- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Jonesboro Sun. Nov. 2, 2017.

Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington’s decision not to charge anyone in the Shady Grove voter fraud case sends a clear message to those who would seek to violate our election laws: “Go ahead, the punishment is a warning letter.”

While Ellington says he had enough evidence to charge one or more of those involved in the 2016 voter fraud case, he said he didn’t think he had enough evidence for a conviction.

First of all, isn’t that up to a judge or jury to decide?

Secondly, we say hogwash.

There was more than enough evidence to charge those involved in this voter fraud conspiracy. An investigation by The State Board of Election Commissioners found there was a substantial likelihood that those involved in the case violated Arkansas law and that Ellington should bring appropriate charges.

Ellington’s refusal to hold those accountable boils down to either his unwillingness or inability to do his job. It borders on malfeasance.

If you have evidence to charge someone with a crime, isn’t that what a prosecutor is supposed to do?

To decline to charge anyone involved in the case is a slap in the face to every qualified voter and an insult to those who work to ensure the integrity of our election system.

If more than a dozen outsiders could change their voter’s registration to a tiny township where they don’t live - never have lived - in a concerted effort to sway the vote to keep alcohol sales legal, then our election system has been raped of its integrity.

How can we trust an election system that would allow such shenanigans, such deceit, and let it go unpunished?

Apparently, we can’t, and Ellington’s refusal to charge anyone in this case makes it even more damning.

To this day, only one of the 21 people in this case who changed their voter’s registration to Shady Grove township ever moved there.

It’s no wonder so many people fail to vote. To those who say their vote doesn’t matter or elections are rigged, well, in this case they have a legitimate point.

It’s a travesty - even if only four of the 21 actually illegally voted in the election.

If The Sun hadn’t investigated the allegations of voter fraud before the election, we suspect all 21 would have voted - and no one would have been the wiser.

That it took Ellington 11 months to come to a decision is pitiful enough. That 21 people walked away with a warning letter - like one from your teacher when you misbehaved in class - is an incredible injustice to us all. It’s sadly ironic that all but one of those warning letters from Ellington were sent to addresses outside Shady Grove township.

It was obvious from day one that a group of people conspired to change their voter’s registration to a tiny township where a newly opened beer and wine store faced a ballot measure to ban alcohol sales. It would have devastated the business, considering it was located there for the specific purpose of selling alcohol.

A number of those involved either were owners in the store, worked at the store or were family members or friends of those associated with the store.

Setting up a dozen junky old trailers without utilities and half a dozen mailboxes does not a domicile create, especially when those involved had long lived in homes in other counties - and still do. Some were so bold they even claimed to live at the store’s address.

No, their aim was unmistakable, and - thanks to a slothful prosecutor - they walked away with less than a slap on the wrist.

Voters should be angry that the prosecutor they elected has been so lax in this case and others involving white collar crime. Heck, they should be boiling at the sweetheart plea deals he hands out to criminals like candy at Halloween to avoid trials. But that’s another editorial.

We know it’s a tough job. We know that more serious cases deserve higher priority. We know that resources are limited and cases are time consuming.

Ellington knew what he signed up for. He’s doing a disservice to the job.

Voters shouldn’t accept the excuses Ellington often makes for not pursuing cases that should be prosecuted regardless of whether he thinks the outcome might not pad his conviction record.

Sometimes you just have to fight the good fight because it’s in the public’s best interest. The Shady Grove voter fraud case was just such a case. It was a slam dunk.

That Ellington compared it to people who forget to renew their vehicle tags is an embarrassment, especially when it was a concerted effort to stuff the ballot box with fraudulent votes.

No, this case wasn’t about a few individuals who made a mistake or accidentally registered to vote in the wrong county.

It was a conspiracy to attempt to sway an election.

And, thanks to Scott Ellington, they got away with it.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Nov. 5, 2017.

It’s not often that Bruce Westerman makes the news, or at least controversial news. He seems a laid-back sorta guy, and a congressman who’s not in need of constant attention and publicity. He’s not likely to knock you over if you get between him and a cameraman. Which, when it comes to sitting congressmen, is not a virtue to be sneezed at.

The Republican from Hot Springs, Arkansas, also happens to have a master’s degree from Yale University - in forestry. And until we met Bruce Westerman, we didn’t even know that Yale offered such courses. Suffice it to say, the man knows his trees. And problems with them.

He sponsored a bill that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would, for starters, make it easier for the U.S. Forest Service to manage the nation’s deer woods. And elk woods. And bear woods. And trail woods and bike woods and camping woods and woods in general.

