OPINION — Editorial

They're back!

Loan sharks circling again

If every dog has his day, why not every state legislator? Including the one and only Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow), who can be as inspired on some occasions as he is wrong-headed on others. He's sighted a clear, present and recurrent danger to this state's innocents, and is yelping like mad. Which is a good thing this time. For it's been only seven years since the last predatory lender was chased out of this state, but these people never give up. And there's still a sucker born every minute for them to prey upon. Or as state Senator Rapert summed up what's happening in Arkansas--again:

"The state of Arkansas has been very clear that predatory lending is not welcome in our state. That meant the closure of what has been known as payday lending entities across the state and a stop to the predatory lending practices that we had seen happening--preying on individuals down on their luck."

Sure, state law may cap interest rates at 17 percent and the exorbitant rates CashMax collects may look, smell and hurt like interest--up to some 260 percent of it!--according to federal Truth in Lending calculations and simple arithmetic. But, no, that ain't interest at all when looked at from CashMax's slanted and self-interested point of view. Why, those are only handling fees. The people of Arkansas aren't fooled.

Not surprisingly, Cheney Pruett, the chief executive of CashMax, can explain all this to his entire satisfaction. He accuses his critics of a callous disregard for the poor and/or desperate who must avail themselves of CashMax's dubious "services," his term for loans. "I honestly believe," he says, that "they do not care. Even though they have never faced the same circumstances of any of our customers, for some reason they still feel like they are in a better position to make financial decisions on their behalf." Well, somebody needs to make such decisions for them, or these folks could wind up as lifetime debtors to CashMax, caught up in a condition of involuntary servitude no matter what the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has to say about the matter.

This whole foofaraw ought to set moral compasses in the Ledge and outside it whirling, and even inspire some righteous anger--the kind the rabbi from Nazareth displayed when he drove the money-changers from the Temple--and yet some members of the Legislature are still undecided between right and wrong, and are still lukewarm when they ought to be outraged. Legislators like a state representative named Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) and a state senator named Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), both of whom would gut state law so it no longer would apply to "credit service organizations" like CashMax, demonstrating that euphemism remains the first and last refuge of the undiscerning.

Happily, lawmakers aren't the only ones who get a say in the matter. There's another official in state government who goes by the name of Governor Asa Hutchinson. That's the same Governor Hutchinson who told a Political Animals Club in Little Rock just the other day: "I assure you that I will veto any bill that rips off Arkansas consumers. I haven't looked at the bills. Obviously, I have expressed reservations in the past about exorbitant interest rates that could happen."

And are happening even now. While too many of us are just standing by instead of raising a ruckus about this continuing scandal. As a perceptive statesman named Edmund Burke put it, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

So let's do something. Something right for the working people of Arkansas. That is, chase the money-changers from the Temple that is our state. Again.

Editorial on 03/15/2017