Political Issues and Controversies

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Act 401 of 1951

aka: Communist Registration Act
Also called the Communist Registration Act, Act 401 was approved in March 1951 during the tenure of the Fifty-eighth Arkansas General Assembly. It was subtitled “An Act to Require Members of Certain Organizations Advocating the Unconstitutional Overthrow of the United States or of the State of Arkansas to Register With the State Police.” Ostensibly directed against members of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and affiliated organizations, Act 401 was passed in the context of the Second Red Scare following World War II. Act 401 did not emerge in a political vacuum, nor was this law unprecedented in Arkansas history. Act 401 was consistent with federal, state, and local legislation against “subversive organizations.” The law joined a long line of federal …

Act 910 of 2019

aka: Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019
Act 910 of 2019 was a piece of signature legislation for Governor Asa Hutchinson, who sought to reduce the size of Arkansas state government and the number of agency heads reporting directly to the governor. In state government, an agency designated as a “department” is typically headed by a secretary who is appointed by the governor as part of the cabinet. Many of the changes brought about by Act 910 involved departments becoming “divisions,” such as the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) becoming the Division of Environmental Quality within the new Department of Energy and Environment. Hutchinson looked to Act 38 of 1971, the last large-scale reorganization of Arkansas state government, which consolidated sixty state government agencies into thirteen. …

Agricultural Adjustment Act

The experimental Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was the cornerstone farm legislation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda and was steered through the U.S. Senate by Joe T. Robinson, Arkansas’s senior senator. In Arkansas, farm landowners reaped subsidy benefits from the measure through decreased cotton production. Arkansas sharecroppers and tenant farmers did not fare as well, bringing about the establishment of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU). Upon taking office in 1933—during the fourth year of the Great Depression, on the heels of the Drought of 1930–1931, and amid the full force of the Dust Bowl—Roosevelt promised “a new deal for the American people” centered on “relief, recovery, and reform.” Counseled by advisors dubbed the “brain trust,” Roosevelt fashioned …

Amendments 19 and 20

aka: Futrell Amendments
Amendments 19 and 20 to the Arkansas Constitution, which are commonly referred to as the Futrell Amendments, sharply restricted the ability of the legislature to levy taxes, spend the funds, and incur debt. Ratified in the general election in 1934, the amendments went beyond the laws of any other state in limiting the fiscal powers of the legislature and were supposed to guarantee austere and limited government for posterity. The restrictions on borrowing stated in Amendment 20, which required a statewide popular vote before the state could borrow money for public improvements, were loosened in 1986 by Amendment 65, after the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down a strict interpretation that seemed to outlaw what were known as “revenue bonds,” which the …

Anthony, Joseph J.

Joseph J. Anthony, a soldier, politician, and Arkansas pioneer, fell victim to one of the most extraordinary and bizarre events in Arkansas political history. He became the only sitting member of the state legislature to be killed during a debate in the Arkansas House of Representatives. J. J. Anthony, born possibly as early as 1780, was a native of Virginia and the son of the Reverend Joseph Anthony, a Baptist minister, and his wife, Jane Ferris. The family moved to middle Tennessee shortly after 1800, and, by 1808, Anthony was living in Smith County. On the eve of the War of 1812, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. After the outbreak of hostilities, he …

Arkansas Freedom of Information Act

aka: Freedom of Information Act
aka: FOIA
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signed into law by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller on February 14, 1967, is generally considered one of the strongest and best models for open government by investigative reporters and others who research public records for various purposes. The intent of the FOIA is to keep government business and government records open and accessible to the people of Arkansas. The Arkansas FOIA has been called “the people’s law” in that it provides the citizens of Arkansas open access to the conduct of the public’s business at every level of government, as well as ready access to public records on file with a host of custodians for those records in county courthouses, city halls, public schools, …

Arkansas Loan and Thrift

Arkansas Loan and Thrift Corporation (AL&T) was a hybrid bank that operated for three years outside state banking laws with the help of political connections in the 1960s before coming to a scandalous end. A U.S. district judge halted the operations and placed the company in receivership in March 1968, and a federal grand jury indicted three officers of the company, as well as a former Arkansas attorney general. AL&T became a symbol of the corruption and lethargy that were the products of Governor Orval Faubus’s twelve-year control of the statehouse and, in the opinion of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, the Democratic Party’s unfettered reign in government since Reconstruction. It was jokingly called “Arkansas Loan and Theft.” The grand jury indictment …

Arkansas Peace Society

The Arkansas Peace Society was a loose affiliation of local anti-Confederate groups that formed in response to Arkansas’s secession from the Union. These groups operated like secret societies in several north Arkansas counties until late in 1861, when local militias and the Confederate government of the state began carrying out large-scale arrests of perceived traitors in the region. The Arkansas Peace Society was quickly broken up, though north Arkansas contributed approximately ninety percent of soldiers from the state who fought for the Union, while jayhawkers and bushwhackers also roamed the area with some intensity. The upland counties of northern Arkansas, where slavery was not a major component of the local economy, contained a large number of people opposed to the …

