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The Hutchinson-Hendren dynasty in Arkansas finds itself under increasing attack from the far right.

The development raises the specter of a local increment of the Republican dysfunction now raging on the national level between the party’s so-called mainstream and hard-right Bannon-ites.

“Specter of an increment” — that’s a sufficient hedge, don’t you think?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson — conservative enough to prosecute Bill Clinton’s impeachment, lead major federal agencies for George W. Bush and earn the hatred of Democrats — has performed the office of governor with center-right pragmatism.

He has toned down an anti-gay bill, resisted a bathroom bill, capped a tax-cut bill and held out for additional concealed-carry training for persons newly authorized to carry guns on college campuses.

State Sen. Jim Hendren of Gravette, the next president pro tem of the Senate, is the governor’s nephew — the son of the governor’s sister. He is a fighter-pilot military conservative who has moved from what once qualified as the far right toward pragmatism. He has sidled along the philosophical continuum to help Uncle Asa. While helping Uncle Asa, he seems to have come to value pragmatic problem-solving over right-wing flame-throwing.

I believe I can safely say that he has come to accept the role of a party in power as different from the role of a minority party lobbing grenades. He sees a legislator’s role as different if he is in a tiny majority under a Democratic governor than if his beloved uncle becomes the Republican governor and he is in a heavy Republican majority. In the latter circumstance, he seems to accept that he must take responsibility to balance budgets and keep the state from embarrassing itself to the national and international business communities.

If I’ve ruined Hendren on his right flank by suggesting that he is practical and responsible, a grownup, then I apologize.

Lately Hendren has been in a mild Twitter debate with a right-wing group — Conduit for Action, to the right of the Koch brothers — that issues legislator report cards on the purity of conservative voting records. He disputes the criteria for assigning conservative purity. He’s seen the same vote contribute to a “B” and a “D,” depending on who is doing the scoring.

Conduit’s latest public salvo falls somewhere between fascinating and hilarious, and I simply must tell you about it.

It raises guilt by association. It suggests that a liberal can’t compile accurate or honest data. It seems to say consultants’ reports are like the news media in the way the right-wing views both … they’re fake, that is, if you don’t like what they say.

To these people, The New York Times can’t report a fact — unless it’s about Harvey Weinstein, I’d wager. To these people, a consulting firm with a staff member who posted a pro-Obama, anti-Trump tweet can’t compile trusted data comparing states on what and how they tax and what and how they exempt from taxation, and on what might be the dynamically scored economic effects of this tax or that exemption.

First, Conduit accused Hutchinson of being a tax-raiser, on this basis: There was a push in the last session to exempt military retirement pensions from income taxes. Hutchinson had already drawn his budget, which included income-tax reductions. He said he wanted the loss of revenue from the military retirement exemption offset by other revenue-generating measures, to keep his budget balanced. Conduit considers that to be calling for increasing taxes. It isn’t. It’s making a budget that includes a tax cut and then wanting to supply the rules of addition and subtraction if someone tries to change the best-laid plan.

But then Conduit accused the Hutchinson-Hendren dynasty — well, Hendren mostly — of “using your money to hire a raging liberal to guide Arkansas tax policy.”

Why, that sounds positively sinister.

Here’s what it means: Hutchinson is committed to reducing income taxes to the extent he believes the state can afford. He has reduced marginal income tax rates on low and middle incomes. For his second term, assuming he gets to it, he will move into harder territory. To prepare, he has done what governors love to do, which is set up a task force to study and recommend how he might proceed.

Hendren, naturally, handled the legislation to set up the task force and is a co-chair of it.

One thing such task forces invariably do is put out requests for proposals for consulting services — in this case from firms that have some known record of expertise in the complexities the task force confronts.

By 15-to-1, the task force voted to hire PFM, a national public financial advisory firm, to compile comparative state data on taxes and collect data relevant to the task force’s assignment to both simplify the state tax code and cut taxes. The contract was for $312,750.

PFM assigned as project manager a fellow named Randall Bauer. Conduit got hold of Bauer’s Twitter feed and saw that he’d once said Barack Obama was the light and Donald Trump the darkness. It found he had retweeted the Brookings Institution and the National League of Cities, which, Conduit charged, were known liberal propagandists.

Conduit put all that on Hendren. So I got hold of Hendren, who said, no, he hadn’t scoured the Twitter feeds of the consultant’s staff. He said the firm’s main work would be simple data collection.

