A Senate panel on Tuesday (Jan. 29) rejected a proposal to replace two relatively obscure statues at the nation’s capitol with similar monuments for Little Rock civil rights activist Daisy L. Gaston Bates and Kingsland’s rock-and-roll, country music icon Johnny Cash.
At the same time, the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs gave a “do pass” recommendation to a bill that would enhance the petition requirement for new or previously unqualified political parties to appear on the ballot in Arkansas from a standard 10,000 signatures to 3% of the last gubernatorial vote.
Both bills were part of a nearly two-hour long meeting at the State Capitol where the eight-person Senate committee continued the momentous task of reviewing thousands of pages of legislation on every detail of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s omnibus government transformation package.
But Senate Bill 75 by Sen. Dave Wallace, R-Leachville, did not make it out of that same committee after he reintroduced a measure to replace statues of deceased Arkansans U.M. Rose and James P. Clarke at the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C. Wallace tabled his bill a week ago when fellow Republican Sens. Bill Sample of Hot Springs and Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana asked him to consider Walmart founder Sam Walton instead of Cash.
Wallace told the panel that no one from Arkansas recognized Rose and Clarke when they visited the National Hall at the U.S. Capitol. He said Bates and Cash, two highly recognized figures in Arkansas history, were better representatives of Arkansas than the two statues placed at the U.S. Capitol more than 100 years ago.
“I think we all agree that part of the bill that talks about Daisy Bates is a really good idea. I know the issue is Johnny Cash and I would just remind that committee that he is a son of Arkansas and he’s known throughout the world and has done so many good things for our state,” argued Wallace.
The entire National Statuary Hall collection consists of 100 bronze or marble statues contributed by 50 states, two statues each. The first statue was placed in 1870. By 1971, all 50 states had contributed at least one statue, and by 1990 all but five states had contributed two statues.
Unlike Arkansas, many of the other states have recognized their most famous or well-known citizens, or those that distinguished themselves in civil pursuits or military service. The statue for Rose was approved by a state Senate resolution in 1915 and a similar measure was approved to dedicate a statue for Clarke in 1917.
In the short discussion on Wallace’s SB 75, Sample offered mixed opposition to putting a statue of Cash at the U.S. Capitol. He said the legislature needed to do more “due diligence” before deciding on replacements.
“I’ve got no problem with Johnny Cash, but I do have problem of putting a statue of him in our nation’s Capital,” said Sample. “I can think of several people that have done more – that may have left their lives on some battlefield or something like that – than Johnny Cash.”
However, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, applauded Wallace’s bill, saying that when he interned for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., he was not impressed by Arkansas’ statues of Rose and Clarke compared to other famous and infamous historical figures from other states. He told the panel he is supportive of putting a Johnny Cash statue in Washington, D.C., noting that the rockabilly and country music star was born in his Senate district.
After SB 75 came up for a vote, Wallace’s proposal could only muster three of the necessary 5 votes for approval. His measure received “yea” votes from Garner, Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, while Samples, Hickey and State Agencies Chair Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, voted against the measure. Sens. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, and Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, were not present.
Later, Hester said he also planned to file a proposal to replace the two statues in the National Hall with two other prominent Arkansans. Although he would not divulge the names he planned to propose, Walmart’s Sam Walton, former Sen. Dale Bumpers and other deceased civic, military and business leaders have been mentioned as potential replacement statues.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Rose was a nationally prominent attorney who practiced in Little Rock for more than 40 years at the Rose Law Firm. He was also a founder and president of both the Arkansas Bar Association and the American Bar Association and was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as an ambassador for the U.S. to the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907.
Today, the U.M. Rose School is a historic school building on the campus of Philander Smith College in downtown Little Rock, which ironically is located at 900 Daisy L. Gaston Bates Drive. On the other hand, Clarke was the 18th governor of Arkansas and a former U.S. Senator. But according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas and other historical references, he was a defender of white supremacy as a key doctrine of the state Democratic party.
After SB 75 was defeated, the Senate panel heard testimony from state Libertarian Party Chairman Michael Pakko on a bill that already had been approved at the beginning of committee meeting. Pakko, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock economist, told the panel after-the-fact that Garner’s SB 163 was unconstitutional and would make if more difficult for Libertarians and other third- party candidates to qualify for the ballot.
“As such, it represents a clear attempt to suppress competition in Arkansas’ political progress,” Pakko said of SB 163. “The fact that it includes an emergency clause make it even more evident that it is intended to stifle competition in the 2020 election to the benefit of the incumbent politicians in their entrenched (GOP and Democratic) political parties.”
Under Garner’s proposal that was earlier approved by the panel, the Libertarian Party and other political parties would need to submit nearly 27,000 signatures to appear on the 2020 ballot, which represents about 3% of the votes cast in the 2018 general election for governor won by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in November. Garner said after the meeting that he strongly believed his bill would be backed by Arkansas courts.
Besides SB 75 and 163, the busy eight-person Senate panel spent most of the meeting scrutinizing technical and material details of the governor’s effort to streamline 42 state agencies into 15 cabinet-level departments. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Senate panel took up HB 1071 and HB 1072, sponsored by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, that outlines the specific duties for the newly created Secretary of Veteran Affairs and the Secretary of Health under the reorganized plan.
At the committee’s first meeting on Jan. 22, Rep. Davis introduced HB 1215 and HB 1216, which would establish the cabinet-level departments of Public Safety and Energy and Environment, respectively.
Altogether, there is one bill that will establish enabling legislation for the governor’s massive government transformation plan, as well as 15 individual bills that detail how the 15 new cabinet-level departments will be restructured.
The new law reorganizing state government, if approved, would go into effect on July 1, 2019.