Friday, January 23, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Asa’s healthy state of mind

It could have been no surprise to anyone, except the new lieutenant governor, that Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to continue to insure more than 200,000 Arkansans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the infamous Obamacare. What may have been surprising to many is that the conservative Republican did so not grudgingly but warmly.

Hutchinson announced Thursday that he would ask the legislature to appropriate money for the expansion of Medicaid at least through the end of 2016, when the state will assume 5 percent of the costs from the federal government. He hopes by then to have a plan to make broad changes in Medicaid—all its services, not just the so-called “private option” plan for insuring poor adults—that will expand access and also improve care and lower costs.

In announcing his long-expected support for the private option, Hutchinson said the overarching concern should be the human aspect—people who need medical care and the means to pay for it—not the political, ideological or even budgetary issues. He told stories about people who had been helped, their lives changed, by getting Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. He acknowledged that like all Republicans, he had opposed Obamacare but noted that he had lost that fight.

Hutchinson’s position had been widely presumed since he had refused during the long campaign to adopt the standard Republican campaign position of opposing Obamacare and the private option or to adopt any other position on it. But Hutchinson’s long career in government at the national level told you that he was not much of an ideologue and that, like his predecessor, Mike Beebe, he leaned to the practical rather than to the ideological.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin apparently got different vibes. Moments after the governor’s speech at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, which is heavily dependent upon continuation of the expansion of insurance under Obamacare, Griffin issued a statement praising Hutchinson for shutting down the private option and halting insurance for low-income people.

Obamacare, if we may use its Republican label, is supposed to insure, ultimately, more than 25 million Americans who are not insured, most of them because it is too expensive. About half of them are to enroll in a private insurance plan chosen from a market set up by the federal government or by the states. If their incomes are between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, the federal government will subsidize their premiums, on a sliding scale.

The private option—the label adopted by the plan’s Republican authors—is the part of the Affordable Care Act that covers people whose incomes are so low that they cannot afford any part of a health-insurance policy, those whose incomes are below 138 percent of the poverty line. In Arkansas, the legislature in 2013 chose to let most of those people select a plan from the market and have the government pay the premiums. Those who are grievously ill are covered by regular Medicaid, where the government pays the costs directly but at lower hospital and doctor reimbursement rates.

More than 200,000 low-income adults have signed up for Medicaid coverage in Arkansas. By the end of March, more than 300,000 Arkansans will be covered by insurance for the first time—the most dramatic improvement in the uninsured rate in the country. Hutchinson, with no seeming reluctance, told about the dramatic improvements for hospitals, where unreimbursed charity care is rapidly disappearing, and about people whose desperate situations had been reversed by getting insurance and the treatment that had previously been denied because they couldn’t pay for it. He might have mentioned the sharp reduction in the number of Arkansans going on the federal disability rolls since the central features of Obamacare went into effect in October 2013.

Now, the big question is how persuasive the new governor will be with his party, which now controls both legislative houses by big margins. Many of the legislators ran on the promise of killing the private option. A perverse sentence in a 1934 constitutional amendment has been interpreted as allowing a small minority of legislators—referred to generically as the tea party—to block funding of any program they don’t like. Can Hutchinson persuade enough of them to preserve funding for the program that he considers vital to the state’s health and to the state budget? Our guess is that he can.

If he can’t, more than 200,000 people will lose their insurance and ability to get health care on July 1, community hospitals and the state medical center will find themselves suddenly in dire straits and the governor and the legislature will have to find lots of money somewhere to cover a giant hole in the state budget when the federal government returns a large Medicaid program to the state.

Aside from the reflexive hatred of anything associated with the unpopular president, the opponents’ chief argument is that the state will be required to shoulder 10 percent of the costs of the Medicaid expansion after 2020 and that the state will be unable to afford it and will cut off all those people who will have come to depend on it. Better to cut them off now, apparently, before they become accustomed to getting medical care when they need it.

Here is the mystery: If the threat of paying 10 percent of that program is so frightening, what about the rest of the Medicaid program? No Republican flinched in 1997 and afterward when Gov. Mike Huckabee launched a far bigger Medicaid program—covering most of the state’s children. He claimed it as his biggest achievement as governor. More than 400,000 children are covered now, at much greater expense than the Obamacare program, and the state pays not 5 percent or 10 percent but nearly 30 percent of all those costs. Why is paying 5 or 10 percent scarier than paying 30 percent of an even bigger program?

As we’ve said before, it makes no sense. Apparently, it makes no sense to our pragmatic new governor either.

TOP STORY >> Funeral for doctor Saturday

Leader editor in-chief

Dr. Thomas Henry Wortham, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 88, worked as a physician well into his 80s, retiring in 2013 after a 60-year career in medicine — mostly in Jacksonville.

Wortham, who became a physician at the age of 26, was a small-town doctor most of his life. He was unassuming, taking care of patients, delivering babies, making house calls and teaching generations of medical students.

He was born Jan. 12, 1927, in Waldo (Columbia County) to Daisy Nell Alsobrook Wortham and Marvin Winston Wortham.

Wortham graduated in 1944 from Magnolia High School, where he met his future wife, Betty Jean Moore. He served in the Navy from 1944-1946 as a corpsman.

His ship was headed for Japan in the summer of 1945 when it turned back after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, his daughter Jan recalled.

“He loved what he did,” his daughter said. “He loved Arkansas. He said you had to talk Arkie to your patients so they could understand you.”

She said her father’s mother raised three children as a single mom. Another son, James, also became a doctor.

After the war, Wortham, then 19, hitchhiked to Fayetteville from Little Rock to begin college on the GI Bill.

He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1951, then received his medical degree in 1953 from UAMS, graduating magna cum laude.

He was also awarded the Faculty Key as the outstanding student for four years of medical school and received the Joseph Roberts Award as the outstanding scholar for four years of medical school.

Tom and Betty were married in 1953 and moved to St. Louis to start his residency.

After his residency, the Worthams moved to Jacksonville in 1956, the year after the opening of Little Rock Air Force Base.

Dr. Wortham ran a thriving family practice clinic for 43 years in Jacksonville.

Dr. Wortham helped expand medical and other community services in Jacksonville to meet the health needs of a growing military community.

As president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Wortham shook hands with President John Kennedy when he landed at the air base on his way to the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam in October 1963.

The doctor rallied community support for funding a local hospital and then helped establish Rebsamen Medical Center, which opened in January 1962. He served in many capacities at Rebsamen before retiring as vice president in 1999.

Dr. Wortham helped develop the coronary-care unit at Rebsamen, as well as one of the first paramedic ambulance services. Appointed by Gov. Dale Bumbers to serve as a member of the Board of Corrections for 10 years, he was a catalyst for major improvements in prison health care, too.

He also worked without pay as the medical director for the Jacksonville Fire Department.

He served on many UAMS boards and committees and volunteered as a clinical preceptor for College of Medicine residents and students, as well as the UAMS Family Medical Clinic. He worked at the clinic for 13 years, retiring in 2013 at the age of 87.

Dr. K. Morgan Sauer, one of his students, took care of Dr. Wortham at hospice. Dr. Sauer said Dr. Wortham had taught him how to deal with grief.

He was an avid Razorbacks fan and a scholarship donor. Dr. Wortham was also a pilot, flying his family to many destinations and was a member of the Flying Physicians Association. He performed FAA physicals for 35 years.

A memorial service will held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. In lieu of flowers, one may donate to Trinity Presbyterian or to the donor’s charity.

Jan Wortham, his daughter, said her father will be buried at Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville next to his wife, who died in 2009.

TOP STORY >> Undertaker shuts, giving up license

Leader staff writer

The state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors levied a $10,000 fine and accepted the voluntarily surrendered licenses of Arkansas Funeral Care in Jacksonville and its owner on Friday.

The board will not pursue criminal charges, such as abuse of corpse, as part of the agreement. Owner LeRoy Wood will not be able to reapply for a license in the future.

