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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Vengeance is theirs

by John Brummett | May 22, 2022 at 1:54 a.m.


Arkansas PBS proposed last year to use a federal grant to hire a consultant for elementary-aged children's educational programming. But it pulled down the contract after state Sen. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro, right wing among the right wing, found social media comments from that consultant that reflected views that were objectionable.

What was objectionable about the views was that Sullivan didn't share them.

The children's programming expert seemed to think climate change was a thing. As you know, it isn't as far as the ruling politicians of Arkansas are concerned.

What are elections if not opportunities to punish the losing side?

So, the state public television network must hold its horses for now on giving director Courtney Pledger a nice raise. It can await the Legislature's interim study of the network's workings that Sullivan and a small legislative cabal insisted on a few months ago.

Sullivan and pals required such a study before they would join the essential three-fourths vote in the fiscal session allowing Arkansas PBS to have its continuing-level budget and keep beaming the NewsHour and Big Bird across our red Trumpian land.

What subsequently happened is that Pledger, who seems to know what she is doing in running a state public television system, got courted by another state's PBS operation for its executive director's job. That one, in Louisiana, pays $243,000.

She made the finals. Then she took her name out of the running, for reasons I can't fathom. Louisiana can't be that bad.

Pledger makes $148,138 here. The state PBS commission likes her work, wants to keep her and figures other offers are inevitable. It is currently authorized only to raise her pay to $157,100.

The issue Wednesday was that the state PBS commission sought special permission from the legislative Joint Personnel Committee to upgrade the position to pay as high as $180,000.

Commission chairman John Brown--an Asa Hutchinson appointee and former Christian-college president who was a plenty conservative state senator in the early '00s when conservatism could be reasonable--laboriously explained that the commission became aware, not from Pledger, that she was being courted by a neighboring state offering the $243,000.

He further explained that commission research indicated its salary was significantly lower than the surrounding-state average and near the lowest in the country.

Brown extolled Pledger's work leading the network through the instructional challenges of the pandemic; increasing its local programming to include, most notably, live telecasts of state high school sports championship events, and bringing home Emmy awards for innovative local productions.

Marty Ryall, the network's "external relations" man conservative enough in times past to be executive director of the state Republican Party and say Mark Pryor would be working at Taco Bell with a different last name, chimed in to explain further. He said that Arkansas PBS, by not operating on a for-profit model, could provide helpful in-state broadcasting that the commercial networks eschewed. He said grandparents in, say, Walnut Ridge surely enjoyed watching their grandchildren compete across the state for a state high school sports championship.

What you may be noticing is the obvious: Longtime conservative Arkansas Republicans appointed by a Republican administration to run a state agency are being harassed in that effort by an angrier and intolerant Republican legislative varietal coming along behind them.

Sullivan responded to Brown and Ryall by wondering just how expansive in program offerings a government TV operation ought to be. And he said the raise sought for Pledger was more than what some working people in Arkansas get as a salary.

Brown said he knew some legislators had problems with national programming. He said he sometimes had differences himself. He said Arkansas PBS is required by the money it receives from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to run national programming--some of it objectively news-oriented and thus widely offensive in Arkansas--but that it can pass on some of the programs and had done so.

He said Arkansas PBS would no doubt continue to drop national programs in favor of innovative local production under the leadership of this director who needed to be paid more and held onto.

But then Brown said--and this was 2000-vintage Arkansas conservatism speaking--that there are people with differing views living in Arkansas and you have to keep that in mind in providing public services.

He's one of those pre-resentment, pre-hate conservative Republicans.

Then a clearly pre-arranged motion was made and passed perfunctorily to defer action on the request because, after all, the big interim study is going to get rolling in June. Legislators can deal with salaries at that time just as they'll deal with all staffing, programming and anything else at Arkansas PBS that might reflect offending views.

I'm concerned legislators may find out that "Austin City Limits" has featured liberal guitar players.


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



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