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Getting ready for Clinton

The Senate today approved a resolution setting aside time on Wednesday for Bill Clinton to speak to the Legislature.

The former president and Arkansas governor will address a joint session of the House and Senate at 10 a.m. in the House chambers. He was invited by Senate leader Bob Johnson and House Speaker Robbie Wills.

No word on what Clinton will talk about or how long he plans to roam the state Capitol — his stomping ground as governor for 12 years before winning the presidency in 1992.

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Beebe to attend Obama inauguration

Gov. Mike Beebe will be in Washington Monday and Tuesday of next week to attend inaugural events for President-elect Barack Obama, a spokesman for Beebe said today.

“He wants to show support for the president-elect, who of course has supported him in the past,” Matt DeCample said.

Obama appeared at a rally in Little Rock for Beebe and other Democrats in October 2006, while Beebe was campaigning for governor. Beebe endorsed Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination but endorsed Obama when he became the party’s nominee.

DeCample said Beebe also wants to attend because of the historic nature of the event and its importance for the Democratic Party.

“It’s a great day for America,” DeCample said.

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The spirit of TR

The director of the Arkansas Sheriffs Association wants to avoid a repeat of the early 1980s, when tough-talking Sheriff Tommy Robinson handcuffed convicts to prison fences to help clear overcrowded Pulaski County jails.

But Chuck Lange says he fears “someday, somehow, someway” a modern-day sheriff will pull a TR unless the state does something about the backlog of state prisoners in county jails.

“I’m not threatening at all … I’m just real worlding it, it could possibly happen again,” Lange told lawmakers during a recent hearing on the issue.

The Department of Correction pays the counties $28 a day for each prisoner housed in the local jails awaiting a bed in chronically overcrowded prison units, while it costs the state about $50 a day to house a prisoner in a state facility.

There are 1,377 state inmates being housed in county jails awaiting bedspace in state prison units, according to prison spokeswoman Dina Tyler.

Rep. Johnny Hoyt, D-Morrilton, says he’s considering filing legislation in the upcoming session to increase state reimbursements to county jails for housing state prisoners.

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Ross: Recession to be worst since 1920s

The U.S. could be just months away from “the toughest economic times of our lifetime,” U.S. Rep. Mike Ross. D-Prescott, said today in a conference call with reporters.

Ross said things could be worse. The $700 billion financial bailout plan approved by Congress last month should prevent another depression like the one that followed the 1929 stock market crash, he said.

“I think the actions we took in the financial sector back in October will avoid a 21st century Great Depression, but I do think we’re headed for the worst recession in our lifetimes, and I don’t think we’re anywhere near hitting the bottom,” Ross said. “I think we’re probably six months to perhaps a year and a half away from seeing the worst times that are ahead of us.”

Asked if the nation needs another “New Deal,” the economic recovery plan that Franklin Roosevelt initiated in the 1930s, Ross said it past time time for something similar.

“If you think about it, President Roosevelt and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program and President Eisenhower and the interstate (highway) program were the last two presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, that made any significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure. I think it’s past time that we do that, and I think it’s a great way to jump start the economy,” he said.

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Beyond the V-chip

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor is prodding the Federal Communications Commission to do more to help parents block scenes and language inappropriate for children from TVs and computers.

The Pryor-sponsored Child Safe Viewing Act is headed to President Bush’s desk after the Senate gave final congressional approval to the measure.

It requires the FCC to continuously review and implement blocking technology as it is developed, something Pryor says the agency has failed to do since Congress in 1996 required television manufacturers to embed the V-Chip in televisions to allow parents to filter some content according to a rating system.

The senator says parents today want more help in blocking an increasing amount of sexual scenes and violence shown on more than 500 TV channels and video streaming over the Internet.

“Today’s technology to protect children from indecency goes above and beyond the capabilities of the V-Chip,” according to Pryor. “It’s time for the FCC to take a fresh look at how the market can empower parents with more tools to choose appropriate programming for their children. This bill is a pragmatic, sensible approach where parents, kids and technology can all benefit.”

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Alltel, Windstream donated to Stevens

Two Arkansas-based companies donated money this election cycle to Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican convicted of seven felonies Monday for failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts he received from an Alaska oil company.

Alltel Corp.’s political action committee has given Stevens $5,000 in the past two years, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Windstream Communications’ PAC donated $2,000 to Stevens in April, campaign finance reports show.

A spokesman for Alltel had no comment Monday about that company’s donations to Stevens. Alltel’s latest gift was $1,000 in March. The company’s PAC gave $4,000 last year.

Stevens, 84, is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Commerce Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over telecommunications legislation.