Criminal charges could still be filed if police determine a crime has been committed. The agreement also states any investigation of the home’s embalmer, Ed Snow, will be handled separately.

The decision was based on testimony from inspector Leslie Stokes that the board heard during an emergency teleconference on Wednesday.

The board shut down the home after finding that it had violated several state laws, including one that requires bodies to be refrigerated, buried or cremated within 24 hours.

A board member asked Stokes if she had photographed the conditions, and the inspector said she had.

Stokes reported that Arkansas Funeral Care’s cooler was “filled beyond capacity with bodies” on Jan. 12. There were about 25 bodies in the cooler, she reported.

Thirty-one bodies were removed from the home after Wednesday’s vote. They were sent to the state Crime Laboratory and the Pulaski County coroner’s office.

On Friday, Wood’s legal counsel proposed a $5,500 fine, but that offer was rejected in favor of the stiffer punishment. He has 60 days to pay the $5,000 levied against him, $2,500 levied against the home and $2,500 levied against its crematorium.

Wood also agreed to refund all the families for services that were paid for but not provided.

The Little Rock conference room the board met in Friday was crowded with people.

Several spoke about their bad experiences with Arkansas Funeral Care while one woman defended Wood and his business.

Patricia Parchman, one of the home’s customers, said she was unsure whether the ashes she had in an urn at home were her son’s remains.

She said the sides of her loved one’s body were sunken and his face was black when his body arrived at the church for a planned open-casket funeral.

One of the board members told her there was no way to test the ashes for DNA.

Parchman’s husband said, “What’s going on? You know, can you answer that to all these families that have got these feelings? Even an apology is not going to take care of that. This is lifelong and everlasting.”

Parchman implored, “Where’s the love?”

Both asked for a stiffer penalty before the board increased the fines.

Jason Ray, who had also been a customer, accused the home’s staff of throwing family heirlooms from the hearse at the cemetery where his mother was buried.

But another woman, who didn’t identify herself, said she had known Wood for years and had attended a lot of funerals he had performed. “They were all good. I don’t know what’s happened in all of this, but he has been a good man and has helped a lot of people,” she said.

The next speaker said the home lost her loved one’s death certificate and that she would have to pay for a cremation again.

Another woman said her family was pressured to pay for services the same day the board shut the home down.

A disabled veteran said he wasn’t satisfied with how Arkansas Funeral Care handled his wife’s funeral. “I’d hate to think that he did this to any other vets in this country who have given their lives for this country and for him. May God have mercy on you.”

One other former customer also spoke. She said the body of her brother-in-law leaked fluids into his casket during an Arkansas Funeral Care service.

Several whispers in the room indicated families might pursue civil lawsuits against the home.

Stokes said Wednesday she had observed at least seven bodies outside the cooler that had not been embalmed and four bodies in the prep room. One body in the prep room was embalmed but uncovered, the inspector reported.

In the center of the cooler, one body was stacked on top of another that was on a cot, she said. Stokes said another body strapped to a cot outside the cooler was “decomposing” and “obviously leaking body fluids.”

She also reported seeing what appeared to be blood splatter on the walls, bodily fluids on the floor and ashes mixed in a barrel containing pieces of flooring.

The doors to the embalming room and holding facility were unlocked, Stokes added. She said she was able to enter both without alerting any of the staff.

Stokes inspected the business Jan. 12-16, after former employee Mike Jones filed a complaint with the board.

Jones alleged that there were bloodstains on the prep room’s walls and 24 bodies stacked outside the cooler. He also accused the embalmer, Ed Snow, of cremating two bodies at once and signing off an apprentice who is licensed but doesn’t know how to embalm.

Wood and Snow denied all of Jones’ allegations in a written response to the complaint.

The board reportedly received a second and similar complaint from Darriel Ezell, owner of Clinton Funeral Service in Clinton, on Jan. 16. But that was not discussed at Friday’s hearing.

Stokes said during the teleconference that she asked Snow on Jan. 12 whether stacking bodies in the cooler was an ethical practice. His response was that they would be moved when the home got a cot, according to the inspector.

And Stokes added while addressing the board on Wednesday, “I have never encountered this on any previous inspection that I have been on at any other funeral home.”

Jeff Smith, president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association, released a statement this week calling the findings “shocking and disturbing” and offering the assistance of other caring and loving funeral homes to the families that were involved.

TOP STORY >> Building to succeed

Leader staff writer

Pinnacle Structures in Cabot is marking its 20th year in business.

The pre-engineered metal building systems manufacturer opened in 1995 with six employees in a double-wide trailer on South Second Street. It has since grown to 130 employees. Pinnacle Structures operates two shifts 24 hours a day, five days a week.

The facility on Hwy. 321 has expanded three times. The company had $36 million in sales last year. Pinnacle Structures has sold metal buildings all over the country, including the Carolina coast, Alaska and California.

Pinnacle Structures was started with $150,000 from three investors — the late Gerald Shock, Steve Tipton and Jerry Jones (not the Dallas Cowboys owner).

The company receives shipments of steel. Then, using rollers, benders and welders, makes beams, purlins, wall panels, downspouts, gutters and trim.

The building is put together like a large kit by contractors or buyers.

Some examples of Pinnacle Structures buildings are the Cabot School District’s Freshman Academy, Mountain Springs Elementary, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, the Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in Jacksonville, the Cabot Fire Department station on Hwy. 5 and several hundred Dollar General stores.

The company produces metal buildings for churches, schools, fire stations, aviation, gas and oil industries and for agricultural uses. Engineers are also on staff to design buildings for customers.

“We have had steady growth since the recession,” company president Will Feland, a former prosecutor and judge, said.

Sandra Covington, vice president of administration, said many employees have worked at Pinnacle for five to 10 years. Feland said payroll was $7.7 million last year, making quite an economic impact on local businesses.

He said the benefits package, along with company stock, helps retain employees. A third of Pinnacle Structures’ stock is owned by employees.

Feland said there is a sense of pride employees have from owning part of the company.

Josh Fairchild, vice president of technical services, said, “Pinnacle Pride is our motto. We know we aren’t the biggest. We don’t have the fanciest equipment, but we feel like we have the best people. I put our guys up against any competitor. (Our workers) have the ‘can-do, will-do’ attitude to put out a quality product. You see it in the faces that work here.”

Covington added, “We are proud that we are very community-minded as a company.”

Feland said, “We’ve donated over $2 million over the past 20 years. We have an outreach called Pinnacle Outreach. We are funding a rape crisis center in Helena. In the last year, we gave a minivan to Partners Against Trafficking Humans.”

He continued, “We donated the building for Lonoke County Safe Haven and the kitchen equipment. We are active in fundraisers. We donated a pavilion for Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke. We donated a building to Jacksonville High School for an indoor workout facility and many churches. During Christmas, the employees adopt a family (in need).”

Pinnacle Structures is credited by the International Accredited Service, the highest standard of quality production in the industry. It is also a member of the Metal Building Manufactures Association.

Pinnacle Structures is open to the public. And the Metal Store next door to the factory sells metal building supplies.

TOP STORY >> Hutchinson praised by lawmakers

Leader senior staff writer

“Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee,” and it was hard to find any lawmaker who didn’t like Asa Hutchinson on Friday, after the new governor said he wants to fund private option through 2016 while convening a legislative task force to help restructure Arkansas Medicaid.

That universal support on the divisive issue of private option may signal that, like the parable about the six blind men and the elephant, everyone brought their subjective interpretation to the governor’s speech and took away a unique understanding.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” said state Rep. David Hillman (D-Almyra). “I think there will be some tweaks to what we’ve got — some minor modifications to (the private option law) we passed two years ago. By the time new appropriations run out Dec. 31, 2016, we’ll have a good handle on if it’s working as we want, and we’ll know about modifications by the new Congress.”

