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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Parsing the madness

by John Brummett | June 10, 2021 at 3:09 a.m.

Perhaps Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has no idea what she's talking about.

Or maybe she is all strung-out trying to out-Trump Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an impossible challenge with Sanders seamlessly attached to the madman.

Maybe Rutledge is permanently converting her public office to mindless service to her inevitably losing run against Sanders for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year.

It would be inappropriate of me--based entirely on speculation rather than empirical finding--to say that this breaks about 30 percent representing Rutledge's having no idea what she's talking about and 70 percent representing her mindless self-service to her personal political futility. I'd be defending her, you see, asserting that she is not as uninformed as she is nonsensical on purpose.

This is about an important Arkansas issue--dicamba, which is what Arkansas farmers spray on their vast fields to keep out the killing weeds and permit the kinds of crop production their business model and a regional and state economy require. Their money crops are genetically engineered to withstand dicamba.

The problem is that sometimes, especially late in the season, the chemical can vaporize and move into other areas and hurt other kinds of commercial crops as well as the natural habitat and ornamental shrubs. That has led to lawsuits, even severe personal violence.

That is to say the issue is not ideal for mindless political game-playing.

I don't know the right answer on dicamba, a matter of tough debate. But I do know nonsense unworthy of the issue when I hear it from an Arkansas attorney general. I know when I see it the surrender of competent objective public service to personal political promotion. I know a callous-sounding public statement when I read one, and I sure-enough read one from Rutledge on Tuesday morning.

The state Plant Board addressed the issue with seeming seriousness with an administrative regulation that permitted the spraying of dicamba through June with certain restrictions about buffers between sprayed areas and dicamba-susceptible crops, gardens and research stations.

Environmentalists and some farmers, not satisfied with that regulation's attempted middle ground, brought suit seeking to have the rule declared invalid in part on an assertion that it was imposed without proper adherence to the prescribed rule-making procedure.

Pulaski Circuit Judge Morgan "Chip" Welch dived into the case and issued a temporary restraining order against imposition of the regulation. The attorney general's office went to the Supreme Court in representation of the Plant Board to have the temporary restraining order stayed, and thus to restore the effectiveness of the rule. Time was rather of the essence.

Perfunctorily, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon stayed Welch's temporary restraining order without comment, restoring the Plant Board rule, the one permissive but with attempted mitigation.

Upon her office's victory restoring the government regulation, Rutledge issued this gem of a statement: "Today's win at the Supreme Court allows Arkansas' row crop farmers to focus on feeding people rather than fooling with overreaching government mandates."


Her office had just successfully defended the government mandate. Rutledge officially reacted to her office's success in championing the Plant Board regulation by attacking the Plant Board regulation.

Her statement, a lawyer told me, "borders on sophistry." Considering that sophistry means to engage in falsehood to mislead deliberately, I think she scaled Trump's border wall as if a pole-vault champion.

Surely you can see what she's doing: She is seeking to misrepresent the narrow legal issue of her constitutional job--which is to represent state agencies--to send a contrived political message to powerful east Arkansas farmers and farming interests that she has stopped the socialists from preventing them from tending to their crops as they see fit, and thus make a living. She is saying that Sanders brags about how she's going to stop the socialists, but that she--Rutledge--actually beat them back.

An accurate statement from her would have been that her office's job is to represent state agencies when they are sued and that professional people in her office had done that job without regard for politics.

If there is overreach, which there isn't except in Rutledge's rhetoric, it would be the supposed fault of persons bringing lawsuits requiring that courts, rather than engage in judicial overreach, or dreaded activism, issue rulings on disputes presented to them from persons entitled to argue that they have been aggrieved unfairly under the law.

And, to be clear, refereeing such disputes is not judicial overreach or activism, but ... you know ... justice. We'd be in heck of a fix without that. It would be Jan. 6 every day, which may be what the Trumpers want.

If the Plant Board truly engaged in government overreach, then Rutledge would need to explain why she defended government overreach.

Instead, I fear she'll issue a statement calling on the Plant Board to come into my backyard and spray dicamba directly on my freeze-recovering gardenia bushes.

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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