Arkansas Plan

The 1976 proposal known as the “Arkansas Plan” represented an important innovation in the relationship between the state and its localities, and its defeat became one of the greatest policy failures for Governor David Pryor. At its core, the plan would have greatly expanded local control over important public policies as well as taxing authority, shifting such decision making from the state level. When the plan was introduced in October 1976, Pryor was in the midst of an easy reelection campaign. The energy that Pryor invested over the months following in a failed effort to get the plan passed became a major distraction from other aspects of his political agenda. Pryor’s Arkansas Plan was a follow-up to a 1974 amendment …

Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L)

The Arkansas Power and Light Company (AP&L) was the primary electrical utility company for much of Arkansas from 1913 to 1989. It was the predecessor to Entergy Corporation, the electrical company now serving much of the state in the twenty-first century. The company was founded in 1913 as the Arkansas Power Company by Harvey Crowley Couch, a native of Columbia County and a successful railroad and telephone utility entrepreneur. In 1914, Couch bought the power plants at Arkadelphia (Clark County) and Malvern (Hot Spring County) and then built a twenty-two-mile electrical transmission line running between them. The system had problems with electrical supply and ran exclusively at night, but it served as the only electrical transmission line in the state. …

Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal

The Arkansas prison blood scandal resulted from the state’s selling plasma extracted from prisoners at the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). Corruption among the administrators of the prison blood program and poor supervision resulted in disease-tainted blood, often carrying hepatitis or HIV, knowingly being shipped to blood brokers, who in turn shipped it to Canada, Europe, and Asia. Revelation of the misdeeds and the healthcare crisis it created in Canada nearly brought down the Liberal Party government in 1997. In 1994, Arkansas became the last state to stop selling plasma extracted from prisoners. Arkansas’s prison blood program began in 1964 as a way for both prisoners and the prison system to make money. (Arkansas law forbids …

Arkansas Project

The Arkansas Project was a reporting venture in the mid-1990s undertaken with the aim of discrediting President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Writers and investigators—who were paid from a fund of more than $2 million provided by Richard Mellon Scaife, owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and billionaire heir to the Mellon fortune—delved into matters such as the Whitewater land deal in the Arkansas Ozarks, the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., mysterious deaths and drug schemes in Arkansas, and Governor Clinton’s alleged 1991 tryst with state employee Paula Jones. Much of the work was later discredited or else repudiated by the authors and others involved, including Scaife, who years later became an admirer of the former president and …

Arkansas Real Estate Bank

In 1836, the establishment of the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas became the initial act to pass the first state legislature. Momentum for a state-sponsored bank began during the territorial phase when planters and other lowland agricultural interests sought ways to enhance the availability of capital. The bank’s charter required the state to issue $2 million in five-percent bonds, the proceeds from which would serve as the bank’s capital. But the state held no authority for immediate supervision of the bank’s operations other than the appointment of a minority of the bank’s directors. From 1836 to 1855, when the state took over control, the Real Estate Bank proved to be a source of political corruption, financial mismanagement, and intense sectional …

Arkansas Scholarship Lottery

The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is a system of games of chance, implemented to generate revenue to fund the state’s Academic Challenge Scholarship program for qualified high school graduates. The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery was made possible by the 2008 passage of Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 3, which amended the state constitution to make a statewide lottery program legal. By fall 2016, more than 200,000 students had received an Academic Challenge Scholarship to attend a two-year or four-year institution of higher education in the state of Arkansas. Although it was not until 2008 that Arkansas voters passed a constitutional amendment to allow the creation of a lottery, the topic had been debated in the state for a number of years. In 1990, …

Arkansas State Bank

The Arkansas State Bank (1836–1843) was one of two banks created by the newly formed Arkansas state legislature. It provided some funding for commercial projects, though most of its funds facilitated land sales. Its greatest legacy, however, was saddling the new state government with a burdensome debt and instigating several accounts of political corruption. In the end, the bank’s failure jeopardized both public and private banking in Arkansas due to the public outcry against its operation. Banking was one of the most prominent political issues of the early nineteenth century. Waves of banking mania spread across the country as advocates sang the praises of increasing available currency and spurring on economic development. On the western frontier, demands for banks ran …

Arkansas State Boundaries

Arkansas’s boundaries have been the subject of international treaties, treaties with Native American tribes, acts of Congress, and a multitude of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Generally, Arkansas is bordered on the north by Missouri; on the east by Tennessee and Mississippi; on the south by Louisiana; and on the west by Texas and Oklahoma, but that is not entirely correct. Arkansas is also bordered on the east by Missouri and the south by Texas, but parts of the state are also north of Missouri, east of Mississippi, north of Oklahoma and west of Texas. Tennessee-Mississippi BoundaryAs early as the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian War, the middle of the Mississippi River was established …