DOUBLE-CROSSERS!!! Highway Commission makes commitment to Hutchinson and then does not keep commitment

I read the article by John Brummett, “Keeping  Commitments,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 18, 2011, with great interest. I have put the whole article below for you to read. (I have commented on this issue before.)

In this article he tells the sad story of  another political lie. The Arkansas Highway Commission promised to change the their 10 districts in order to avoid change being forced upon them during the legislative session in movement started by State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson. In fact, they “double-crossed” Senator Hutchinson according to Brummett by promising to change the districts and then last week saying they would not. Brummett noted that the commission declined “to do the very thing it committed to legislators to do.”

That is why I do not hesitate to agree with Brummett that they will now reap the consequences of breaking their promise. Brummett finishes the article by stating:

An obvious recourse for Hutchinson is to bring back his constitutional-amendment proposal in 2013 and not put any stock in anything the five high-and-mighty rich white guys of the Highway Commission—Madison Murphy, Tom Schueck, Dick Trammel, John Burkhalter and John Ed Regenold—say about it.


The whole article is below:

We have designed the state Highway Commission, after all, to be arrogant.

By constitutional amendment in 1948, we gave it operational independence from the governor and Legislature. The purpose was to keep the business of roads above the sullying influence and inconvenience of politics, you see.

And if the people of the state were asked today if the Highway Commission should represent all geographic areas of the state equally, they probably would say yes, absolutely.

For the record, I disagree with all of that.

State government agencies ought to be accountable to the people we elect, not independent of them. And you can never get politics out of highways; the only variable is where the power gets bestowed. And the southern and eastern parts of the state should not get the same degree of representation and consideration in highway governance as the central and northwestern parts.

That’s because, for now, most of the cars that use the roads are in the central and northwestern parts.

We redraw congressional districts when population shifts. So should we redraw highway districts.

But maybe there is something about highways on which we can agree. That would be the answer to this question: Do you believe the Highway Commission ought to make a public commitment to legislators to do something, then turn around several months later in its arrogant independence and decline to do the very thing it committed to legislators to do?

Surely you join me in a resounding “no.”

We intended the highway commissioners to be holier-than-thou, not double-crossers. We positioned them to be separated from legislators, not liars to their faces.

It’s a simple story and I am here to tell it.

State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, Republican of Little Rock, has long been worked up about the way the Highway Commission voluntarily organizes itself. Each of its five commissioners primarily represents, or advocates for, two geographic districts based on decades-old population patterns.

The system gives the declining eastern and southern sectors more representation by powerfully independent highway commissioners than the northwestern corner. It means discretionary highway money doesn’t follow traffic, but commissioners.

So Hutchinson threw in a proposed constitutional amendment during the regular legislative session last winter. It was to remove the Highway Commission’s independence.

The Highway Commission could have beaten it, but not without effort. So it decided the better course was to head off the idea before Hutchinson might persuade legislators to include his proposal among three constitutional amendments to be referred to voters.

To mollify Hutchinson, Highway Director Dan Flowers, now retired, negotiated with Hutchinson on a public statement for presentation to the State Agencies Committee. The commission said in this eventually agreed-on statement that it would “reevaluate its 10 advocacy districts” and “be committed to drawing advocacy districts that are of substantially equal populations.”

It was generally a mushy and hedged declaration, but those two words, “be committed,” actually had meaning. Or they appeared to have meaning.

So Hutchinson withdrew his proposed constitutional amendment, having apparently leveraged an incremental gain.

But on Wednesday the Highway Commission met and said it wasn’t going to do what it said it would do.

Randy Ort, public information man for the Highway Commission, told me there was no double-cross. The commission did, in fact, draw new districts, as it committed, he said. It simply didn’t like them, he said, and rejected them.

So instead, Ort said, the commissioners simply did away with the advocacy districts altogether and formally freed the highway commissioners to do what they were doing already anyway by constitutional authority, which was represent the entire state.

Hutchinson told me this was all a semantic trick. The commission will simply continue business as usual, he said, with the commissioners representing the same “maintenance districts” without actually calling them “advocacy districts.”

He said the long and short of it was that the Highway Commission had broken a promise not only to him, but to the entire state Legislature.

Hutchinson said he specifically rejected that at-large gambit during last winter’s negotiations. And he said legislative staff members redrew these advocacy districts smartly in a few minutes.

An obvious recourse for Hutchinson is to bring back his constitutional-amendment proposal in 2013 and not put any stock in anything the five high-and-mighty rich white guys of the Highway Commission—Madison Murphy, Tom Schueck, Dick Trammel, John Burkhalter and John Ed Regenold—say about it.


John Brummett is a regular columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at


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