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OPINION | MICHAEL B. DOUGAN: Lessons of past

Look back for way to move forward by MICHAEL B. DOUGAN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 14, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

During Reconstruction, Republican Gov. Powell Clayton found Arkansas to be a tough row to hoe, but as he explained, those who did the work would get the rewards.

Clayton became well known to historians because he was the only Southern governor who routed the Ku Klux Klan, which was then the action-arm of the Democratic Party. How Republicans of today decided to march into the sewer is a long and interesting story.

In its relations with the federal government, Arkansas often has not done the work. Agents for the state induced the then newly created Smithsonian Institution to invest in Arkansas bonds, and then the state defaulted on its debt. Arkansas would then do that again after Reconstruction and during the Great Depression.

The only way to get Arkansas to behave is to hit the state over the snout. Hence, when highway construction got underway early in the 20th century, the federal government gave the state millions. The state turned the money over to its local road districts and the results were so bad that the federal government issued a warning--either get organized or get cut off.

Like the anti-maskers today, the legislators refused to be intimidated--that is, until the money disappeared in 1923. Rather than abandon roads, the Harrelson Road Law established state control.

Another example of not doing the work came during the Great Depression. The more federal New Deal money poured into Arkansas, the more the state cut funding, virtually abandoning public schools. Administrator Harry Hopkins from Washington sent warnings which naturally were ignored in Little Rock, that is, until 1935 when he shut down all relief programs, pulling plug on 400,000 persons.

Gov. J.M. Futrell called the Legislature back into session, warning that "unless hungry mouths are fed, angry mobs will be running loose." The results: A state sales tax came into being, liquor was legalized, dog races started at West Memphis, and horse races returned to Hot Springs. Federal aid was resumed.

These stories and the lessons they teach have relevance today. Our Republican delegation in Washington is determined to undermine President Biden at every point. Therefore, should the stimulus bills be passed, Arkansas ought not to get one single federal dollar.

Thinking long term, perhaps the best thing would be for Republicans to shut down the government.

This would be a good time to get rid of the debt-ridden Postal Service, whose debts Republicans have railed about as long as I can remember.

Republicans in 1935 fought the creation of the Social Security. I remember any number of old men who swore they would never take a cent of that tainted money. Now Republicans could kill Social Security without having actually to vote against it.

As the party of the Christian right, Republican voters continue to insist that God is in charge, and people have no need to wear masks, be vaccinated, or get Social Security checks and benefits. We already have trouble with the mail and getting rid of Rural Free Delivery would be a big step forward.

Politics now is a like a chemistry laboratory. Add these actions to test tube and let's see what happens.

Maybe we could call this The Big Bang Theory.


Michael B. Dougan of Jonesboro, distinguished professor of history emeritus at Arkansas State University, recently discussed two press wars for the Craighead County Historical Society, one of Jonesboro's municipally owned utility, the other on fighting Baptists.

Print Headline: Lessons of past

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