JOHN BRUMETT: This year’s battle royale

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The history of Arkansas politics in 2022 is an internal Republican battle between regular conservatives and more strident extreme conservatives.

At least that’s what I say in the latest episode on the state of Arkansas politics that I write every January for Talk Business and Politics.

The dynamic is best illustrated by a piece of legislation that happened several days ago after I wrote the article.

It happened between State Senator Jason Rapert of Bigelow, a strident and extreme conservative, especially on the issue of abortion, and State Representative Jeff Wardlaw of Hermitage, a regular if pugnacious conservative.

The problem was that Rapert, running for lieutenant governor, campaigned in part by telling the pro-life public he needed to elect real pro-life lawmakers rather than the Republicans who pushed back on his efforts to extend the recent special legislative session on income tax. cuts to recapture an Arkansas copy of Texas’ anti-abortion law.

Perfectly conservative Republican lawmakers have agreed with their leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson not to extend the session for this strange new Texas law stalled in court. A more direct attack on Roe v. Wade is pending Mississippi in the U.S. Supreme Court with a decision likely this year.

There was some regular conservative belief in the Legislative Assembly that Rapert was raising the issue to promote his lieutenant governor’s run against Leslie Rutledge.

Wardlaw took Rapert aside the other day in front of several colleagues after a budget committee meeting and began to give him a fiery idea of ​​his mind. Wardlaw told me that he speaks for himself and for many others expressing deep resentment that Rapert would have even hinted that they are not pro-life because of a single procedural vote.

Wardlaw said the essence of Texas law — paying taxpayer bonuses, essentially, for successful abortion lawsuits — could be used in liberal jurisdictions to encourage and secure lawsuits against rights. firearms. He said it was a lawyer’s bill.

Rapert has always been relentless in “saving the babies,” as he chooses to describe the issue of woman choice. It doesn’t stop now. In fact, he promises to try to extend the next tax session to seek a review of the Texas law again. He argues on the part of the zealous right that it’s not pro-life enough not to take even an outside chance to stop a single abortion.

Rapert said in a Tuesday night text message that by raising the issue again during the budget session, Hutchinson and other lawmakers “will have another chance to make the right decision. If they refuse, the blood of dead babies will be on their hands.”

As a reminder: this is a Legislative Republican from Arkansas talking about other Legislative Republicans from Arkansas.

Who needs to fight Democrats when Republican lawmakers from Arkansas meet?

This is the dramatic way Rapert tends to speak. He is a preacher. He can be moralizing. I nicknamed her Church Lady.

And that’s the kind of talk that regular conservative Republicans who uniformly oppose abortion don’t appreciate.

Wardlaw tells me everyone knows Rapert will try again in the tax session. He says nothing will come of it. He says there could be a replacement anti-abortion bill that lawmakers choose to pass instead. This would likely redefine fetal viability to comply with Mississippi law in the event the Supreme Court upholds it and undermines or destroys Roe v. Wade.

It also looks more like political coverage than essential policy.

I asked Rapert directly: Does he believe that the pro-life Republican legislative colleagues who voted against his motion to extend the special session are, in fact, not pro-life?

He tempered his rhetoric a bit, saying, “I’m saying they made a mistake and I hope they correct it when they get the chance in the financial session.”

Wardlaw and Rapert tell very different stories from their set-to. It is common in hot weather. And that’s not really the point. What is important is that the incident happened and is a symptom.

What is telling is the sometimes vicious tone adopted by Republican lawmakers, especially senators, when speaking to each other on this and other topics.

A longtime observer of the current Republican-dominated state Senate tells me that the place just hasn’t had enough turnover in recent years and members are fed up with each other. That is expected to change soon, with eight of the 35 senators (including Rapert) leaving by personal choice or term limit, and at least two hardline conservative incumbents opposed by regular conservatives in the Republican primaries.

For now, I feel comfortable telling you from broader conversations without attribution that the State Senate is a conservative Republican nest of petty rivalry, clashing egos, resentment, backbiting and personal disdain.

Some of these people seem to have even less regard for each other personally than I think for many of them politically.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his Twitter feed @johnbrummett.

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