His bill would, among other things, make it harder for environmentalists and their lawyers to derail forest management plans. Or, putting it another way, his bill would allow faster approval for logging and other actions that might slow down forest fires. …

Bruce Westerman’s bill would increase access to commercial loggers, better to take the fuel out of the forests before the fires begin. Not to mention getting a jump on any pest or disease that our federal foresters and experts might see coming. Rep. Westerman’s bill would help trim back overgrown forests and speed up review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. …

But there’s other legislation wafting around the nation’s capital that would fight the problem from a different angle. Instead of nipping the problem on the front end, one bill would simply give the fire fighters access to disaster funds so the federal forest agency could get funding out of the same bucket that goes to restoring neighborhoods after hurricanes and floods.

By the opposition ye shall know them: Here is John Garamendi, a Democratic congressman from California who supports the second approach: That other bill “goes to the heart of the funding problem. It’s a much, much better solution and it’s one that avoids the environmental challenge.” …

Another United States congressman from a state that has a recurring interest in all this backs Bruce Westerman’s bill. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said the bill would help end “the endless, frivolous litigation” that slows down forest management in his state.

“On balance,” Rep. Schrader says, “this is a very good bill and much needed at this time.”

He should know, too.

The bill now goes to the United States Senate. Where it should be given attention, soonest. Or will the nation have to wait until the next fire season to take this problem seriously?

cc: John Boozman, Tom Cotton


Southwest Times Record. Nov. 5, 2017.

President Donald Trump recently declared the ongoing opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency. While we applaud this declaration and recognition that we are, indeed, in the middle of a real crisis, this designation does not go far enough to actually improve the situation. In fact, this designation provides no funds to help the crisis - the largest drug crisis our country has ever faced, but rather leaves the work to a thus-far indecisive Congress.

Trump’s assertion that we’ll do “a big advertising campaign,” along with the message that “it’s easy not to start,” is belittling to the current situation.

More must be done to tackle this problem head on. Funding drug treatment programs would be one of the best places to start. Last year alone, more than 64,000 Americans, or 175 per day, died of a drug overdose, most because of opioids, according to recent figures. Opioids are used to treat a variety of pain disorders, including chronic pain, but are also used on a short-term basis following an operation or temporary medical condition. But they are highly addictive and can push a person into addiction.

And while we’re disappointed that Trump’s administration took the approach of calling this a national health emergency rather than a national emergency - which would have provided emergency funds - we do see a ray of hope in local efforts.

A recent town hall meeting that included State Reps. George McGill and Justin Boyd, Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck and others offered information to area residents on how to obtain an opioid overdose medicine, Naloxone. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in September that Arkansas would allow the state’s licensed pharmacists to make Naloxone more widely available around the state in an effort to reduce the number of overdose deaths. The law allows licensed pharmacists to order, dispense and administer Naloxone without a prescription. The medicine allows people to breathe during an overdose situation and enables them to seek medical attention.

Local pharmacist Daniel Lunsford called the medicine “a lifesaver.” The number of drug overdose deaths in Arkansas rose from 287 in 2015 to 335 in 2016, according to numbers from the state Crime Laboratory. Since 2013, 1,067 people have died in Arkansas from a drug overdose.

And a recent prescription drug take-back in the area, part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, netted about 240 pounds worth of drugs that might otherwise fall into the wrong hands. The Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Smith Police both accepted the prescriptions.

It’s efforts like these that prove to us that local communities, including ours, recognize the dire situation we are in. Now, we need more help from the federal government, more than just a declaration of opioids as a public health emergency or the revitalization of a “Just Say No” campaign. Prevention is only a small part of what needs to happen in taking on this crisis. People are dying every day because they’re addicted and can’t find the help they need, and that must change. New strategies to take on the problem must be utilized, including getting abusers into treatment programs rather than prisons, which was recently recommended by the president’s opioid commission. Such a plan would also work toward reducing the population at jails throughout the country, many of which are overcrowded - including in Fort Smith. In its report, the opioid commission said it would like drug courts in each of the nation’s 93 federal judicial districts. As of 2015, fewer than a third of federal districts operated drug courts.

Other plans should include efforts to limit opioid prescriptions while offering alternatives for pain treatment, including the use of non-opioid medication and exercise. There should also be a push for a permanent drug take-back program so that unused opioids don’t end up for sale on the street.

Arkansas Health Department Director Nate Smith earlier this year spoke to a committee on public health on the number of opioids being sold in Arkansas. “In 2016, enough pills were dispensed for every man, woman and child to take 80 pills each during the year,” Smith told the committee.

That’s an alarming number, one that should get the attention of government leaders, including President Trump. “It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said in his declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

If the president feels this way, he must prove it. We’re in a full-blown crisis, and we appreciate that the president recognizes this. But a real, fully developed and fully funded plan must be created soon. Leaders in cities across the country must be given the means to help their those impacted by this growing crisis. Far too many people in the grasp of addiction are dying every day. We applaud local leaders for their efforts and urge our national leaders to do even more. The end of the crisis won’t happen overnight, so we must all work together on this long journey.

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