One of the most important items that will be determined in this year’s elections in Arkansas is which party will control the state legislature. In the Arkansas House of Representatives, this will determine who will be the next Speaker of the House. If the Democrats manage to retain control, the Speaker will be Rep. Darrin Williams.
Because of this, Williams’ comments made in the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Personnel Subcommittee on Monday should concern voters. Nicholas Horton of The Arkansas Project was there and reported on the proceeding.
Horton has closely followed the developing story on Department of Career Education Director Bill Walker’s improper hiring of Clara Taylor as a deaf interpreter. The committee hearing was taking a look at an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) review that focused on this hiring and concluded that it was improper.
The committee chairman, Rep. Bryan King, a Republican, was asking Associate Director Carl Daughtery – who is over the Office for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired – questions about the report when several Democratic legislators weighed in not to ask questions, but to criticize King for doing so.
Then Speaker-designate Darrin Williams jumped into the fray, with perhaps the strangest comments of all: He told Rep. King that the review of Clara Taylor’s hire was “outside the purview of this committee,” repeatedly asking King, “What are we doing?” (which reminds me of testimony that recently occurred before another legislative committee…) King responded by saying, bluntly enough, that “the personnel committee is supposed to review personnel matters.” Imagine! A committee actually fulfilling their stated purpose!
But this didn’t satisfy Williams. He persisted, asking what the committee was going to do with any findings: “Are we going to draft new rules? Why are we doing this? What can we do other than discuss it?” Apparently, the notion that legislators would spend any time overseeing state government struck Williams as a frightening and alien concept. King told Williams that since Mr. Walker’s last appearance before the committee, Walker has expressed gratitude for the chance to give his side of the story and has also expressed interest in helping the committee draft new requirements for the interpreter position in the future. King said, “That’s progress.”
Sitting in the committee room on Monday, I was shocked. I’m not surprised that some legislators don’t do their jobs or take their jobs seriously – I’m not that naive. But to see legislators try to impede other legislators from doing their job and belittling them for doing so? It was breathtaking.
It is amazing to imagine a House where the Speaker has this attitude over House members doing their job of oversight of our state government. I think the last few weeks have proven how essential this function is. But if Democrats still hold the majority after November, Williams will be the Speaker and he will appoint all the committee chairmen for next session’s committees. It is not hard to imagine what sort of questions those chairs would allow.