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The governor’s blackball

Updated: Jan 10

In the past few weeks, the Arkansas governor’s office issued an edict to state government officials that they cannot visit with members of the media without prior approval.

My phone started ringing soon after the order went out. I even had a personal visit from one state official. The state officials with whom I visited were apologetic, embarrassed and, in at least one case, angry. I’ve known most of them for years.

The governor’s office likely will say something along these lines: “This is simply to ensure a consistent message.”

This rings hollow, however, since I’ve had several appointments postponed or called off because, the state officials told me, I’ve been critical of the administration.

Ah, a Nixon-style enemies list.

The irony of being blackballed is that (a) I rarely write about politics; (b) when I do, I always try to make criticism constructive, never personal; (c) my criticism of Gov. Sarah Sanders has been much more muted than many of her critics; (d) all the columns I would have written likely would have been positive.

I’ve been following Arkansas governors for decades, and I can never recall a sweeping edict such as this one; one intended to punish those branded as critics.

I would call it Faubusesque, but I’m not sure Orval Faubus ever went this far.

Unfortunately, the governor has surrounded herself with top aides who are traveling political apparatchiks who aren’t from Arkansas, won’t stay in Arkansas for long and care nothing about the people of our state.

For now, I will give the governor the benefit of the doubt and just say that she is receiving awful advice. Department heads, division heads and others have been severely handcuffed by having to ask for permission every time they wish to promote their agencies and their accomplishments.

If you don’t trust them, you shouldn’t have appointed them.

If the petty and ham-handed actions of the governor’s subordinates continue, I expect some of the best and brightest to leave this administration within a year. They’re already disillusioned and disgruntled.

Several state employees have told horror stories of a governor’s office in disarray during these early months of the administration, mirroring the chaos of the Trump White House from which some of the top aides came. Backstabbing and complaining are rampant, I’m told.

I’m not a news reporter anymore. There are some good ones at the state Capitol, though, and I’m confident they’ll get to the bottom of this far-reaching edict (I’m told that even PowerPoint presentations must be reviewed before civic club speeches can be given) before more damage is done.

I hope organizations such as the Arkansas Press Association will speak out strongly. This kind of thing is dangerous.

It’s time to get some veteran Arkansans into that office; men and women who will give the governor honest assessments and help her build relationships across the state rather than tearing them apart.

We’re a small state. We already know each other. We deserve better than what the Traveling Trumpettes in the governor’s office are giving us.

Much more to come.

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