Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Texarkana Gazette. Nov. 12, 2018.
Last year President Donald Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act — commonly called the “Forever GI Bill” — a piece of legislation that greatly expanded educational opportunities for U.S. veterans.
Among its provisions, the bill eliminated the 15-year deadline for using benefits and expanded access to more service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserves. And it offers scholarships for veterans choosing to study science, technology, engineering and math.
The legislation was hailed as a landmark achievement. But there’s been a glitch. A big one.
It seems the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have the information technology infrastructure in place to make sure the benefits reach the veterans. The agency’s workload doubled from September 2017 to September 2018 and they just can’t handle it. The VA estimates 82,000 veterans in college are still waiting for housing stipends. That means some have had to go deeply into debt to cover those expenses and others are facing eviction and homelessness.
While thousands of veterans never got promised payments, the VA says more than 300,000 others have been issued late payments or incorrect amounts that do not reflect promised increases for 2018. The agency can’t say for sure when they will be reimbursed for the full amount due.
This isn’t the way to serve those who served this nation. Congress and the White House had good intentions with this bill. But in expanding the GI Bill they did not include needed funding for the VA to expand its IT capabilities. And now our vets are paying the price.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has set up a hearing to look into the matter. Will that accomplish anything? We can only hope.
At the moment, though, there is no telling when the VA will catch up. In the meantime — even on the Veterans Day federal holiday — thousands of U.S. heroes were facing financial disaster through no fault of their own.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Nov. 13, 2018.
Our country has a troubled history of making it difficult for some people to vote. And how. We still have a couple of years to go before we celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage. And don’t get us started on Jim Crow. But, it must be realized, We the People have made some good progress over the last few decades of expanding voting rights. And with election day officially behind us, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to applaud Arkansas’ system.
The jury is still out on states like Georgia and North Dakota. (The courts will rule concerning them, probably soon.) But here in Arkansas, recent cries about our voter ID law “disenfranchising” voters fell silent through the last election period when results spoke for themselves.
Not only did our own Supreme Court uphold the state’s revised voter ID law, evidence of much higher voter turnout than the 2014 midterms should serve as proof our state isn’t actively suppressing votes by anyone. (As Casey Stengel used to say, you can look it up. In this year’s governor’s race, more’n 100,000 people voted as compared to 2014.)
Opponents of our state’s voter ID law claimed that requiring voters to purchase an identification card in order to cast a ballot was essentially a poll tax. But that argument falls apart when you realize our state law allows voters to receive a voter ID card without charge from the local county clerk.
Unable to vote on election day? Arkansas allows a registered voter to visit any polling place two weeks before election day for early voting. To make voting even easier, Arkansas has absentee ballots for those who simply cannot make it to a polling station. Forget your ID? A helpful poll worker will provide you with a provisional ballot. Then you just show up later with your identification, and your ballot will be counted just like anybody else’s.
Voter suppression in Arkansas? If anything, our state makes it pretty easy to vote in each and every election.
That’s not to say the system is perfect. This voter registration by mail business is antiquated and needs to be brought into the 21st century. It’s 2018, and our Legislature needs to create an online voter registration system. It’s a bipartisan issue with legislators like Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) and Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Clarksville) both expressing support for a hypothetical bill that would make this a reality.
This is how we form a more perfect union. By getting a little more perfect every few years.
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Nov. 13, 2018.
One of the worst pieces of political wisdom, if it’s to be called even that, is that you can’t fight city hall.
Certainly, nobody is guaranteed a victory when it comes to political situations, but what makes sense about raising a flag of surrender before one even tries?
We suppose the equivalent advice for residents living in unincorporated areas would be “You can’t fight the county courthouse.” It’s untrue, too.
Resistance to government action is hard and can require a heaping spoonful of persistence the likes of which few people can sustain. Government is organized -- mostly. By the time neighbors get wind that something’s going on, government might have been “studying” an issue for months. Neighbors who suddenly find themselves the subject of government action are often disorganized, scrambling to motivate people toward involvement and, even more difficult, finding a common voice that can resonate with political leaders.
Sometimes, they just don’t get it right, even when their concerns are worth considering.
It sounds like that’s may be what happened the other day at the Washington County Planning Board. Residents of the Wedington Woods area west of Fayetteville showed up at a board meeting with concerns about a red dirt mine they believe to be preparing to open near their homes.
They were essentially told “wrong time, wrong place.”
About a half-dozen people appeared at the planning board but were told at the beginning that the rumored project was not on the meeting’s agenda.
“We come here today to try to get on the agenda of the Quorum Court,” resident Dick Johnson said. “We feel like we deserve a place on the Quorum Court’s agenda.”
County attorney Brian Lester tried to help, advising them they needed to get an elected justice of the peace to put their issue on the Quorum Court’s agenda or they can speak during the public comment period at Quorum Court meetings.
We’ve always been in favor of public comments at public meetings, Can you imagine anyone being against it? You’d be surprised in some city, county or school board settings.
It’s not bad advice, but Lester’s first suggestion is the stronger option. Benton and Washington counties both have 15 elected justices of the peace. They each represent a section of the county determined by population. So yes, each resident has one justice of the peace they are directly involved in electing. We suggest, however, that all 15 justices of the peace owe it to all county residents to be prepared to listen and act when an issue arises. In this case, every person concerned about the red dirt mine is a resident of the county each justice of the peace has stepped forward to represent.
Things can get dicey this time of year, right after an election. The Washington County Quorum Court, come January, will have nine new faces. That’s nine of 15 spots in which incumbents are in their final days before the new arrivals are sworn in. It may be a while before the rookies have a handle on how to be a member of the Quorum Court. But they did ask for the job.
Our advice: Contact them all, starting with the incumbent but following up quickly with the newly elected member. In short, expect them to represent the residents.
That doesn’t mean they’ll always vote the way residents want. No vote can satisfy everyone. But good representation is more than just a vote. It’s assisting residents in getting answers.
Some public officials understand that more than others, but we hope the desperate outcry of neighbors in the Wedington Woods area got the attention of county leaders willing to help. At the least — the very least — it shouldn’t be hard to find a justice of the peace willing to place the matter on the agenda of a future meeting.
People want to be heard by their government representatives. City councils and quorum courts are about as close to “the people” as government gets. If people like those in the Wedington Woods area feel they aren’t being heard by their local government, that’s a shame.