But Donnie Copeland (R-Little Rock) says those currently on private option need to start making plans now because, by Jan. 1, 2017, private option will be history.

“We need to make sure the 210,000 people are no longer on Medicaid,” he said.

Copeland, who said, “I loved 95 percent of what (Hutchinson) had to say,” intends to introduce a bill to send letters out to those recipients so they know the government won’t be helping any but the disabled and others unable to fend for themselves.

“That is fair to me, to let them know the program is going away,” Copeland said. “Most ought to be able to get quality care at a fair price.”

Copeland said his goal was to cover people who can’t work. “I want my tax dollars to go to help them, not the healthy people with no impediment to work.”

In support of the governor’s plan, Sen. Majority Leader Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) on Thursday filed SB96, “The Arkansas Health Reform Act of 2015,” which would create at 16-member task force to find innovative reforms.

Area lawmakers could play a large role in drafting those recommendations. Both Senate President Pro tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) will be on the task force and each will appoint six other members.

Both have supported private option in the past, and Dismang was an architect of it.

In addition, Hendren, as Senate majority leader, and Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis) Senate minority leader, will be on the task force.

House Majority Leader Ken Bragg (R-Sheridan) and Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong (D-North Little Rock) would also be on the task force.

“I feel good about (the prospects of) both,” Dismang said Friday morning about SB96 and funding for private option.

The Arkansas Health Reform Act of 2015 requires only a simple majority of both houses to pass, but reauthorization of private option would require a super majority — 75 percent of each house, he said.

Dismang said he hadn’t polled the membership yet on SB96, and he wasn’t sure if the formal introduction would be in the senate or the house.

“The goal will be to start the process, hopefully, Monday morning,” he said.

Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) was a staunch opponent of private option two years ago. On Friday, he said he’d vote to reauthorize it through 2016 while the task force works to realign Arkansas healthcare.

“To me, it ends the private option the way it should be ended. It doesn’t kick everyone off. We’ll come up with a plan that meets Arkansas’ needs.

“This gives us a task force to fix the plan,” he said. “You can’t put another system on top of a broken one and make it work.

“I’m pushing to get on the task force,” he said.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) said, “We need to do what’s best for entire state. We agreed when we went down this road to look at the data. Uninsured care is down. Hospital reimbursements are up.”

Through 2021, the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab, he said, other than some administrative costs. “We need to make recipients more responsible,” he said, and provide preventative care.

He said private option has “better chances today than 30 days ago,” noting that Hendren, who introduced the health reform bill, was a big opponent of private option last year.

Williams predicted a short session, with two signature pieces of legislation proposed by the governor — his $100 million middle-class tax cut and his health-care reform bill — both well on the way.

“I was very pleased at the tone he took,” said Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock). “The governor said, ‘I fought it and lost,’ but all the Republicans and half the Democrats hate Obamacare. I’m pleased he wants to take a look at the whole thing. My vote has always been for keeping hospitals open. I’m confident our bill will pass.”

House said he’d like to see block grants to the states with a lot of flexibility. “It’s easier to fund private clinics directly to provide the necessary care,” he said, than to work through private insurance companies.

Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) said the governor was staying level-headed and making sure that “if we quit the program, there’s an alternative that’s good for those on private option. The voices I hear say private option and tax cuts both are going to pass.”

Rep. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) said, “I think his approach was rather measured. Even people who don’t support Affordable Care and private option know you just can’t go around pulling the rug out from under people.”

She said lawmakers need some time to work out an affordable solution. “We have some smart people in the legislature, and I feel confident that we’ll come up with something good.”

Brown said she was pleased that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell’s letter seemed to support the governor’s goals.

Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) said, “I think he did an excellent job of walking us through the problem.

“I’m really encouraged,” she said. “I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. He did a real good job of…highlighting the desperate need to help people who were uninsured. It was the right thing to do. He repeatedly talked about our duty.”

Rep. Tim Lemons (R-Cabot) said, “I’m still in the process of reviewing the speech.”

In his speech to a packed auditorium at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Hutchinson said the private option solution to Medicaid expansion was innovative, but that it had divided the state and dominated the political debate.

“Hear me clearly,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to continue the private option through 2016 and create a Health Reform Task Force that will make recommendations for the future. It should explore options to modernize the entire Medicaid program currently serving the indigent, aged and disabled. It should minimize or eliminate the need to raise additional revenues for that purpose.”

He said he had two nephews in the General Assembly, both thoughtful conservatives, and that one voted for private option and one against.

The governor said private option has benefited about 210,000 Arkansans, most of whom had been uninsured, as well as urban hospitals, such as UAMS, and rural hospitals.

Hospital visits by uninsured patients fell by 47 percent, he said.

When the state becomes responsible for 10 percent of the costs in 2021, that will amount to about $200 million a year.

“Do the benefits that we recognize exist outweigh the costs,” Hutchinson asked, saying the question caused a political divide and wrapped the state around a political axle.

“The phrase ‘private option’ itself has become politically toxic,” he said. “The goal is to have affordable, competitive, market-based solutions on the conservative principles of choice, competition, improved quality of care and consumer responsibility.

“In 2015, the state is going to save roughly $88 million, which is a combination of shifting traditional Medicaid in some categories to the private option, which is 100 percent paid for at the present time. It is also a savings because the reduction of uncompensated care payments to several agencies — from UAMS to the Department of Correction, the Department of Health, Community Health Centers — have saved the state about $33 million,” Hutchinson said.

“I want our social programs in Arkansas to be an incentive for people to work,” he said. “Arkansans want to work, and, when they work, they should get ahead. And, when they work real hard, they should climb up the economic ladder.”

He called for incentives for preventive care. “People need to own more responsibility for their health-care decisions. We need the emphasize the role of the private sector and charity care.”

He called for development of telemedicine to increase the quality of health care in rural areas.

He said the insured, the hospitals and health-care providers cannot face a traumatic cliff every year when it comes to renewing private option. “We need more consistency. We need more reliability. We need more predictability. So we can plan.

“I want to assure…all Arkansans that I want us to have a system that is compassionate, affordable, fits Arkansas and provides access to care.”

He wants more flexibility, including the authority for block-grant type waivers.

He wants to strengthen the employer-sponsored health- insurance market and increase employment of healthy recipients of healthcare services.

Hutchinson would also like to provide access to health services in rural areas.

He wants a report from the task force by the end of 2015 and to have solutions in place by Dec. 31, 2016, when private option would expire.

The governor also said he was encouraged by a letter of support for many of his goals from the secretary of Health and Human Services.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils run away in fourth

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons didn’t just stay close with Jacksonville for a half; they led most of the first two quarters. But a long scoring drought eventually turned into a Jacksonville rout as the Red Devils dominated the fourth quarter for a 72-47 victory Tuesday at JHS.

North Pulaski jumped ahead 24-19 when De’Marik Brown sank two free throws with 4:51 left in the second quarter after a steal.

The two teams traded two baskets each for the next minute, leaving the Falcons with a 28-23 lead with 3:50 on the clock. After a second-straight penetration into the lane by two different Falcons, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner switched his defense from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, and North Pulaski’s offense stalled.

“They kept getting into the lane because we weren’t playing good defense,” said Joyner. “They were just dribbling around us and there was no help, or it was late. I think we took them lightly. I switched to a zone and they didn’t hit from outside. I still don’t feel like we were playing very good defense until about the fourth quarter, which is something we’ve been doing a lot lately. They just didn’t make their shots.”

The Falcons continued to play good defense after Jacksonville switched to the zone. North Pulaski had four possessions with the five-point lead, but couldn’t score.

Jacksonville’s Devin Campbell finally ended Jacksonville’s two-minute scoring drought with a bucket that made it 28-25 with two minutes left in the second quarter. Craig Watson came off the bench and scored four-straight, all from the free-throw line and both trips after steals. The Red Devils took a 31-28 lead into halftime, and both teams came out struggling in the third.

