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Earlier this week, the Board of Apportionment held its first meeting for 2021 redistricting. Census data has been delayed throughout the country due in part to the pandemic.  The Board said that they were able to do very little without this data, and it has delayed the process in Arkansas as well as other states. 

General Rutledge asked a number of questions about historical lawsuits challenging redistricting maps. As redistricting has become more scientific, many political actors in several states have used advancements in data to game the redistricting process to their partisan advantage. This in turn has led to a number of citizen led organizations to file lawsuits that ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Given that our Attorney General is already forecasting that their redistricting plan will end up in a torrent of lawsuits, this gives us some indication of where she feels Arkansas’ redistricting process is headed. Secretary of State John Thurston said “we’re all new and learning this process as we go” which didn’t do much to inspire confidence either.

Quick digression:

Why is our Attorney General asking legal questions in an open hearing about past lawsuits related to redistricting? In her capacity as legal representative for the People of Arkansas, one would think she would be answering questions about potential legal challenges. Did she not have time to look it up before the hearing? This is where our questions begin.

Governor Hutchinson proposed appointing former Chief Justice Betty Dickey as coordinator of redistricting for the Board of Apportionment. Dickey ran for Attorney General as a Republican in 1998 before losing to Mark Pryor. She was appointed as the first female Chief Justice of the state of Arkansas by then Governor Mike Huckabee. 

After leaving the court, Dickey was hired by Prefered Family Health Care in 2018. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Prefered Family Health care recently reached a settlement with the State of Arkansas where they agreed to pay the state $6.5 million in connection with the company’s violations of the state and federal False Claims Act.  According to Talk Business and Politics:

The company was at the center of a bribery and corruption scandal involving Arkansas legislators including former Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Jeremy Hutchinson pleaded guilty in July 2019, to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

Hutchinson was paid $350,000 and given a number of perks to push an agenda set by PFH administrators and lobbyists through the Arkansas Legislature.

So just to play a quick game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon #ARPX Edition”: 

Gov. Hutchinson wants to appoint former Chief Justice Betty Dickey ⇒ who served as counsel for a company that illegally paid Gov. Hutchinson’s nephew to improperly lobby his fellow legislators ⇒ which surfaced in an investigation of Medicaid Fraud by the office of the Attorney General ⇒ that eventually led to a multi-million dollar settlement with … wait for it … Board of Apportionment member Leslie Rutledge.

Turns out Arkansas really is A Small World After All.   

The Board will meet in an executive session to make this appointment and the coordinator should be in place by July 15th. Duties of this position include setting up an office, gathering public input, and presenting final maps to the Board. 

No official next meeting time was set.

You can read a more official and less entertaining write up of the hearing in the Democrat Gazette.