The Friday Wire: A short list of candidates and a happy trucker

by The City Wire staff ( 2 views 

A dearth of political candidates for legislative seats, tough allegations against the poultry industry, thoughts on “New Tech” schools and an excited trucking exec are part of the March 7 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

• The (almost) non-election election cycle
The list of folks who filed to run for legislative seats in districts representing the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith areas turned out to be shorter than a grocery list on a $5 budget.

It must have been disappointing for those who thought the creation of a two-party system in Arkansas would result in more competition for legislative races. Of the 30 Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas House and Senate districts up for election in 2014, only 12 are contested. And of those 12, six are contested in the GOP primary only. And of the six that will have a November general election contest, only four will see a Democratic-Republican matchup. The other two will see a Republican candidate square up against a Libertarian candidate.

In the Arkansas Senate, 17 of the 35 seats up for re-election. Of the 17, only four will have a November contest. In the 100-member Arkansas House, only 38 seats will see a November contest.

Overall, Republicans had 132 candidates file for 98 different federal and state offices, while Democrats had 88 candidates file for 81 different federal and state offices, according to a report from Talk Business writer Jason Tolbert. Libertarians had 19 candidates file, the Green Party has two candidates, and only one candidate filed as an Independent.

Kudos to those who were pining for Republicans to “win” the political filing season. However, if you were hoping for a healthy slate of candidates under the belief that competition improves the chances for better government, well, better luck next cycle.

Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it …

Positive permit tally
February building permits came in at a combined $7.405 million for the cities of Fort Smith, Greenwood and Van Buren. The total is an increase of 12.04% over the same period last year, which saw only $6.609 million in permits across the region's three largest cities. The total is also an increase of 8.96% from February 2011's total of $6.796 million.

Negative statewide tax revenue trend
The growth of year-to-date tax collections in Arkansas is on a downward trend, and the February gross revenue number was below the budget forecast. The February report also showed a continued decline in collections related to consumer spending.

Political education partnership
Three faculty members with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and The City Wire will collaborate to deliver a series of political-based essays and reports beginning in March.

$4 million: The cost of constructing Rogers New Tech High School. The district retrofitted an existing building in two different phases in order to build the "New Tech" high school, which Rogers Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Kathy Hamlon said was an alternative to the construction of a traditional new high school, which would have cost the district tens of millions of dollars.

12%: The increase in building permit values from February 2013 to February 2014. The increase was largely seen in Fort Smith, where $5.962 million in permits were issued, while Van Buren saw permits totaling $978,376 and Greenwood saw permits totaling $464,485.

$1.6 million: Contract amount awarded by the city of Fort Smith to River Valley Sports Complex, a non-profit, to build a softball and baseball event complex at Chaffee Crossing.

A meat racket?
Christopher Leonard's new exposé on the chicken industry, The Meat Racket, doesn't devote much ink to the physical object on our plate, the chicken meat itself. Instead, Leonard focuses on the economic machinery that delivers the meat to us, or, as he puts it, "the hidden power structure that has quietly reshaped U.S. rural economies while gaining unprecedented control over the nation's meat supply."

Southern issues
Look, there are lots of things to love about the South. It's clean and quiet. There's delicious food, good people and often amazing weather. But that's exactly why it makes us so sad to think about all the ways in which the region is struggling today.

Selfies Bring Ashtags to Lent
Gaby Driessen stopped by St. Peter's Church here and a priest put a thick smudge of ash on her forehead — a traditional way Catholics and other Christians physically show their commitment to the faith on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. Then she did what many 24-year-olds would. She took a self-portrait, or selfie, with a friend and they posted it on Instagram.

“I’ve been with the company for nearly 17 years, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been so excited about the opportunities that lay in front of us today that are within our reach.”
— Arkansas Best Corp. President and CEO Judy McReynolds said during a March 4 investor conference in Orlando, Fla.

"He's an intimidator. He's a ruthless man. He's former KGB. He has to be reminded that after the Cold War that most of Eastern Europe has chosen to move to the West.”
– former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza said during a Wednesday lecture at the University of Arkansas

“While I appreciate that the President finally heard my concerns about his proposed cuts to Social Security, I’m frustrated to see more of the same in his budget blueprint. Once again, we see lopsided tax increases, as well as cuts to the Corps of Engineers, the Small Business Administration, and drinking water improvement programs — to name a few.”
– U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in criticizing the 2015 federal budget proposed by President Barack Obama