hosted weekend visits for young people living at the Southern Christian Children’s Home in Morrilton. Andrew’s parents in the state of New York opened their home to what he called “pretty hard core” teenage detainees, some barely avoiding prison and some being loved for the first time in their lives.

Like all foster parents, the Bakers experience grief when the foster children they’ve grown to love leave their home and return to their families. As Andrew explained, “If it doesn’t hurt, you didn’t do it right.”

But reunification is still their goal, as it is the system’s, and so they work with those families throughout the process and stay close to them afterwards. No one wants to be a bad parent, they say, and if circumstances had been reversed, maybe they would have made the same mistakes. If for whatever reason their children were removed from their home, they would want the foster parents to be striving for reunification, too.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment, and I think that’s our role is to be a voice of mercy in a very complicated system,” he said.

Want to try to beat out Terra Cobb or Tammy Pfaffenberger for next year’s title? Contact DCFS at http://www.fosterarkansas.org or 501.682.8770. Another avenue is The CALL in Arkansas (thecallinarkansas.org, 501.907.1048), a ministry focused on recruiting and training foster and adoptive families. Project Zero (theprojectzero.org) helps foster children who are eligible for adoption find permanent homes.

Related: This family’s really super.