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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Lock up the straw men

by John Brummett | December 5, 2021 at 2:08 a.m.

All in the world Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants this week is to be allowed to be like Ronald Reagan without this Republican Legislature being like Donald Trump.

So, for heaven's sake, would somebody please let a 70-plus fellow who passed for an extreme conservative in the 1980s cut rich people's income taxes in 2021 without the debris of fringe issues?

It was quite a moment the other day as Hutchinson spoke to a classically conservative Arkansas gathering--farmers.

The governor pleaded for the farmers' help in persuading legislators to bring down the top income-tax rate without suspending the rules of this week's special session so they could also attend to right-wing grandstanding on critical race theory and transgender bathroom use.

Hutchinson was saying that special sessions ought to be about special needs affected by pressing timing, such as getting this money approved for rich people before the new year, but not for banning public-school teaching of a graduate-level race theory not being taught, or stopping all these transgender people from going into the girls bathroom and showing their private parts, which is not happening so far as anyone knows.

I will make this deal with readers: If I'm in a public school corridor and I hear a history teacher telling the little children that America is evil and has been evil from the get-go, and then if I go into the boys' bathroom in that school and a transgender male comes in and flashes me unexpected private parts, I will report those incidents in this space promptly.

I know a good column when one happens to me.

The issue here is that the basic conservatism of Hutchinson has been hijacked by the culturally extreme and raging resentment-based conservatism of state Sen. Trent Garner and state Rep. Mark Lowery. This new form renders income-tax cuts positively boring compared to fights with liberal straw persons.

Conservatism merged in the '80s with religious fundamentalism, then with Tea Party rage in the '00s, then with Trump resentment in the late 2010s, and now with outright insurrection. Sending money back to rich people is from ancient times of land-line telephones and friendly chats between a Republican president named Reagan and a Democratic speaker of the House named O'Neill.

So, yes, income-tax cuts are no big deal, even to me when they're done with semi-responsible phasing and if revenue flow during the phasing remains sufficient for continuing-level needs--especially while the federal government has printed more millions for us in pandemic relief than we know what to do with.

Incremental tax cuts are inconsequential until they aren't--when the federal manna runs out and the state has human needs rising while faced with budgets lessened by a half-billion dollars sent to rich people in tax reductions to start businesses they didn't start and hire people they didn't hire.

I don't get too riled anymore by the fact that across-the-board tax cuts put big wads of cash in rich folks' pockets and random change in poor folks' pockets. It's just math.

Rich people pay more sheer tax dollars in taxes than poor people, even if the percentages are not sufficiently spaced for progressivity purposes. Rate reductions thus will generate more dollars back to rich people than for poor people.

Tax-cutting provides insufficient opportunity for chest-beating and liberal-thrashing for the likes of Garner and Lowery, who say they want to suspend the rules while in town to make a law saying public school teachers can't say anything about America's history that might cause an innocent little white child to go home in a guilty funk.

Three things about that:

(1) I was taught in a public school in Arkansas that racism was a stain on an America that in other ways was the world's greatest nation, and surely so in its concept of freedom, welcoming of others and leadership in providing might for right in World War II. I was able to deal with it. Classmates seemed all right, too, considering the happy way they charged the playground for recess.

(2) You can't really make laws guaranteeing that children won't get in funks.

(3) Even if you could so legislate, it's not a December urgency that couldn't await addressing in the next regular session under Sarah Sanders' Trumpian hand in January 2023.

On the bathroom thing--I'll let you know if surprised both by flashing and of what.

On abortion, there hardly seems an urgency for Sen. Jason Rapert's idea to pass a Texas-like law when the U.S. Supreme Court sent strong signals last week it's going to gut Roe v. Wade effectively or outright next year on a case from Mississippi.

In that instance, Rapert's emergency was his race for lieutenant governor. But Leslie Rutledge has now Trumped him on that, capitalizing the verb purposely.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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