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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: He who calls the tune

by John Brummett | December 7, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

"It should be an exciting week," meaning this one, state Sen. Jason Rapert texted ominously last week.

This was after he'd sent a video of himself playing the fiddle. I had responded that playing the fiddle was as relevant as anything else as a qualification for the pointless office of lieutenant governor. He's now in competition there with Sarah Sanders-Lite, also known as Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

I also commented that Rapert--a Church Lady-styled preacher--wasn't a bad fiddler.

That was not a new assessment on my part. I am on record long ago calling Rapert the baby that Ricky Skaggs and Jimmy Swaggart must have had.

"At least I have an abiding commitment to the appreciation and promotion of the Arkansas state instrument," Rapert replied.

That educated me that we have an official state instrument. I'd have guessed a jug.

It also demonstrated a willingness to be chatty with a column-writing nemesis to whom he had steadfastly refused to respond when I asked repeatedly in recent weeks about Sen. Missy Irvin's complaint to the Senate leadership about something he said to her in the recent extended session.

The complaint went nowhere. Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey called it an internal matter and Irvin declined to talk about it publicly. My attempt to stir the pot of internal right-wing conflict failed.

Anyway, Rapert's prediction of excitement this week at the special legislative session indicated he intends to barge to center stage of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's simple show to cut income taxes.

He will be among those seeking to suspend the rules by two-thirds majority votes to bring up additional issues. He has two little old bills he'd like to make into law in service to the grandstand-demagoguery element of his campaign for lieutenant governor.

He is determined to make an Arkansas law of that legally dubious Texas anti-abortion law saying the state won't do anything under its abortion ban except give $10,000 to anybody bringing successful civil action against the performance of an abortion.

It's a too-clever-by-half tactic to outlaw abortion but with no actual enforcement by the state. That presumably would give the federal courts no grounds to rule against the law because there can be no cause for legal action if the state doesn't do anything except wait around for Gomer Pyle to yell "citizen's array-ust."

The Texas trickery, beyond being absurd, is now passé on the anti- abortion front. A more direct attack on Roe v. Wade by Mississippi now has been spoken of fondly by five of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet Rapert will proceed because a state senator running for lieutenant governor can let no grandstand or fiddle ditty go to waste.

When I asked why he'd persist with the Texas angle while the more straight-up Mississippi case was in vogue, he texted back a lengthy campaign statement about every anti-abortion bill he's ever advocated and said, essentially, the more the merrier.

He also has another little bill he wants to bring up. It would take $25 million from the state treasury by granting annual $3,000 income-tax credits to all law enforcement officers in the state.

He might even be able to do that by an amendment to Hutchinson's income-tax bill, since it seems vaguely germane. But it is money the governor hasn't budgeted to lose, and it's unsound policy, serving mainly to give local governments an excuse not to spend any of their own money on law enforcement raises.

The point, though, is that it would allow Rapert to say that Democrats want to defund the police but that he wants to up-fund the police.

Legislative sources tell me there is talk there might be enough Republican legislators to join the minuscule Democratic caucuses to deny a two-thirds vote to extend the special session for any issue.

But they also tell me that's kind of an abstract notion--opposing an extension for other issues on general principle until pressure builds on the conservative popularity of specific issues, creating fear of being opposed in an imminent Republican primary.

Voting not to suspend the rules for issues beyond the governor's agenda would invite allegations back home that Republican incumbents had voted to kill babies, deny money to police officers, let boys go into girls' bathrooms and mandate that the public schools teach that America is an evil, racist place where little white children ought to live their lives in shame.

That's the disease of our current conservative obsession. It makes even sensible Republicans fearful of revealing themselves as sensible.

All of that is to say Rapert is probably right that it will be an exciting week. No doubt he is rosining up his bow.

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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