Arkansas Democrats Finally Outline Legislative Agenda

by Michael Cook ( 8 views 

Today, a full six weeks into the legislative session, the House Democratic Caucus revealed their legislative agenda.

Led by House Minority Leader Greg Leding, a group of roughly 30 House Democrats stood in the Old Supreme Courtroom and unveiled the four main planks of their “Arkansas First” plan.

From the House Caucus’s press release:

The Caucus’ Arkansas First priorities include: a strong economy, a strong educational system, a strong and accountable government and a strong healthcare system. The last of these served as the focus of today’s event.

“Today the Arkansas House Democratic Caucus unites to say that it’s time to put campaign rhetoric behind this legislature and put Arkansas First,” said House Minority Leader Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville). “Our four major focus areas will each include legislation aimed at getting Arkansans back to work, and one of the biggest ways we can do that is by expanding healthcare for working Arkansans.”

The press conference did not reveal much in the way of specifics for the Democratic legislative agenda. Leding said afterward various members would soon file bills dealing with the four main planks of the “Arkansas First” plan.

State Representatives Reginald Murdock, Steve Magie and Darrin Williams also spoke at today’s press conference, focusing specifically on the need to expand Medicaid.

I’m pleased that the House Democratic Caucus is finally making an effort to outline what exactly it’s fighting for in the State Legislature. Frankly, this effort and press conference should have taken place late last year.

Legislative Republicans have their own plan, known as the SIMPLE plan, and while it’s a plan that ultimately sticks it to the elderly, middle-class and poor folks, at least they can say they have a concrete agenda.

I could not tell you, for the most part, specifically what legislative Democrats are fighting for, but I do know what they’re specifically fighting against. Too often this session legislative Democrats have been on defense, and not on offense. It’s long past time to change the dynamics.

For example, legislative Democrats support expanding Medicaid to help Arkansas’s poorest citizens, but they’ve not done an effective job as they could have at communicating why this expansion is needed. Republicans attacked the expansion on the grounds of what it would cost the state if we expanded Medicaid.

Unfortunately, legislative Democrats have not done a good job of fighting back at showing how much it will cost if we don’t expand Medicaid. Arkansas will actually be worse off economically if we don’t take advantage of the available federal funds and expand Medicaid.

Again, Democrats were playing defense instead staying on the offense and proving how harmful it would be if Medicaid isn’t expanded.

Six weeks into a legislative session run by Republicans and the only real topics being hotly debated are on guns and abortion. Arkansans want to talk about jobs, education and economic development, but Arkansas Republicans are only focusing on the hot-button social issues.

It’s gotten so bad that yesterday Republican House Speaker Davy Carter stopped by three House committee meetings and practically begged the members to focus on jobs, the economy, etc. I guess even the folks back home are telling Speaker Carter to focus on creating jobs. Of course, yesterday Carter put forward the idea of giving rich folks another tax cut, but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve heard grumblings from many Democratic members this session that they believed there was no real vision or direction policy-wise on the Democratic legislative agenda. Hopefully today’s unveiling of Democrats “Arkansas First” plan, while still woefully vague, is the sign of a step in the right direction of specifically outlining Democratic priorities.

It’s time for legislative Democrats to play offense.