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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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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Archived Comments

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

    Republicans who have done nothing about Obamacare will be losing their jobs.

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 5:14 p.m.

    Well, Whodo, I'm waiting. Can you refute my 3:44 post?
    You make a lot of accusations, but you never back them up. Talk about fake...

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 5:21 p.m.

    Well, Whodo, according to FIVE THIRTY EIGHT, Anderson Robbins Research has a record of 65% of races called correctly!
    My dartboard has higher accuracy!

  • 3WorldState1
    October 18, 2017 at 5:44 p.m.

    Pack is right, people in the south prefer their representatives to not obey the law, take money under the table from charities and have never heard of DACA before. You know, smart people.
    But they does believe a man walked on water, so...

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 5:52 p.m.

    Whodo, wanna talk about Five Thirty Eight's presidential predictions? Talk about fake!
    My eight y.o. grand daughter called it for Trump hours before 538 did!
    How's this for your new handle:

  • WhododueDiligence
    October 18, 2017 at 6:51 p.m.

    "Well, Whodo, I'm waiting. Can you refute my 3:44 post?
    You make a lot of accusations, but you never back them up. Talk about fake..."
    mozarky, your 3:44 post was taken from that Breitbart article I mentioned earlier. But in the article it's a quote from another source. And when you go back to that Breitbart article which you are now trying defend although you quoted it without naming the source, when you click on the link provided within the Breitbart article you will find that the percentages you presented to us in your 3:44 post are NOT from the recent senate race poll in Alabama. Those percentages you gave us are from a completely different poll in July 2017 regarding Trump and is favorable/unfavorable ratings.
    Wow, talk about fake, indeed. At 3:44 you gave us percentages in your post about the US senate race poll in Alabama, but the percentages you posted are from a completely different poll--a national poll about Trump! Obviously you owe your readers an apology.
    We'll be waiting.

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 6:59 p.m.

    Read it and weep, PM:
    The Republican National Committee broke a fundraising record and raised more than $100 million during the first nine months of 2017, fueled by small-dollar donors at the center of a grassroots movement.
    In a statement released by RNC Chairman Ronna McDaniel, the "record-breaking fundraising has been fueled by grassroots enthusiasm for President Trump and the Republican Party," McClatchy reported.
    The accomplishment marked the first time the RNC raised that amount, that fast, in a non-presidential election year. September's $10.4 million give the RNC $44.1 million in the bank with a total of $104.4 million raised this year.
    Across the aisle, the Democratic National Committee had raised $46.3 million by the end of August with $6.8 million cash on hand. The DNC had not released September's fundraising numbers prior to the Friday deadline for Federal Election Commission filings.
    Of the RNC's direct contributions this year, almost 60 percent – more than $44 million of the $75 million in total – have come from small donations. Overall, over 98 percent of those who gave were small donors, those who donated less than $200.
    The RNC is putting the donations to work in districts and specific campaigns across the country. In a continued effort to expand the Republican majority in Congress, the RNC hired 17 state directors last month, in key states including Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, resulting in the organization's most expansive field program in its history. The donations have also supported GOP candidates in key gubernatorial races, and will help the party get ready for the 2020 presidential race.
    "This month’s numbers show once again that Americans of all backgrounds approve of the direction our country is headed under Republican leadership," RNC Finance Chairman Steve Wynn said in a statement. "We are grateful to our generous donors who allow us to continue to expand our Republican majorities."

  • WhododueDiligence
    October 18, 2017 at 7:34 p.m.

    "Whodo, wanna talk about Five Thirty Eight's presidential predictions?"
    Sure thing, mo, they're not a sure thing. Five Thirty Eight's presidential predictions are based on mathematical analysis of polling data from many (at least several dozen) respected polling organizations. As Five Thirty Eight (which is also highly respected) tells us, scientific polls are good but they're not perfect.
    On the morning of Nov 8, 2016--election day--Five Thirty Eight published this article: "Final Election Update: There's A Wide Range Of Outcomes, And Most Of Them Come Up Clinton."
    In that article--which you can easily find online--they gave Trump nearly a 30 percent chance of winning the electoral vote. They specified many ways in which Trump could win, citing in particular the unusually high percentage of undecided voters which was of particular concern in swing states. In the election itself, the swing states Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin went to Trump by very slight margins and that's why the actual electoral outcome came up Trump. Five Thirty Eight explained that possibility in their article on the morning of election day, so now you owe Five Thirty Eight an apology too.
    They won't be holding their breath.

  • mozarky2
    October 18, 2017 at 8:04 p.m.

    OK, I'll concede that, but, although I was unable to come up with the methodology for the Alabama poll, we'll just have to assume it was similarly weighted toward dems.
    As to 538, they also gave Clinton a 70% chance of a win. They were nearly dead on with the EV's, though. Just got who would win them wrong!
    IBD and Dornsife, which I frequently hear disparaged on this forum, had Trump winning all along.

  • PopMom
    October 18, 2017 at 8:42 p.m.


    I've been promising a close friend that I would visit her home town of Oxford, MS and went to the Vandy-Ole Miss game this weekend. I ran into an extremely wealthy lobbyist on his way to Arkansas to lobby for tax reform. I totally understand the large sums of money that are out there to try to convince people like you that the Republican "reforms" will benefit you. They are out to hoodwink you and convince you to stay on board. They are all out to cut the benefits of people with moderate and low incomes. They want to convince you that hispanics and blacks are the root of any problems that you are having. They are liars.