- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, Feb. 4, 2014

On Sunday we were shocked by the news Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead.

After all, he was just 46 years old, in the prime of his life and career. He was a brilliant actor, capable of playing an amazing range of roles. An Oscar winner.

He seemed to have everything to live for.

But he died of an overdose, found with a needle still in his arm.

Hoffman had battled drugs and booze as a young man. He had been clean for more than two decades before a brief relapse last year, followed by a stint in rehab.

Apparently it didn’t take.

His Hollywood contemporaries and millions of fans are mourning. That’s understandable.

We mourn as well. But we are also angry.

It’s an old story. Fame, fortune, success. And then an early death due to drugs.

Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Elvis Presley. John Belushi. River Phoenix. Chris Farley. Michael Hutchence. Heath Ledger. Brittany Murphy. Brad Renfro. Amy Winehouse. Whitney Houston. Cory Monteith. And those are just a few.

Their deaths get a lot of press. There is a lot of talk about addiction as a disease, its casualties as victims.

Then the headlines fade and everything gets back to normal. Until the next time a big name falls to drugs. And there is always a next time.

The truth is dozens of addicts die every day, thousands each year. Some from overdose, others from disease, others whose bodies just give out.

But they aren’t celebrities_they are statistics. Few of us mourn statistics.

Still, they are all somebody’s children, somebody’s brothers or sisters, somebody’s mothers or fathers, somebody’s friends. They may not have fans, but somebody loved them. At least at one time.

In our society the faceless addicts are just junkies. The celebrities are victims.

Well, there are only a couple of real differences between. One is celebrities can afford to buy more and better drugs. The second? Our celebrity-obsessed society gives the big-name druggies a lot more chances.

But both the addict on the street and the addict in the mansion started the same way. They both hurt those who love them. They both end up in the same dirt.

Drug addiction may be a disease, but it is 100 percent preventable. Those who don’t start doing drugs don’t get addicted. If you never put a needle in your arm you will never be found dead with a needle in your arm.

No matter who you are.


Southwest Times Record, Feb. 3, 2014

State group seeks zero deaths on highways

In light of the more than 500 deaths from vehicle accidents on Arkansas highways each year, a coalition of agencies has staked out an aggressive goal: Zero highway deaths.

Representatives from the Arkansas State Police, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and the Arkansas Department of Health outlined the details of the program last week.

The “Toward Zero Deaths” campaign is part of a national effort built on the belief that even one traffic fatality is too many.

By combining the resources of the three state departments, officials hope they can make a quick, significant impact on highway safety.

“With around 500 fatalities happening on Arkansas roadways each year, traffic safety remains an important issue in our state,” said Col. Stan Witt, director of the Arkansas State Police and the governor’s highway safety representative. “By providing motorists with the knowledge they need to drive safely and continuing in our role to enforce the traffic laws, we will help move ‘Toward Zero Deaths’ here in Arkansas.”

The idea is that working together, the three agencies can do more than any one could alone. State police have first-hand understanding of crash sites. The Highway Department knows the engineering behind safer highways, and the Health Department knows how to analyze the numbers behind the people to understand mortality trends and to make accidents survivable.

Together, officials believe studying the data will make it possible to create highways that are safer through education, enforcement, engineering and emergency services strategies, according to a news release from the State Police Highway Safety Office.

The Arkansas Strategic Highway Safety Plan for 2013, a document that outlines how the Toward Zero Deaths program will be implemented, notes that in 2007, 650 people died on Arkansas highways. Since then, efforts like implementation of the statewide trauma system, passing licensing and seatbelt laws, and the installation of 100 miles of cable median barrier and 1,000 miles of rumble strips led to a 15 percent reduction in fatalities in four years, to just 551 by 2011.

Still, Arkansas had the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the country in 2010. Thus, the Arkansas Highway Safety Steering Committee decided to focus the 2013 safety document on a goal of zero fatalities.

Arkansas is bucking national trends currently. Although nationally fatalities were up 9 percent for the first six months of 2012 compared to the first six months of 2011, in Arkansas through October 2012 fatalities were 8 percent lower than in the same months of 2011.

The Safety Steering Committee, seeking to build on that momentum has sent an interim goal of reducing fatalities to 400 - a 20 percent reduction - by 2017 on the way to the final goals of no deaths.

To get there many people will have to work together, and we are pleased to see these statewide agencies taking the lead.

In the meantime, you can increase your own ability to survive Arkansas highways by the simple act of turning off your cell phone and stowing it in the glove compartment before you begin to drive. If you eliminate distractions, you will improve your driving. Today, highway safety starts and ends with you.


Log Cabin Democrat

Take parties out of the AG race

In a few months, the state will be electing new occupants for our most important government positions. We can all agree that the Governor is the most prominent in the state and that the Lt. Governor is the most overrated. That has been shown by a decision to keep the office vacant following Mark Darr’s resignation.

But the most important may by the state Attorney General, the person who enforces our state laws and makes sure our legislature, our citizens and those outside interests who enter our state abide by the rules and regulations we set forth.

So why is the position party-based?

Rep. Nate Steel (D-Nashville) came by the Log Cabin Democrat offices recently during his campaign stops to discuss the position that he is vying for, and the more he spoke, the clearer it became that the job of attorney general, which requires an objectivity not seen in other offices, should be a nonpartisan office.

That’s not what is currently practiced. Not here, not anywhere … well, except the U.S. territory of Guam. Not only is the position a partisan one in all 50 states, but it is popularly voted on in 43 states. In some areas, like Alaska and Hawaii, the job is appointed by the governor. In others, they are elected by the legislature or assigned by the state supreme court. But they all are party-affiliated.

Our system of two parties has worked for us in the legislative and executive branches for hundreds of years, and the activism it takes to enact certain state laws come from the platforms of those two major parties. So when state senators and representatives work toward legislation, they do so partly because of the views of the constituents who voted them into office, but also because of the views they personally hold, those views which brought them to the Republican or Democrat side in the first place.

When a Republican-led legislature passes a 12-week abortion ban, it is vetoed by a Democratic governor and overridden by that same right-leaning group. All politics is at play. But when it comes to the attorney general, that person must now defend a law he or she may personally disagree with. We couldn’t possibly see a legislator voting for or against something if they disagreed with it.

The current attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, is currently doing just that - arguing for the ban in court although his political position leans toward the pro-choice side.

So if the job is to interpret the laws, making sure wording is proper and correct on an amendment to legalize medical marijuana or going to court to protect laws voted on by the senators and representatives, shouldn’t that person be seen as objective the entire time they are vying for that office?

Maybe because it is such an important job that the only way to properly campaign is with the backing of one of the two state parties, but it seems that affiliation with these parties is the least important aspect when deciding who will be the state’s next lawyer.

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