Neither team scored for more than half of the third quarter. The score remained 31-28 until Tedrick Wolfe hit a layup on a designed inbounds play with 3:48 remaining in the thirdquarter. Watson added another bucket for Jacksonville to make it 35-28. North Pulaski (3-12, 1-4) then missed a wide-open layup and four-straight free throws before Brown finally hit a 3-pointer with 2:02 remaining in the third to end a nearly 10-minute dry streak.

Jacksonville ended the period with five-straight points in the last 30 seconds on a drive by Campbell and a 3-pointer by LaQuawn Smith, giving Jacksonville a 40-31 lead and the momentum.

“My guys played their hearts out all night long,” said North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson. “Coach Joyner did a good job of using his bench and his role players did a good job for him. We just got tired in the fourth quarter. I didn’t go as deep down my bench and I usually do and maybe I should have.

“I just have to find ways for us to score against the zone. When we played against PA we didn’t do too good about their zone, or against Fair and their zone. I’ve got to try to find somebody who can get inside that we can throw that ball to. That zone just gets longer and longer when you don’t have anybody inside. But it was nine points going into the fourth quarter. That score was not indicative of the game. It was a lot closer game than that. But you know what they say, sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.”

Jacksonville made its first five shots of the fourth quarter in rapid succession – the last two were 3-pointers by Watson and Lakalon Huskey. That gave the Red Devils a 52-35 lead and forced an NP timeout, but it didn’t stem the tide.

Wolfe and Campbell continued to get open on the low post, and three more Red Devil bench players drained 3-pointers. For the second time in three games, eight different players made 3-point baskets for Jacksonville, and none of them were by Campbell, who leads the team in 3-pointers made this season.

“I don’t know that I’ve had a team with this many guys who can stand around that perimeter and make shots,” Joyner said. “We’ve had a lot of good shooters come through here, but I don’t know if we’ve ever had this many all on one team.”

North Pulaski went 1 for 15 from the field and 0 for 4 from the foul line in the third quarter, and 5 of 32 from the floor in the second half.

Jacksonville (16-2, 5-0) finished the game hitting 26 of 63 shot attempts, including 9 of 26 from outside the 3-point arch. But the Devils were 11 of 21 in the fourth quarter and 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

Campbell led all players with 15 points and eight rebounds. Wolfe added 14 points and six boards while Watson scored nine for Jacksonville. Breon Baker led North Pulaski with 11 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot close to upset at Central High

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls led by two at halftime of Tuesday night’s 7A/6A-East game at Little Rock Central, but foul trouble and Central’s Kiara Williams both contributed to the Lady Panthers’ demise in the second half, as the Lady Tigers beat Cabot 47-38.

After two quarters of play, the Lady Panthers led 21-19. Twenty-four seconds into the third quarter, Cabot took a four-point lead on a midrange jumper from the corner by CoCo Calhoon.

With 6:32 remaining in the quarter, Central’s Williams cut the lead to one with an and-1, and after that, it was all Lady Tigers. After Calhoon’s jumper, Cabot (14-5, 2-2) could only manage one more bucket in the third quarter, and Central (15-1, 4-0) was able to take a 31-25 lead into the fourth.

It helped Central that Cabot starters Alyssa Hamilton and Danielle McWilliams sat the last couple minutes of the third quarter because of foul trouble.

In the fourth quarter, Hamilton and McWilliams got back on the floor and made an immediate impact as Hamilton sank a short jumper eight seconds into the quarter, which cut the Lady Tiger lead to 31-27.

By the 5:13 mark of the fourth, Cabot got Central’s lead down to two, 34-32, and that run was capped with a pair of free throws by Hamilton. However, on Central’s ensuing possession, Hamilton picked up her fifth foul, and the Lady Tigers took advantage.

By the three-minute mark, Central pushed its lead to six, with the score 41-35, and the Lady Tigers held the ball once they got it past half court. Cabot was unable to force a turnover, so Cabot’s Anna Sullivan was forced to foul Central’s Alaysia Ready with 1:40 to play.

Ready went to the line and missed her first free throw, but made the second, which pushed the Lady Tiger lead to seven.

Cabot point guard Leighton Taylor answered with a 3-pointer with 1:22 remaining, which made the score 42-38.

Cabot coach Carla Crowder immediately called timeout to set up a defensive strategy, but Central scored the last five points of the game to set the final score.

The Lady Panthers opened the game with a 6-0 lead on baskets by McWilliams and Sullivan, and two free throws by Calhoon. Central, though, ended the quarter with a 10-2 run to lead 10-8 after one.

Like the first quarter, Cabot opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run to regain the lead at 14-10. Both teams struggled to take care of the ball throughout the first half. The Lady Panthers had 11 first-half turnovers and Central had 15.

Cabot’s lead remained at four toward the end of the first half, but Williams sank a pair of 1-and-1 free throws with 6.8 seconds left in the first half, which set the halftime margin at 21-19.

The Lady Panthers finished the game 12 of 36 from the floor for 33 percent. Conversely, the Lady Tigers made 14 of 38 shots from the floor for 37 percent. From the foul line, Central made 18 of 27 free throws for 67 percent, while Cabot made 13 of 16 for 81 percent.

Each team took better care of the ball in the second half and each team finished the night with a total of 17 turnovers. Central, though, did a better job on the boards, as it outrebounded Cabot 25-13.

Williams led all scorers with 14 points. She was the only Lady Tiger to score in double figures. Hamilton was the only Lady Panther to score in double figures. She had 13 points.

Calhoon had nine points for Cabot. Taylor scored five points. Sullivan scored four. McWilliams scored three, and Sarah Davis and Rachel Allgood added two points apiece.

The Lady Panthers continued conference play last night at Mountain Home after deadlines, and they’ll play another 7A/6A-East game Tuesday at home against Jonesboro. Tuesday’s game at Panther Arena will tip off at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke gets big sweep on road

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits snapped a five-game losing streak and a four-game losing streak in conference on Tuesday, getting a much-needed road win, 34-27 over Southside-Batesville. The Southerners controlled the tempo, but Lonoke handled it well. With perimeter play limited, the Lady Rabbits looked inside, where Amanda Sexton and Eboni Willis combined for half of Lonoke’s points.

“It was a good road win against a team that played us close at home,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “We got a little bit of a lead and we held. We made our free throws. We’ve had big leads at times this year and not held them. So it was good that we hung onto this one. A month ago we might not have done that.”

Lonoke led just 14-13 at halftime, and stretched that to 24-19 by the end of the third quarter.

“It was definitely more of the pace they wanted to play,” Morris said. “But we’re proud of the fact that we can go either way. Against a CAC or somebody like that, we might want to be the one to slow it down. We wanted to speed Southside up and get them uncomfortable, we just weren’t able to do that. But we were able to still be effective and beat them and their game.”

Despite a record that’s not as good as preseason expectations, Morris’ overall expectations haven’t changed for his team that returns everyone from last year’s state quarterfinal run.

“I think every coach in this league, to the man, with maybe the exception of Heber Springs, every coach thought he had a much-improved team from last year,” Morris said. “And even the Heber Springs coach felt good about the team chemistry and was optimistic coming in. Now everybody can’t see that optimism bear out, because everybody is better. Somebody has to lose. But top to bottom, these nine teams are as tough a group as anybody out there has in 4A.

“I’m not counting my girls out down this stretch. We’re going to get back at some people that maybe picked on us earlier. I’d rather play a tested schedule and have some losses on that record when I get to regional, than have a real impressive record and realize all of a sudden you hadn’t played anyone. I still think this team can make some noise in the postseason.”

Sexton led Lonoke with nine points while Willis had eight.

The Lady Jackrabbits are now 10-9 overall and 4-6 in the 4A-2 Conference.


