A couple of Arkansas politicians managed to make national news last week for the wrong reason — bringing criticism and ridicule to their home state.
The more extreme example was a tweet Friday by state Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, who apparently didn’t have enough to do even with the state Legislature trying to wrap up its session: "I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a high capacity magazine? #2A"
That came while much of America was watching on television as the manhunt for one of two terrorists suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing played out.
Within minutes Bell’s comment had gone viral and soon stirred a national backlash. Among the stinging rebukes was this Esquire magazine blog post titled "Bite Me" by Charles B. Pierce: "Far be it from me to suggest that any of my fellow residents of the Commonwealth (God save it!) might want to discuss Rep. Bell’s insights with him, but here’s his official contact page. Be polite. Be nice. Tell him that God loves him as he loves all mouthy hicks."
Needless to say, not all responses were nice.
About four hours after his first tweet, Bell felt it wise to issue an apology — sort of. "I would like to apologize to the people of Boston & Massachusetts for the poor timing of my tweet earlier this morning," he wrote. "As a staunch and unwavering supporter of the individual right to self defense, I expressed my point of view without thinking of its effect on those still in time of crisis. In hindsight, given the ongoing tragedy that is still unfolding, I regret the poor choice of timing."
Somehow Bell’s original tweet disappeared, leaving thousands of responses like this one: "RT @tpmcnaught @NateBell4AR I slept like a baby knowing I didn’t have a moron like you representing me."
Would that Arkansans could say the same.
Bell had previously distinguished himself for intemperate comments through the social media. Last summer he posted this on his Facebook page: "As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation. —Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler."
Referring to legislation regulating cell phone use by drivers in a school zone, he added: "Comparing Dems to Nazis is wayyyy to easy. Let’s start with banning cell phone use while parked in a school zone."
Among Bell’s attempts at legislation this year was House Bill 1042, which would have made it easier for gas companies to take land by eminent domain for building pipelines despite the opposition of the land owners. If not for the Mayflower pipeline rupture in March, that bill might have been law by now.
What brought notoriety for US. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas wasn’t what he said but rather what he did — crossing party lines to vote with Republicans in blocking a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened background checks for gun purchases. Thus Pryor ignored national polls showing strong support for expanding background checks and sided with the gun lobby in opposing any change.
Pryor was one of five Democrats who voted against an amendment to current law proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania. Four Republicans voted for it, leaving a final tally of 54-46, six votes short of the 60 needed to pass it.
Remember, the majority frequently doesn’t rule in the U.S. Senate.
Pryor’s vote was especially disappointing because he could offer only a vague explanation, saying it was "too broad, unworkable and unreasonable for hunters and gun owners in our state." Instead he supported an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, which had no chance and fell short by 52-48.
The Grassley amendment, favored by most Republicans, also included some good provisions, such as re-authorizing the Community Oriented Policing Services program. Instead, the U.S. Congress, as has been typical of late, did nothing, preferring to wait for the next tragedy.
Pryor’s Democratic base was incensed by his vote, with many pledging not to support his re-election in 2014. He also lost potential national support, even while special interest groups were pounding him for "supporting Obama’s gun controls."
Even the conservative Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page blasted Pryor and the state’s other U.S. senator, Republican John Boozman, for their "foolishness" in opposing the Manchin-Toomey proposal. Its most pointed words were aimed at Pryor: "When you’re a blue-dog senator coming up for re-election in a red state, it may not hurt your political chances to cast a vote the way the National Rifle Association tells you to."
As noted in the editorial, the Manchin-Toomey amendment mainly would have expanded background checks at gun shows, where presently only licensed gun dealers are required to run them before selling firearms. That would have had no effect on the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, but it could have helped to prevent or mitigate other violent crimes.
It’s sad that our elected leaders in Washington lack the political courage to do anything except talk about "what won’t work" and "what might happen" if we make a single change in the law.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.