But he said that, even if the consultant threw in some liberal claptrap about how rich people ought to pay higher taxes and poor people lower taxes, it wouldn’t matter any more than the recommendation of that health-care task force consultant two years ago that called for saving Medicaid money by converting all of Medicaid to managed care.

The state did not convert all of Medicaid to managed care, in case you were wondering.

If modern-day Republicans paid any attention to data, they’d do a lot of things differently.

Gubernatorial task forces are set up for one purpose — to look busy and buy time until the policymakers in charge try to do what they were going to try to do all along.

Hutchinson and Hendren are still plenty Republican enough — plenty conservative enough — to cut income taxes. But, by being in power with the responsibility thereof, they seem apt to apply arithmetic now and then. It’s that acquiescence to math that has the extreme right riled.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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Archived Comments

  • 3WorldState1
    October 18, 2017 at 2:19 p.m.

    Republicans do hate facts. It reminds them how foolish they look and sound.

    Sorry Slak - Cartman is a raging Alt-right conservative. Anyone who watches the show would know. He would lead your group perfectly. And you all would follow lock-step.

  • PopMom
    October 18, 2017 at 2:20 p.m.

    Mozarky,

    The Fox news poll has the race as a toss-up. It may be hard to predict. Some people may have trouble voting either for Moore or a democrat and won't vote for either. Nevertheless, if a presidential election were held to day many Democrats would beat either Trump or Pence. A Rubio race might be more of a toss-up. I still think a Klobachar or O'Malley or many other Dems would beat most Republicans.

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 2:23 p.m.

    Yes, PM. Republican voter registration is way up almost across the board nationwide. Dems are losing huge chunks of ground nearly everywhere.
    Read Larry Schweikart in today's Big League Politics. Even more horrible news for dems.
    Oh, Republicans pick up seats in House, too.
    Be sure not to mention those good things going on in your life to BOLTAR. He gets a bit jealous, y'know...

  • WhododueDiligence
    October 18, 2017 at 2:42 p.m.

    mozarky, that recent poll is a Fox News poll with Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research. In August 2016 that combination was given an A grade by Five Thirty Eight which analyzes many different polling organizations based on historical accuracy and predictive value of their polls. At that time Fox/Anderson Robbins/Shaw & Co polling was found to have a very slight Democratic bias of 0.4. Fox polling using another research company had a very slight Republican bias of 0.5.
    *
    Your assertion that Anderson Robbins Research is notorious for skewing toward Dems appears to be erroneous and appears to reflect your own biased wishful thinking. However, since it was a Fox News poll which you bashed, you somehow managed to reverse your anti-Dem bias by also bashing a division of Fox News. So, way to go!

  • Packman
    October 18, 2017 at 3:27 p.m.

    The polls were unrealiable about Trump/Clinton as they are now. The question shouldn't be who people like but what they like. In Seattle they like designer coffee and bicycles and hate guns and fried food. In Mt. Judea they like 4-wheelers and sweet tea and hate elitist snobs and tofu. R's will gain 4-6 seats in the Senate and 8-10 in the House. The hate Trump vote is too concentrated in places that love fancy coffee and hate grandpa's squirrel rifle for the D's to win outside their philosophically inbred conclaves. It's why Hillary won the popular vote but lost where it mattered. Whereamiwrong?

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 3:44 p.m.

    Here ya go, Whodo:
    The polling sample tilts Democratic, and badly under polls Independents. This particular sample features 44 percent Democratic respondents, 37 percent Republican, with just 19 percent self-identifying as politically independent. According to the latest Gallup national party affiliation survey (July 5-9), 28 percent consider themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republican, with 45 percent declaring as Independents.
    BTW, I haven't watched Fox in at least ten years.

  • WhododueDiligence
    October 18, 2017 at 4:31 p.m.

    Well, there you go, mozarky. I see you found that on Breitbart in an article by Raheem Kassam. That Breitbart article has "'very fake news'" in its title. So there you go again. But if you really don't like bias, why on earth do you go there so often?

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 4:51 p.m.

    Can you refute this statement about the poll?
    Didn't think so...

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 5:02 p.m.

    PM, you just never snap out of that delusional state, do you?
    There's not a dem alive who could beat Trump; not now, not in 2020, either.
    There's not even a Republican who could beat Trump.

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.

    Whodo, you cite Five Thirty Eight, and call Breitbart fake news. LOLZ!
    Gimme an example.

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