The Lonoke boys also got a needed road win over the Southerners, 46-33. The win came despite a horrid first half for the Jackrabbit, in which they scored seven total points, including just one point in the second quarter.

The home team went into halftime with a 16-7 lead, but things changed dramatically in the second half.

Lonoke tied the game at 21 by the end of the third quarter, then dominated the fourth period for the victory.

Lonoke’s Jawaun Bryant was the only player in the game to score in double figures, finishing with 18. He scored 16 in the second half and nine in Lonoke’s 25-point fourth quarter. Nick Bates scored eight and Isaac Toney six for the Jackrabbits, who are now 7-10 overall and 4-6 in conference play.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Eskridge tastes fruit of his labor

Leader sports editor

A tale of perseverance if ever there was one. Terrell Eskridge, a 2008 Jacksonville graduate, a point guard who had no scholarship offers out of high school and has been out of high school for almost seven years, signed a professional basketball contract last week to play for the Belmopan Red Taigaz (Tigers) of the Elite League in Central America.

Since the end of his junior year at Central Baptist College, Eskridge has had a single-minded goal of playing professional basketball somewhere.

He hired a personal trainer the summer before his senior year, worked himself into the best shape of his life, turned in a great senior season for coach Wes Sullivan at CBC, and tirelessly promoted himself throughout and after his senior year was finished.

But all that is just the end of his journey into professional athletics. The story is a long one, filled with rejection and disappointment, and marked by an iron-willed determination and belief in himself.

The journey started with a fortuitous, some might call it providential, event when Eskridge transferred from Little Rock Central to Jacksonville his junior year – fortuitous because the change in schools also meant a change of position on the basketball floor. It was also Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner’s first year at JHS, and he immediately recognized an ability that went unrecognized at Central.

“I had never played anything but forward before,” said Eskridge. “First day of tryouts at Jacksonville, coach Joyner told me I was going to play point guard. I said I’d never played point guard in my life. He said well you’re playing it now.”

Joyner said it was an easy decision, one he made within about three minutes of watching the 6-footer play.

“He could handle the ball and he had great court vision,” said Joyner. “He could see everything. He was also pretty vocal and the kids responded to him. He was a leader on the court. That’s about everything you need in a point guard, so that was an easy decision. He didn’t get to play on any of our really great teams, but he helped us turn things around. It was our first winning season in a few years and we built from there.”

Joyner also wasn’t too surprised to see his first JHS point guard make it to this level.

“He worked hard and he was easy to coach,” Joyner said. “We butted heads a few times early on. He had to learn to do things my way, but ultimately it was two pretty smooth years. He was always the kind that had a little drive in him that most people don’t have.”

Eskridge started for Joyner for two years, but garnered no scholarship offers. He went to work after high school and did not attend college in 2009. When his brother Cortrell got a scholarship offer from Navarro Jr. College in Texas during the 2008-2009 season, Terrell decided to enroll at Navarro in the spring semester of 2009 and try to work his way onto the team in order to play with his brother in the 2009-2010 season. But he got no scholarship offer and decided to come back to Arkansas and enroll at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, giving up on his basketball career.

HSU coaches wanted him to walk-on, but he chose not to.

“I’m glad I didn’t because there were a lot of guys they brought in as walk-ons, and they didn’t keep any of them,” Eskridge said. “So it really would’ve been a waste of time.”

It may also have again been the guiding hand of providence.

After a year at HSU, Eskridge was back home in Little Rock for the summer break in 2010, and began playing pick-up games at Arkansas Baptist. Many ABC players played in the games and Buffaloes’ coach Charles Ripley noticed Eskridge’s ability on the floor.

“Coach Rip just came up to me and said he thought I could play for his team and wanted me to come play for him,” Eskridge said.

Arkansas Baptist does not give scholarships, but Eskridge enrolled and became the starting point guard for the Buffaloes the next two seasons. From there, four years after graduating high school, Eskridge finally got his first basketball scholarship at CBC in Conway.

“That was a long time coming,” Eskridge said. “It wasn’t a full scholarship, but I was going to make it work because that was the first time someone offered me anything to play – like there was value in having me.”

Neither the team nor Eskridge, by his own account, had a very good year his junior season. After it was over, and chance run in and subsequent conversation with a person whose name he couldn’t even remember, sparked a sudden drive in Eskridge that now will lead him to Central America next week.

“I was talking to this guy at the gym and he said he had played overseas a couple of years,” Eskridge said. “I asked him how you get into something like that, and he just said you have to make highlight films and just promote yourself, get your name out there. So I thought well, let me go on and get serious about this if I want to do something with basketball.

“I hired a personal trainer and came back a whole lot stronger and in better shape. I did a lot of research on playing overseas, talked with people. Got stat sheets and learned how to make films. After every game I would get the film and make a highlight tape and put it out there on social media or wherever I could send it.”

He also got a new coach at CBC that year in Wes Sullivan, who heaped praise on his point guard.

“What people need to understand about Terrell is that he worked like no one you’ve ever seen,” said Sullivan. “And he stayed at it. He worked every morning, every night. He was in the gym every single day for hours at a time, just working.

“One of the things that so many other coaches, when we’d play teams at the higher levels, would always say is how impressed they were with my point guard. Teams couldn’t keep him out of the lane and couldn’t understand why. They’d say to me, ‘he doesn’t seem that quick, how does he keep getting in there? But he’d just keep getting in the lane, and keep getting in the lane. And he had such good vision; he made everyone out there better. It was a rebuilding year for us, first year with a new coach, and we struggled at times. But it would’ve been a disaster without him. He was that important to us. And whatever he accomplishes, people need to understand, he earned it all. This is a guy that went from not eligible, to eligible, to starting, to graduating and now getting a professional job. There’s just not enough I can say about him.”

It was a lot of work, but with very little return for a long time. Eskridge got many responses, but the positive ones were from college coaches who mistook him for a high school player and wanted to offer him scholarships.

He hired, and soon fired, an agent who he felt was just collecting pay and not working. Several scam artists from people supposedly representing leagues or teams, but who always seemed to need money up front solicited him. And he was simply told he wasn’t good enough by others.

But he kept trying.

“It was discouraging, but I took the rejection as motivation,” Eskridge said. “There are a lot of scams out there, I can’t even tell you. And I went to a couple of legit tryouts in Atlanta and Las Vegas, and nothing came of it.

“What really kept me going was I look back and I know I really didn’t try that hard in high school. When I didn’t get the scholarship offers I just thought well maybe I wasn’t good enough. But after coming all this way, I thought I should’ve tried harder back then. I didn’t want to just give up and go on wondering all over again if I should’ve tried harder.”

Then, back in early December, while struggling through one of many sleepless nights, the kinesiology major and full-time substitute teacher in the Conway school district, who had not posted or sent out a highlight film in weeks, decided to take one more crack at it. He began searching social media for leagues, and posted his on a couple of pages.

Soon after, Belmopan head coach Bernie Tarr contacted him, but he kept the conversation secret for a long time.

“We’d been talking since December, but I’d been scammed so many times, I didn’t want to say anything until I knew it was legit. Then last Friday, they actually sent me a contract. I fly down there either this weekend or early next week. The season starts in 21 days, so I’m still kind of in shock.”

Even with all the hard work, Eskridge knows getting this far doesn’t happen without some support to counter all the rejection. He got it primarily from three sources.

“My little brother Cortrell, coach Sullivan and my momma (Latonia Marion) are the three people who always believed in me. So I want to thank them.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Schools need Improving

The bad news is that, mathematically, the Pulaski County Special School District is shortchanging Jacksonville schools again when it comes to facility dollars.

The good news is it’s not missing the mark by much, which is much more fair than the city schools have seen from the district in the past.

Even better news is a promise from Derek Scott, the district’s executive director of operations, who has said the district will support Jacksonville schools right up to the moment of separation. A former colonel, Scott has a reputation for not speaking unless he can back it up.

