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Legislative grifters

On the front page of Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, legendary state Capitol reporter Michael Wickline had his annual story on the legislators who collected the largest amount of per diem, mileage and other expenses the previous year.

For the fifth time in six years, state Sen. Jim Dotson, a Know Nothing from Bentonville (you would think such an economically dynamic place could elect better public officials), led the way. Dotson collected $41,203. That's a staggering amount of money for what's supposed to be a part-time Legislature.

Don't let the legislators near the top of this list tell you it's about the long distances from their homes to the state Capitol in Little Rock. Let me explain what's really going on.

There was a time when we truly had a part-time Legislature. Bankers, attorneys, insurance agency owners and the like would devote 60 days every two years to attending legislative sessions. There weren't that many meetings when the Legislature wasn't in session. The executive branch was allowed to do its job without micromanagement from the legislative branch.

During the past several decades, we've seen a drastic change at the Capitol. Those bankers, attorneys, insurance agency owners, etc. have become fewer in number. Many of the current members fall into one of two categories: retirees who view it as a way to earn extra income and people who have been unable to succeed in the private sector and now must depend on the legislative pay and perks as their major sources of income.

I worked in the Capitol for a decade. Trust me when I tell you that the vast majority of legislative meetings that are held during the interim periods between sessions are totally unnecessary.

We have so many meetings in Little Rock for one reason and one reason only: So legislators can take home more money, even "signing in" for committees they don't serve on in order to collect those checks.

"I try my best to make every meeting I can," one legislator told Wickline.

I have no doubt, sir.

Pull out Sunday's newspaper and study the list of who made what from Arkansas taxpayers last year. I think you'll find it informative.

Perhaps one of these years, we'll get back to electing truly part-time legislators who have REAL jobs to get back to; people who don't NEED the government job; people who serve because they want to do their part to create a better Arkansas.

For now, when I see much of this current crop of solons, I think of the line uttered by Richard Gere's character in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman:" "I got nowhere else to go!"

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