Arkansas legislature

Quite often politics looks like a lot of smiling, schmoozing and proclamations. Personally I did not understand the real purpose of elected officials until the News-Times editor assigned me the dusty, dry task of compiling information for the daily “Today in History in El Dorado” – a column we ran on the editorial page for a couple years.
At the beginning of every month I trudged up to the cave of a room where we store stacks of bound copies of newspapers dating back into the 1920s. I gathered up the appropriate books from 10, 20, 40 and 60 years ago and took them to my desk to scan until I found a story or two from each day of each of the four years. The pages of the dusty, dry books with browning pages of newsprint littered my desk with paper crumbs. As I searched for local tidbits, I scanned stories from around the nation and world, a few antiquated advice columns … and a lot of old comic strips. I realized anew, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It really was not the most exciting job – copying down hum-drum stories. Repeatedly through the 1920s I read about heavy rain washing out sections of the road between El Dorado and Junction City, Strong or Magnolia. By the 1940s road coverage reported on the progress of the paving of the highway between El Dorado and Magnolia.
During the 1920s city officials in the wake of the oil boom seethed with fierce competition at the mention of that other growing city … Little Rock. At the completion of the eight story Exchange Bank officials proudly announced it as El Dorado’s “first” skyscraper. More were definitely expected. In the 1980s we celebrated the 60th anniversary of El Dorado’s only sky scraper.
In the 1960s, the mayor and city officials met with state and federal officials to discuss the building of an accessible Interstate and the ecoonomic benefits it would have for the area. The idea surged and retreated from the newspapers and the public mind as it did in the 1990s.
A couple years into my weekly assignment, I was at a dinner party and someone asked about my job. I described my weekly, historical research. As I talked about some of the stories, I understood the real purpose for having politicians … besides their many opportunities to publicly pontificate.
It isn’t about promises of better times and kissing babies. It isn’t about writing letters congratulating people on their life time achievements. Everyone who agrees to accept (or try to gain) an elected position automatically agrees to accept the task of maintaining or improving roads, schools, public services and the general welfare of the population.
Just as elected officials in the 1940s struggled with the inequitable funding between the then segregated schools, the elected officials of 2003 struggle with the court’s declaration of inequitable funding for education between the big city schools and the little country schools.
Once the energy and excitement of the election faded, Arkansas’ newest elected legislators plunged into the monumental task of understanding and passing a budget in a declining economy, establishing a formula for the schools and addressing the funding crisis in the state’s mental health system and services.
For any number of reasons, this has not been the most successful legislative session. Even the most basic task of establishing and passing a budget remains incomplete.
A lot of important issues are being weighed in the balances. The scales threaten to topple.
We hope and pray that this session’s crop of officials have the stamina, insight and fore thought of their predecessors. If not what hope does Arkansas have to continue as the land of opportunity?