Whether this spirit of cooperation and fairness, which has been getting stronger over the past two years, is the result of two divorcing parents wanting to look good for divorce court or a district finally putting children over politics – it is most welcomed.

Out of the $7 million slated by the district for what it calls sustainment, restoration and modernization projects, the Jacksonville schools are getting about $1.94 million in work, about $500,000 less than they should since they comprise 38 percent of the PCSSD’s campuses. But add another $425,000 in infrastructure projects specifically needed because of the impending split and it’s just a little shy of even.

Just about every school in Jacksonville will be touched to some degree by this year’s remodeling, repair and sprucing up crews.

Scott said, at this point, even more work will be done on the city schools next year before the final separation is declared.

If the school facilities are improved as promised, bringing in a safer and more pleasant climate for students and teachers, then this divorce is what everyone needed.

Some of the projects on the district’s list have already been completed or are close to being finished.

According to the list of 68 projects, Warren Dupree will get a major overhaul to the tune of about $500,000 to include added walls to some of its open space, taking care of the potholes that are so large they can cause vehicle damage, new paint, carpeting and a spiffing up of the outside. Scott says, when the district is done with the work, Dupree will have the look of a new school.

Jacksonville High School is getting about $400,000 worth of work done, including parking lot, retiling and brightening corridors, new auditorium flooring and drainage work to prevent the flooding that caused the need for the flooring work.

Murrell Taylor Elementary is also in the midst of about a $300,000 restoration and modernization project, which includes replacing the flooring throughout the school, a new and expanding parking lot, new heating and air for all classrooms, a new intercom system and improved security access.

Pinewood Elementary will see a $60,000 improvement in the parking lot.

The new school district will be bounded by Sherwood and Faulkner County on the west, Faulkner County on the north and Lonoke County on the east. The southern boundary is Jacksonville’s southern city limit and Wooten Road to Lonoke County.

The schools in the new district with an enrollment of about 4,000 students are: Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.

Also, it will include Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School.

Some of these schools will be torn down, and new ones could replace them when Jacksonville leaves PCSSD. A new millage rate will be needed.

TOP STORY >> Happy 40th, Jacksonville Guitar

Leader staff writer

Not much has changed in 40 years, Jacksonville Guitar Center owner Steve Evans told The Leader last week.

He said the store, which marked four decades in business this month, has “tried not to (change) because we have a kind of formula that works and don’t want to mess it up. Maybe my philosophy is to keep it fun here.”

Evans continued, “We don’t get into things that won’t be fun, that we don’t really understand, like maybe some electronic gadgetry. We don’t want to get too high-tech because us guys aren’t interested in the real high-tech stuff. We keep things kind of going normal.”

As for merchandise, “a lot of the same model guitars that were famous then are still the famous ones today,” he concluded.

But, of course, there has been at least one notable change — electronic tuners. Bobby Appleby, who has worked at the store for 22 years, said everything on its walls have built-in tuners now. There were no built-in tuners when the store opened in 1975.

Evans opened the shop when he was just 18, and he was the only employee for a while. His dad would watch the store so that Evans could take lunch breaks.

A senior in high school, he had been a guitar teacher at the local shop when its owner left to open a store in Colorado. Evans was left to run the store in Jacksonville for three months. Then the owner closed it.

Evans had made plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas, but “as my dad pointed out, I wasn’t really studious. He suggested that I open a guitar store to take the place of the one (that had closed).”

His father, who had owned businesses before, gave Evans a $7,000 loan for the first batch of merchandise. Evans said he paid that loan back quickly because, still living at home, he was fortunate to not have expenses like rent and other bills.

Now Evans has second- and even third-generation customers. Dads and granddads bring their sons and grandsons to the guitar store they frequented back in the day.

But the clientele has changed a bit, Evans said. Most of those coming into the store decades ago were teenagers in garage rock bands. Now he sees a lot of church bands coming in to buy instruments.

The back wall of the store is plastered with photos of the once popular garage bands that bought instruments there, probably from both store locations.

The store’s second and current location is at 1105 Burman Drive by Knight’s grocery store in Jacksonville.

The first location was on Dupree Drive. Evans said he was there from 1975 until 1986, when the operation moved to the current store that is four times larger and built for it.

The store can now house an average of 350 guitars on the floor and pack in up to 500 just before Christmas — its busy season.

Since opening, Evans’ business has made it through two recessions.

What is the secret to success? The owner said, “I think, I hate to brag, but I think I’m smart on what to order.”

Evans explained that, in Arkansas, getting the “really expensive Rolls-Royce” guitars doesn’t make sense because no one will buy them here.

Another advantage Jacksonville Guitar Center has is its employees, Evans noted.

Appleby — whose job is to make repairs, adjustments and re-string instruments as well as gluing the occasional broken guitar neck — was 21 when he was hired.

He and its other staffer, Bob Tanner, have also been working there for 22 years.

Evans said he, Appleby and Tanner are guitar players. They know what’s popular and can play the guitars that are ordered to see what models are the best values, the owner noted.

Evans added that he’s also proud of not using high-pressure sales tactics like bigger music stores.

The store has a guitar teacher, too. Steve Hudelson rents out space with a portion of his earnings.

Although he’s not considered a longtime store employee like the others, Hudelson has been giving lessons at the center for 10 years.

To find out more, stop by the store. Also, wish the staff a happy 40th anniversary to receive a free set of Peavey guitar strings.

TOP STORY >> Arkansas ain’t ready for reform

Leader editor-in-chief

“Chicago ain’t ready for reform.”

–Alderman Paddy Bauler (1890-1976)

Paddy Bauler, who represented Chicago’s 43rd Ward for 35 years, must be the patron saint of Arkansas legislators.

The immortal words of this corrupt politician — are there any other kinds of politicians in Chicago? — should be enshrined in the Capitol rotunda as state lawmakers find ingenious ways to circumvent the recently passed ethics initiative that bans gifts from lobbyists.

Amendment 3, which voters passed overwhelmingly last November, was supposed to end the practice of lobbyists wining and dining lawmakers to buy their votes.

There’s a Catch-22 in the ethics amendment, which also extended term limits for legislators to 16 years. Lobbyists can still feed lawmakers at so-called scheduled events, such as a buffet line at War Memorial Stadium, the restaurant/bar at the Capitol Hotel or a box lunch at the state Capitol as long as all legislators get invited.

Now every day is a special event for legislators. They think it’s an entitlement. Happy days are here again.

Lobbyists can treat legislators to steak and bourbon by declaring a special moment at every meeting. It’s always happy hour in and around the Capitol, especially after the sun goes down.

The voters were fooled into approving the amendments.One makes it more difficult to get petition drives on the ballot.

Most people had no idea what they were voting for. Sure, they voted for ethics reform, but that was to trick them into extending term limits and still allow lobbyists to wine and dine legislators at “special events.”

So now almost everything is “a special event,” with only minimal restrictions. But voters have doubled term limits to 16 years. Some lawmakers who served a couple of terms in the House and moved into the Senate could stay on for 20 years or more.

What’s more, they’ll double their salaries thanks to the pay commission that was hidden in the ethics amendment. With the passage of another initiative, legislators will now also control just about every state agency and department. That will lead to more favoritism, such as the hiring of campaign supporters and relatives and friends.

A loose interpretation of the ethics law lets Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin work for a Washington lobbying firm. It’s like the good old days, when legislators worked as lobbyists for the Arkansas Poultry Federation and other special interests.

We asked Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock), who said he’ll let us know the next time Oaklawn throws a bash at War Memorial Stadium with free corned beef for everyone who shows up.

But, no, House says, he has never sat down for a free meal with a lobbyist. House, a retired Army colonel and a veteran of the Iraq war, says he follows the military rule on freebies.

“You could ask any lobbyist, I pay for my own way,” House says.

