Friday, March 18, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Martin’s at it again

From the Why-are-we-not-surprised? Department: The state Board of Apportionment met for the first time Wednesday to begin reapportioning the state legislature and discovered that one of its members had already spent or obligated more than half of its money on a new car and jobs for his pals.

The member who had drained the board’s appropriation was Secretary of State Mark Martin, who took office two months ago. Among Martin’s first tasks after his swearing-in, it seems, were to buy a new Ford Escape Hybrid for his office for $27,673, put his friend Tim Hutchinson on the board’s payroll part-time at $63,000 and contract with another friend, a former aide of Gov. Mike Huckabee, to “consult” with him on reapportionment for $19,000. All of that—some $120,000—would come from the $200,000 appropriation for the Board of Apportionment, which in the next year must construct equal districts for the 100 members of the House of Representatives and 35 members of the Senate based on the 2010 census.

The other two board members, Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, were astonished to find that most of the board’s money was already spent or obligated and its work had not even started.

“That’s all we’ve got,” the governor said. Beebe told Martin that the full board, not one of its members, decides how the reapportionment will proceed, including who to hire and how the money will be obligated. Martin explained innocently that someone in his office had told him that he could spend it but that he would try to find a way to pay some of the money back to the board from the appropriation for the secretary of state’s office.

An aide to Martin said the new car was for general office use, but Martin said it would be used to travel around the state to educate people on reapportionment. He hired Tim Hutchinson, a former legislator and son of the former U. S. senator of the same name, as the person to coordinate the board’s apportionment work. The little job will fatten Hutchinson’s state retirement check. No one mentioned the patent conflict of interest. Hutchinson will work on creating favorable districts for his mother and brother, who are members of the legislature, and for other Republican friends in northwest Arkansas.

Beebe and McDaniel made it clear that Hutchinson would not be doing the work but someone better qualified. The full board will choose a coordinator. In that case, Martin said, he will find something for Hutchinson to do in the secretary of state’s office.

Martin also hired Chad Gallagher, a political aide of Huckabee and adviser to Republican candidates, to “consult” with the board. What kind of advice he will supply for his taxpayer subsidy was not clear. He brought some controversy to Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2008 by listing people as Huckabee endorsers without their permission.

Beebe chalked all of Martin’s mistakes up to ignorance. Maybe. But his boners did not surprise us. We remember Mark Martin’s service as a state representative. He calculated ways to turn his legislative expense allowance into a salary supplement. He collected far more compensation than other legislators by maximizing his expenses. He created businesses out of his home that sent invoices to the state for office rental and other services rendered to Rep. Martin. In his last year as a legislator, Martin drew $88,433 from the taxpayers for a part-time job that pays $15,000.

This guy is not dumb.