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Arkansas comes last

Updated: Jan 10

Earlier this afternoon, the governor’s office issued a news release touting an interview Gov. Sarah Sanders did with the Washington Examiner. The Examiner described it as an “exclusive interview.”

The fact Sanders would choose to do “an exclusive interview” about education reforms affecting Arkansas children and their parents with an East Coast media outlet rather than a media outlet here in Arkansas is telling.

It’s even more telling that the Examiner isn’t even a mainstream media outlet. It’s a highly partisan, far-right outlet that consists mostly of a digital presence along with a weekly printed magazine. Its stories are seen by very few Arkansans.

When David Pryor was governor from 1975-79, he kept a plaque on his desk that read “Arkansas Comes First.”

In these first two months of the Sanders administration, it has become clear that Arkansas comes last, far behind Sanders’ national political ambitions and her consistent appeals for money from members of the Trump cult.

Arkansas students, teachers and administrators are simply pawns in that fundraising scheme as the education reform bill is rushed through the Legislature with little debate.

On Tuesday, Sanders did a television interview about the education package.

Was it with an Arkansas television station? Nope.

You guessed it, it was with Fox News.

On that same day, Sanders and Jacob Oliva, the education secretary imported from Florida to stamp a national education reform blueprint onto Arkansas, wrote an opinion piece.

Was that piece written for an Arkansas publication where it would be seen by parents of Arkansas schoolchildren?

Of course not, silly. It was written for the Fox News website.

Remember, Arkansas comes last.

All of this effort to cater to national right-wing outlets comes at a time when the sweeping decree from the governor’s office — which dictates that people in state agencies must have prior approval from the office before speaking to the Arkansas media — is still in place.

This ham-handed move has handcuffed our best state employees, who continue to call and send me emails about the chaos of the past two months.

God forbid that the governor visit with an Arkansas journalist when Fox News and the Washington Examiner are out there.

A continued problem is that Sanders has surrounded herself with out-of-state political apparatchiks — people with an interest in national exposure but no real interest in Arkansas.

Yesterday, we gave you some background on Alexa Henning, the Readout Queen, who appears to be the source of the “don’t talk to Arkansans unless we tell you that you can” order.

Sanders’ chief of staff, Gretchen Conger, also has no Arkansas background. She came to the state last year from Arizona under an ethical cloud after working for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

A Texas law firm led by a Ducey donor pressured the state’s revenue department to issue tax refunds for mining companies. The refunds were worth as much as $100 million. The donor hired several Ducey assistants to lobby for him.

According to the highly respected Arizona Republic: “Conger pushed for the tax break for nearly a year before reporting she may have a conflict of interest. That’s because the tax break would have resulted in about a $10 million refund for international mining firm Freeport McMoRan, where her father, Harry “Red” Conger, was president and chief operating officer, and also was a major campaign contributor to Ducey.

“According to the state’s conflict-of-interest statutes ‘any public officer or employee who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency … shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such decision.'”

Let me note that someone in whom I have great trust assures me that Conger “is capable. She will do the right thing.”

I will take him at his word.

That said, let’s hope the chief of staff now does the right thing and somehow gets through to her boss that she’s not running for national office. Conger can convince the governor that the best way to communicate with the Arkansans who will have to live with this education bill is through Arkansas media outlets.

Conger can also remind the boss that she won’t be on the ballot again until 2026 so there’s really no reason to constantly have a hand out asking for money.

Conger, as chief of staff, can hopefully talk frankly and say: “Boss, the campaign ended back in November. Now is the time to govern, not play political games. Arkansas comes first.”

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