- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 5, 2016

Should he endorse?

What is a governor’s highest responsibility, serving his political party or serving the people of his state?

Our answer is easy: Political parties are important organizations that provide structure in the effort to gather support for candidates of similar ideology, but once an Arkansas candidate takes office, his duty is to serve the public’s interests, not the party’s.

Most of the time, party and public interests can co-exist. But when, in the judgment of a governor, they clash, he has a responsibility to take action for the good of all.

The issue came up this election cycle when Gov. Asa Hutchinson took an active role in eight of the 18 GOP primaries for state Senate and the state House of Representatives. In those contested races, Hutchinson told voters which candidates from his party he preferred. And for many, a governor’s endorsement matters.

Here in northwest Arkansas, Hutchinson’s fingerprints were on the contests involving incumbent Reps. Jana Della Rosa, Rebecca Petty and Sue Scott, all of Rogers. He also endorsed state Rep. Lance Eads of Springdale in his race to become the state senator in District 7.

Everyone but Scott won their races.

Some governors stay out of contested races within their parties, but this year Hutchinson got involved with candidates who “have supported me and my agenda as governor, and I have a loyalty to them. So, I have indicated my support for them.”

Candidates who didn’t benefit from Hutchinson’s political engagement obviously didn’t care much for it.

Attorney Brenda Vassaur-Taylor of Fayetteville, a spokesman for a nonprofit called Commerce in Action that backed opponents of Hutchinson-endorsed candidates, said many in the Republican Party “have told us that his involvement is not received well and have considered it as the beginning of a ‘civil war’ within the party as they believe his clarified positions are not consistent with Arkansas’ conservative Republican platform.”

Why? Because these races primarily involved challenges of incumbents who helped continue Arkansas’ so-called private option expansion of Medicaid that has provided health insurance coverage to thousands of lower-income Arkansans. The private option was a creation of Hutchinson’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. It was a variation that allowed Arkansas to receive millions of dollars in federal funds to expand private coverage to many uninsured residents without directly expanding Medicaid, as the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - called for.

Obamacare. For some candidates, that’s enough to assure a “no” vote, and that’s what they campaigned on. Hutchinson, who continues to make his own changes to the health insurance programs, didn’t need people in the General Assembly who would be working against him, so he endorsed in key races.

Is that an affront to propriety? It seems almost laughable. The governorship is a political office. Are we supposed to be shocked when its occupant is engaged in - egad - politics?

Governors need to do what is necessary to protect their ability to get things done. Why would a governor stay quiet when some candidates want to throw a wrench into the workings of his policies?

Hutchinson no doubt knows there may be a political price for him to pay for wielding influence in the GOP primaries. We’re certainly not saying members of his party who disagree with him should simply tuck tail and go home. The governor acted, and he’s got to deal with the repercussions of those actions, if there are any. But there shouldn’t be any sense that a governor is overstepping by endorsing wherever he sees the necessity.

Voters can decide for themselves how much weight to give a governor’s endorsements. But it certainly seems smart for a political party that has managed to take power in the governor’s office to give him the best chances for success in his leadership of the state.

Then again, we’re talking about the Republican Party, which based on the presidential contest this year, appears more than willing to destroy itself.

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Texarkana Gazette, March 8, 2016

Puppy mills: Large rescue operation shows need for regulation in Arkansas

On Friday, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department paid a call on what’s described as a “puppy mill” outside of Elkins in northwest Arkansas.

They found nearly 300 dogs being kept in what one animal welfare activist described as “deplorable living conditions.”

The Humane Society’s Jessica Lauginiger told KFSM News 3 that many of the dogs are injured and suffer from lack of food and water.

The dogs were being kept in eight sheds as well as the main residence. They were taken by the Humane Society and will receive veterinary care and, hopefully, will eventually find permanent homes.

Lauginiger said the property owner has a Website where she sells dogs and also sells at a Texas flea market.

The sheriff’s department arrested the woman on two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. She was released without bail. That’s right. Two misdemeanors. No bail.

That’s because Arkansas is one of the few states with no regulations for commercial dog breeding.

No license is required. There are no inspections. That makes the Natural State prime territory for puppy mill operations.

According to Humane Society legislative director Desiree Bender, Arkansas is one of the top 10 states in number of puppy mills. About 700 to 1,000 are operating at any given time, she told KATV-7. It adds up to millions of dollars in profit each year.

It’s a disgrace that Arkansas has no oversight of dog breeding operations. Proper licensing requirements and regular inspections would go a long way toward ensuring animals raised for sale are treated in a humane manner.

We encourage state lawmakers to get on this right away. And we encourage animal lovers all across the state to contact your state representatives and senators and let them know you want to see legislation to protect animals from puppy mill abuse and neglect.

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The Banner-News, March, 4, 2016

Why so low?

Tuesday’s primary election and nonpartisan judicial general election in Columbia County went well from an equipment point of view, but voter turnout was unusually low.

There were 4,571 total ballots cast. That’s out of 13,900 registered voters in the county. According to unofficial statistics released from the county clerk’s office, 1,386 (30.32 percent) ballots were cast in the Democratic Primary, 3,158 (69.09 percent) ballots were cast in the Republican Primary, 27 (.59 percent) ballots were cast as non-partisan, and one (.02 percent) was blank.

Early voter turnout was low, as well, said Columbia County Clerk Sherry Bell. After a slow start, traffic in the county clerk’s office picked up during the latter part of last week, with a total of 2,148 persons voting early. Bell said that in the past, between 3,000 and 3,500 people came out to vote early.

Voter turnout results statewide are thus far unavailable, according to the Web site for the Secretary of State’s Office, but with the exception of such heavily-populated areas as Pulaski and Saline counties, we’d guess the numbers were low elsewhere.

As many readers pointed out on our Facebook page the night of the election, it is shocking that so few people actually cast their ballots, given that almost 14,000 county residents are registered to do so.

Who knows why the numbers here were low. It was hardly a secret that early voting was taking place, and unless you lived in a remote location without access to news of any kind, it is doubtful that some folks just didn’t realize the primary was taking place.

New voting machines were available for use, so it should have been easy enough for anyone to have physically cast their ballot. We went through the process and found the election workers helpful and the machine extremely easy to use, not to mention self-explanatory.

We hate to chalk it up to indifference but that is certainly a possibility. While it is often difficult making a choice between candidates, sometimes it comes down to picking the lesser of two evils. Generally, that can be done easily enough.

As to the results themselves - congratulations to David Graham, the new District Judge for Columbia County, who received 2,517 votes to opponent Becky Jones’ 1,851.

In the Democratic Primary for United States President, Hillary Clinton carried Columbia County with 1,008 votes. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won the county with 1,149. Speaking of the presidential contest, did you see last night’s GOP debate? Mr. Trump promised viewers that size definitely matters, a point that somehow seems irrelevant to the job of running the country. Meanwhile, his opponents took some nasty shots at the billionaire front-runner, while former presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke out vehemently against Trump Thursday afternoon. Romney will likely find some way to contest Trump’s nomination, if he gets it.

One thing’s for sure. It’s going to be an interesting year.

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