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A Few Words About Some Hardworking Legislators

Updated: Apr 13

Earlier this year, the Advance Arkansas Institute distributed several awards to Arkansas state legislators based on their voting records and legislative achievements. The awards we’ve already given out – the Friends of Freedom, the Coolidge Awards, and the Legislators of the Year – illuminate the values that AAI would like to see in the legislature. However, as we approach the final hours of 2013, I wanted to recognize a few more legislators who brought value to the Capitol this year and whose achievements our scoring system didn’t recognize. I’m glad to see them in office: Rep. John Burris. I have met more than my share of elected officials who are saccharine in public, but obnoxious in private. Burris isn’t like that. He doesn’t try to hide his intelligence, which often manifests itself in cutting sarcasm; his wit is often a source of delight to those who are not his target. He’s one of the youngest members of the House, but one of its most serious, effective, and intelligent advocates. I also have a sentimental attachment to his Act 1225, which he sponsored and passed this session. Act 1225, which, by and large, blocks politicians from naming buildings after themselves, enacts the policy of the very first bill I ever filed as a state legislator back in 2006. Sen. Jonathan Dismang. I have also met more than my share of elected officials who interpret any policy disagreement as a personal attack. In contrast, I have always found Dismang to conduct himself, even in the face of disagreement, in a professional and adult way. (It is regrettably true that, in politics, simply behaving like a grownup is sometimes a mark of distinction.) Earlier this year, he sponsored, and put before the people, a constitutional amendment that I believe embodies one of the most positive and important institutional changes in Arkansas history, SJR 7, which if passed would allow the state legislature to create a process by which it would approve all rules changes springing from regulatory bodies. Writing that amendment into law required a sophisticated understanding of the values of limited government and democratic accountability, and I am confident that Dismang will bring those values with him when he becomes Senate President. Sen. Michael Lamoureux. Lamoureux has the best disposition I have ever encountered in a public official. His lack of pretension, his willingness to listen, his slowness to anger, his openness to new ideas, his raw intelligence, and his amusement in the twists and turns of human nature (as reflected in the stories he likes to tell) make him not just a good legislator but a good friend. Like Jonathan Dismang, the reason his colleagues elected him Senate President was because they wanted an adult in charge. In a body that has more than its share of egomaniacs, Lamoureux often appears modest by comparison: however, it is a remarkable fact that, when conservatives in the Capitol are presented with a problem they can’t figure out, it often is Lamoureux that they call for advice. Rep. Doug House. Like John Burris, Rep. House missed receiving our Friends of Freedom by exactly one point. But his extraordinary patriotism, his mission mentality, and his history of service is evident to all of those who work with him. House appreciates the importance of rolling government back, and I’m optimistic that he will eventually pass into law some version of his HB 1404, which would have decriminalized the resale of concert tickets. The criminalization of ticket resale is, as far as I can tell, an utterly pointless policy and a waste of law enforcement resources, and we are lucky to have someone in the legislature who recognizes this. Rep. John Walker. To state the obvious, Rep. Walker and I have vast areas of political disagreement. Out of the 99 House members that are rated in our Freedom Scorecard, he scored 99th. I think that in our first serious conversation, he told me cheerily that he had campaigned for my opponent. But like the other legislators on this list, he never lets irrelevant political differences intrude on areas of common interest. I have always been impressed by his attention to civil liberties and constitutional concerns, an area in which he is usually more serious and knowledgeable about than most of his colleagues. I was privileged to work with him on his “photographers’ rights” bill – HB 2169, a bill designed to prevent the seizure of cameras by agents of government. Someday, when that bill is passed, it will do more to stop abuses of government authority than just about any other bill that comes out of the legislature. Sen. Eddie Joe Williams. Senator Williams represents everything that legislators are supposed to do: namely, address big problems. He spent much of the legislative session pursuing common-sense reforms to our civil justice system. The policies he pursued are sound and fair; regrettably, they are also difficult to explain and difficult for the public to understand. His efforts were opposed by a coalition of trial lawyers and other special interests – who were willing to misrepresent fundamental legal issues, and who were able to funnel enough campaign contributions to a few Republican legislators that resulted in, in at least one case, making a state senator change his stated position 180 degrees on tort reform issues. At times, the shady tactics of his opponents made his mood less than cheery; it would have made me less than cheery too. I fear that one lesson that Williams learned this session is that, on tort reform, virtue is its own reward. I know that there are other conservative legislators who are a little ashamed that they dropped the ball on tort reform. And I believe that, in 2015, Williams will lead a successful tort reform effort that will prove crucial to rejuvenating economic development and job creation in Arkansas. I admire him for shouldering what proved to be the most thankless task of the 2013 session. I don’t want to say I appreciate and endorse everything these six legislators did – that wouldn’t be true for any legislator ever. But I appreciate the achievements and the values, and the professionalism and maturity, that these six legislators brought to the job. P.S. I worry that some of the legislators I admire will be upset that they aren’t on this last-day-of-2013 love letter. But, just remember, most of them already got their AAI love letter earlier this year!

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