“Unless they’re open to everyone, my practice has been I pay my own way,” he told us. Some lobbyists provide credit cards at restaurants and let legislators charge on the credit card.”

The new law prohibits that form of bribery. It also bans junkets paid for by special interests, although some legislators are ready to test the limits of that ban.

Rep. Warwick Sabin, a Democrat and sponsor of the ethics law, is hoping the state’s ethics commission will make a ruling soon on what’s allowed and what isn’t.

“We need further clarification of what’s acceptable,” Sabin told us. He said the intent of the initiative was that “no legislator should accept anything of value.”

He’s all for inviting the entire legislature to discuss policy with any organization that wants to make a pitch and put out an urn of coffee for everybody. Even that would be a violation of the so-called Walmart rule, which prohibits associates from accepting even a cup of coffee from a vendor.

Sabin said he had the Walmart rule in mind when he introduced legislation to get ethics on the ballot.

“We thought the Walmart rule is the best practice for employees and legislators,” Sabin said.

He says entertaining legislators at so-called special events is “not meeting the spirit of the amendment.”

The idea was to “exclude food and drinks for entertainment,” Sabin said.

When it comes to lobbyists, he insists, “We should exclude events that serve no other purpose than to ingratiate yourself with legislators.”

You can just hear lobbyists and lawmakers echoing Paddy Bauler: “We ain’t ready for reform.”

Bauler was a saloonkeeper in the 43rd Ward on Chicago’s north side where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place. Ethics wasn’t a top priority for politicians: It could get you killed.

Even journalists received huge Christmas baskets from Chicago pols when I first started out in journalism there. Then we thought better of it and refused the gifts.

But Arkansas politicians like the freebies. Many of them are making their first visit to the big city, and it’s a big deal to get invited to the Capitol Hotel, where they offer five-star dining, all free if you’re a legislator.

Many lawmakers have no other profession except hanging out at the legislature with lobbyists.

If Arkansas ain’t ready for reform, we need a list of legislators who attend these so-called special events sponsored by lobbyists.

We’re more like Chicago, or, closer to home, more like Louisiana but without professional sports teams.

TOP STORY >> Lawmakers supporting tax cuts

Leader senior staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s middle-income tax cut, which he says is his first order of business, could be law by the end of next week, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy).

The governor’s tax cuts would reduce general revenues by $102 million annually by fiscal year 2017, starting with a $2 million reduction for the current year and about $34 million in fiscal year 2016, according to Senate Bill 6.

Dismang, the lead Senate sponsor of the SB6—the tax-cut bill—says, “It will be presented Wednesday to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, with a vote expected Thursday. It will go to the House and probably get a vote next week.”

If it passes both houses, it would then lack only the governor’s signature.


Also Thursday, Hutchinson is slated to tour the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and to discuss the private option in a speech.

There doesn’t seem to be any organized opposition to the tax-cut bill, which could put another $300 to $500 a year in the pockets of residents earning between $21,000 to $75,000 a year by the time it’s fully implemented in 2017.

There are small-er tax cuts for those with lower incomes—a tenth of 1 percent for those earning less than $21,000 a year, and there are adjustments to keep those earning more than $75,000 from being kicked into a higher bracket.

Dismang, who is rounding up cosponsors in the Senate, says House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) will be the lead sponsor in the House.

Gillam’s spokesperson, Cecily Pond-Mayo, says Gillam is waiting to see the details of the Senate bill before he makes any further comment.

SB6 would reduce the effective net tax rate from 6 percent to 5 percent for those earning between $21,000 and $35,099 a year, or from 7 percent to 6 percent for those earning between $35,100 to $75,000.

Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) favors the tax cuts but has some other issues he’s interested in, like making sure there is state matching money available for schools with substandard facilities.


“I really want to be sure we have enough money for the buildings (the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District) and other needs.”

“We’re all in favor of the tax cuts,” House said. “There’s enough cuts and income growth to cover it, and we don’t need to repeal previous cuts.”

“I’m seeing way too many programs that are nice to have but not necessary. We’re all kind of waiting for the governor’s budget,” he added.

House said public defenders are overwhelmed by their caseloads, and he wants to see the General Assembly provide money for more public defenders before someone sues for inadequate counsel or the federal courts intervene.

He also wants to hear what the governor found out when he was in Washington about what sort of changes would be allowable under the private option.

Rep. Tim Lemons, the Cabot engineer elected to take former Speaker Davy Carter’s seat in the House, said Tuesday that the tax bill hasn’t made its way to the House, but that he didn’t know of any opposition to it.

“We should get the first draft copy this week,” he said.

Lemons said the House passed a couple of housekeeping measures Tuesday, but that freshman lawmakers like him are “still building the learning curve.”


Lemons, who is also a former Lonoke County Quorum Court member, said he’s working on a bill that would alter the current law requiring cities and counties to budget only 90 percent of their anticipated revenue.

He says he likes the idea, but that those governments shouldn’t be required to include “flow-through” money in that 10 percent.

“It could make a difference of a couple hundred thousand dollars for Lonoke County,” he said. “I’m taking it to legislative research tomorrow.”

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons get league win

Special to The Leader

North Pulaski scored 23 points in the first quarter Friday night and then held on from the free-throw stripe in the fourth quarter as it defeated the Sylvan Hills Bears 56-45.

The home victory was the first conference win for the Falcons (3-11, 1-3), and Sylvan Hills (5-9, 0-4) remains winless in the 5A-Central conference.

“It was a real big win,” said Falcon coach Roy Jackson. “We needed it, especially being at home against a rival like Sylvan Hills. Coach Davis’ boys, they came to play tonight. They played hard. We had to match their intensity. Like I told my guys at the beginning of the game, ‘y’all got to come with it. This is a rivalry game, the crowd is going to be into it and everything’. I think they responded well.”

The score at the end of one quarter was 23-8, but the Bears were able to even thescore somewhat at the half by outscoring North Pulaski 14-9 in the second quarter. Second half scoring was almost even, the Falcons having just a one-point advantage, but all together adding to an 11-point margin for the game.

“I thought some shots didn’t fall for us that would have made a huge difference.” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “They were good looks. This bunch had been coming off a couple of pretty good days of practice, so they’re getting there. The hard work is paying off. There is a little bit of inconsistency, not from anything but having new guys in the rotation and some substitutions that they’re probably not as comfortable with as they were. I was certainly proud of the effort, and that they fought all the way through.”

North Pulaski scored first, a layup by Brandon England. Tre West tied the game at two with a shot under the basket. The Falcons then went on a 13-0 run with two 3-pointers by England, a baseline drive and layup by Isaiah Brown, a dunk by England, and a three by Brown.

Herman Washington broke the run for a minute with a 2-pointer for Sylvan Hills, but Breon Baker sank a 3-point basket and then 3 of 3 free throws as he was fouled on a three, and the lead was 21-4 for the Falcons.

After the Bears’ Jaylin Johnson sank 1 of 2 free throws, North Pulaski turned the ball over twice, allowing a free throw by Marlon Clemmons, and a floater in the lane by Washington to cut the lead to 21-8.

Jalen Kelly hit a 2-pointer for the Falcons just before the buzzer for the 23-8 first-quarter score.

Clemmons hit a three for the Bears to start the second-quarter scoring, but Brown answered with a drive and score plus one free throw for a traditional 3-point play.

Sylvan Hills then ran off nine unanswered points, and Jordan Washington closed the scoring for the half with two free throws for the Bears and a 32-22 halftime score. Jordan Washington had eight points in the quarter and Clemmons six for Sylvan Hills. Brown led the Falcons in the frame with seven points.

The Bears also won the third quarter, scoring 15 to the Falcons’ nine points. West led the way for Sylvan Hills with five points, including a dunk. Braxton McKinney came in for North Pulaski and hit a 3-point basket and then an offensive rebound and putback plus one free throw for a 3-point play and six points in the quarter, but the Bears had cut the lead to 41-37.

