It came as no surprise this week that the soon-to-be Attorney General of Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge, has not changed her mind or her campaign mantra. Her personal and legal steadfastness will no doubt be one of the biggest changes to the often accepted legislative politics as usual down in Little Rock.
To her credit, Rutledge campaigned on policies that shied away from what the last 11 persons to serve in (either elected or appointed to) the office of Attorney General has done. She promised on the campaign trail to be a fresh breath of air. She pledged to be a new brand of politician. Promising us, she kept saying, she didn’t have a legal agenda to press upon the soon-to-meet Arkansas legislature.
Today, that all seems still true.
She is maintaining her focus, almost solely over concerns about federal “over-reach” into the working, voting and social fabric of our state. It seems Rutledge will not “carry” a legislative agenda from the AG’s office.
Arkansans, if you will, who want legal changes will have to wait on proposed legislative bills of things that need to be changed to come from House and Senate members.
Her refusal to have a “legislative agenda” for the 90th General Assembly will be a new trend for Legislators. Most of the House and Senate members have grown accustomed to the AG’s office supporting all these types of bills for legislators, state agencies and the courts. A legislator asking for the minor change in the law enlisted the AG and the AG staff pushed the bill. The members of course got all the credit once the AG’s office did the heavy lifting.
This dismantling of this tradition will break ranks with what has been largely done in a constructive sense since the last terms of a slick political character named Bruce Bennett. Arkansas Attorney General Bennett, to whom history has not always been kind, was like Rutledge in that few people ever told him what to do.
The type of bills Bennett – an avowed segregationist and opponent of civil rights legislation– was apt to file under the guise of good government, were in some cases to Arkansas, well, rather shameful. Bennett was a popularly elected Attorney General, serving in a controversial manner during a very uncertain and often confusing leader of the law-making process.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas gives us the best snippet of Bennett’s service to Arkansas, when the on-line history reference says: “As the state’s leading legal authority, he became known as much for flouting the law as for upholding it…”
That lesson will be about Bennett’s enthusiasm to attempt “to bypass federal orders…”
Already, prior to taking the oath of office, Rutledge has asked Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to ramp up his final efforts to defend the state’s marriage amendment, outlawing same sex marriages. Rutledge also has set her sights on an onerous Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule to decrease carbon emissions in state’s by 2030.
The soon to be attorney general of Arkansas will have plenty of time to plot her course in thwarting these and other federal pieces of legislation or proposed federal rules.
She is, to her way of thinking, to be only an “adviser” to legislators who want to change the laws of the state. The Attorney General’s Office will simply advise legislators about the legal value of such bills, the legal necessity of these laws to our state and of course the legal dependability of these bills in the courts of the land.
There will be no laundry list of legal changes coming from the Attorney General’s office. This can only be a sign of a noted change in our state. Arkansas was once a “Blue State” where a bastion of Democratic leaders loved to pass new laws. Now Arkansas is transitioning to be a “Red” state of new Republicans who believe we have more than enough laws, so let’s not make so many new laws.
Rutledge in keeping her campaign promises may not create the easiest path for her political climb. But let’s hope her steadfast position does not damage or defer needed legislation from the 90th General Assembly.