The final quarter was mainly a battle of free throws as it often is, and the Falcons won that battle, hitting 9 of 12 from the line and scoring a total of 15 points. Sylvan Hills was 2 of 10 from the free-throw stripe and a total of eight points. The final margin was thus set, with North Pulaski stretching the final lead to 56-45.

The Falcons were 17 of 21 from the line for 81 percent, while the Bears were 11 of 23 for 48 percent. North Pulaski outrebounded the visitors 24-14, but also had 16 turnovers to the Bears’ 11.

Brown led the Falcons in scoring with 21, with England close behind with 18 points.
Jordan Washington led Sylvan Hills with 14 points, West had 10 points and Clemmons nine points.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls stave off Devils’ run

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers picked up an important conference win on Friday, beating West Memphis 62-55 in a 7A/6A-East matchup at Panther Arena. Cabot’s pressure did its damage early in the game. The Lady Panthers got seven steals and forced 15 West Memphis turnovers in the first half as they built a 29-16 lead by halftime.

The Lady Blue Devils jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, but Cabot closed the first quarter on an 11-0 run, sparked by guards Leighton Taylor and Danielle McWilliams at the front of the full-court press.

Taylor started Cabot’s run after grabbing a defensive rebound and dribbling the length of the court for a layup. McWilliams then got a steal at midcourt and dished to Taylor for another layup that tied the game. Taylor then got a steal and her third-straight bucket for Cabot’s first lead. After a West Memphis miss, McWilliams sank a 3-pointer and Alyssa Hamilton finished the quarter with a pair of free throws for a 13-6 Lady Panther lead.

The Lady Panthers (14-4, 2-1) also scored the first five points of the second quarter before West Memphis finally broke its scoring drought. The Lady Blue Devils went from 5:22 of the first quarter to 4:22 of the second quarter without a point. When they finally scored it made the score 18-8, but Cabot continued to stretch its lead, mostly from the foul line.

The Lady Panthers shot 16 foul shots in the second quarter. Josie Vanoss shot half of those, and made seven of them.

In the second half, West Memphis guard Alexis Hamlet put her team on her back and mounted a furious rally. Hamlet averages about 20 points per game, but scored 24 in the second half alone after a quiet, four-point first half.

West Memphis (11-5, 1-1) pulled to within 42-34 late in the third quarter, but Taylor found Hamilton open underneath the basket for a layup at the buzzer, pushing Cabot’s lead back into double digits.

Hamlet got an old-fashioned 3-point play to start the fourth period, to pull her team as close as it had been since the 11-0 run put Cabot up 13-6 in the first quarter, but West Memphis struggled to get any closer.

The margin stayed between seven and 10 points for the next five minutes. The Lady Panthers went through a streak of missed free throws, including the front end of a 1-and-1, but each time West Memphis had the opportunity to close the gap, Cabot’s defense came through.

Finally, with two minutes remaining, Hamlet got a steal and a layup to make it 57-52, and had three possessions to get closer, but managed just one free throw. The Lady Panthers turned it over soon after Hamlet’s layup, but Blue Devil Amesha Hamlet threw up a wild shot that clanged off the bottom of the rim and McWilliams got the rebound.

West Memphis fouled Hamilton, who missed both free throws with 58 seconds remaining. Cabot sent WMHS point guard Sable Greer to the line eight seconds later. She made the first free throw to make it 57-53. She missed the second but got her own rebound. She then threw the ball away on a skip pass to give Cabot possession.

West Memphis fouled McWilliams who made 1 of 2 free throws. Hamlet got the rebound and found center Lashala Sain wide open underneath the basket, but Sain missed the shot. McWilliams got the rebound and found, running in front of the defense for an easy transition layup that made it 60-53 and sealed the game.

Despite struggling from the line for a brief stretch in the fourth quarter, Cabot finished the game hitting 31 of 42 attempts while West Memphis made 12 of 17.

Vanoss led the Lady Panthers in scoring with 18 points, with 14 coming at the foul line. Hamilton added 17 for Cabot while Taylor scored 10. McWilliams finished with eight points, and added five steals, four rebounds and four assists.

Greer was second behind Alexis Hamlet’s 28 points, adding 16 for the Lady Blue Devils.

Both teams took poor care of the ball. Cabot had 20 turnovers while West Memphis had 21, and the Lady Panthers won the rebounding battle 25-21, with Anna Sullivan leading all players with nine boards.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville overcomes focus factor

Leader sportswriter

Pulaski Academy gave top-ranked Jacksonville all it wanted in Friday’s 5A-Central matchup at the Devils’ Den, but the Red Devils made enough plays in the second half to get the win by the final score of 57-52.

Jacksonville (15-2, 4-0) trailed Pulaski Academy (8-6, 2-2) by four at the end of the first quarter with the score 20-16, and the Bruins led by as much as nine in the second quarter before the Red Devils cut the Bruin lead down to three by halftime with the score 32-29.

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner didn’t like his team’s mental approach leading up to Friday’s game, and although he gave Pulaski Academy all the credit for the way it played and competed, he said his team’s lack of focus made the game tougher than it probably should’ve been for the No. 1 team in Class 5A.

“This game was close because PA is a good team,” said Joyner. “Let me say that first. That’s why it was close. Second, we made this game tougher than it was Wednesday and Thursday in practice.

“This team has no vocal leadership. I had to kick them out of my gym for two days. We hardly practiced Wednesday and Thursday. That game was tough between their ears. They weren’t focused. They were thinking they were good.

“You can’t be that way and play a team like Pulaski Academy. In the second half they realized that. After a spirited, deep, heart-felt talk, I think they understood what I was saying. It’s between their ears.”

Two minutes into the second half, Jacksonville tied the game at 32 with a 3-pointer by Lakalon Huskey. The Red Devils took their first lead of the second half on a corner three by Tyree Appleby at the 5:08 mark of the third quarter. Appleby’s three made the score 36-34 Jacksonville.

Jacksonville pushed its lead to 42-36 by the end of the quarter. That margin was set on a lane-penetrating bucket off the glass by Red Devil guard Dejvan Ridgeway on the last possession of the quarter.

However, PA wouldn’t go away quietly. Fifty-nine seconds into the fourth quarter, junior sharpshooter Lawson Korita sank an NBA-range three that cut the Red Devil lead to 42-39.

With 4:22 to play, the Bruins tied the game at 46 on a transition layup by Tra Johnson. Neither team scored again until the 2:49 mark. Appleby scored with a driving lay-in that put Jacksonville up 48-46.

With 2:20 to play, Zach Fryxell gave PA a 49-48 lead with an and-1 putback after a missed three by teammate Isiah Woods. With 1:47 to play, Jacksonville regained the lead, 50-49, with an inside bucket by Tedrick Wolfe, which was set up by a nifty pass from the free-throw line by Devin Campbell.

Jacksonville never lost the lead again. The Red Devils led by as much as 56-49. With less than 30 seconds remaining, Woods made it a four-point game with a long three, and Campbell set the final score with a free throw with 9.4 seconds remaining.

The Red Devils finished the game 19 of 42 from the floor for 45 percent. Pulaski Academy made 19 of 47 shot attempts for 40 percent. From the free-throw line, Jacksonville made 13 of 22 attempts for 59 percent. The Bruins made 9 of 14 attempts for 64 percent.

Pulaski Academy outrebounded Jacksonville 24-20, and the Red Devils committed one fewer turnover, 14, than the Bruins’ 15 committed.

Campbell led all scorers with 17 points. Appleby and Wolfe also scored in double figures. Appleby had 14 points and Wolfe had 11. Korita led the Bruins with 16 points, and was the only PA player to score in double figures.

Jacksonville played host to North Pulaski on Tuesday night after deadlines, and the Red Devils will play another 5A-Central game Friday at Mills University Studies. Friday’s games start at 6 p.m. with the girls taking the floor first.