David Avery, a spokesman for Windstream, said the company typically donates money to lawmakers who support the rural telecommunications industry.

“Sen. Stevens generally, from what I understand, has been supportive of rural telecom interests throughout his career,” Avery said.

Stevens has been in the Senate since 1968 and is its longest-serving Republican. He faces up to five years in prison on the corruption convictions.

Stevens faces Democrat Mark Begich in the Nov. 4 general election.

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Coming for Obama

Former President Bill Clinton will join Gov. Mike Beebe, state Democratic Party Chairman David Pryor and former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers at a series of rallies for Barack Obama this week, the Democratic Party of Arkansas announced today.

The get-out-the-vote rallies will be in North Little Rock on Friday and in Pine Bluff and Jonesboro on Saturday. The times and exact locations of the events have not been determined.

Former Arkansas and U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton headlined a rally for Obama in Little Rock on Oct. 10 and drew a crowd of about 3,000 people.

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Fort Worth never crossed his mind UPDATE

UPDATE: Drew Goesl,  Rep. Mike Ross’ chief of staff, says staff overlooked the congressman’s planned trip to Fort Worth, which he is making on behalf of a personal friend.

“The bottom line is this is an old friend from Congressman Ross’ days from Young Democrats,” Goesl said. “He is just going out of friendship for lunch and coming back the same day.

“It is kind of a personal trip,” Goesl said. “It is of a campaign nature but it also is an old friend.”

When checking into the congressman’s campaign-related travel,  staffers “were not thinking about this,” Goesl said.  “This was not something that in any way we were not trying to disclose.”

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Is Mike Ross afraid of backlash from Razorback fans who dislike all things Texas?

Is he sneaking into the Lone Star State because he heard there was better barbecue there?

Neither of those explanations is likely, which makes it odd that the 4th District congressman’s staff didn’t mention Ross’ scheduled trip to Fort Worth on Friday to campaign for a constable candidate.

After Stephens Media published this article about the congressional delegation’s pre-election plans, a blog item from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday noted that Ross, D-Prescott, would be in town for a fundraising luncheon for Tarrant County Constable Sergio DeLeon.

That’s interesting news here, especially after this e-mail exchange from last week:

Stephens Media: “Is your boss appearing for anyone or going anywhere to campaign for someone else between now and Nov. 4?”

Brad Howard, Ross’ press secretary: “I checked in with our campaign person in the District. He said at this time there are no plans. I’ll let you know if something gets scheduled.”

DeLeon, contacted Monday, said the luncheon has been scheduled for about a month.

Ross office’s has not responded yet to explain why information about the Texas trip was not disclosed.

DeLeon said he and Ross are friends from two decades ago, when the two worked together on Democratic causes in Arkansas. DeLeon grew up in Bigelow and attended the University of Central Arkansas.

It’s unlikely Ross would lose political points for attending a fundraiser on behalf of his old friend. So why the secrecy, congressman? Is it really that bad for an Arkansan to help a Texan?

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Mark Pryor, movie star

Maybe Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., should have realized an on-camera interview with snarky comedian Bill Maher may not go as well as with, say, a fresh-out-of-college reporter at KFSM in Fort Smith.

The rookie may not have known that “indigously” wasn’t a word. Maher just plastered it across the movie screen when Pryor misspoke so that moviegoers could laugh at the senator.

And that’s what viewers did, repeatedly, Wednesday at an advance screening of Maher’s new movie, “Religulous,” at a Washington theater. The screening was open to reporters and members of various secular groups.

Maher and the film’s producers showed no respect for the state’s junior senator, though Pryor was in good company — there wasn’t respect for the world’s religions, either.

Maher’s blistering rebuke of all things religious framed the faithful as buffoons awaiting a false promise of a happy afterlife.

He interviewed Pryor about two years ago while the senator was a chairman of the annual National Prayer Breakfast. The meeting was in Pryor’s office, where his “Arkansas Comes First” sign is featured prominently on his desk.

Maher’s face time with Pryor takes up about two minutes of the 101-minute film, but it was one of the more amusing segments for Washington movie-goers.

Maher poked fun at Pryor’s use of the word “literacy” in describing his views on the gospel: “I do believe in the actual literacy of that story,” Pryor said.

The audience reserved its loudest laughter of the night for the pair’s discussion of the Old Testament account of Adam and Eve and the serpent.

“You’re a senator, you’re one of the very few people who are really running this country. It worries me that people are running my country, who think, who believe in a talking snake,” Maher said.

Pryor’s response: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate though.”

“Religulous” opens in limited release Friday.

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Lincoln leans toward support of bailout

With a Senate vote on the $700 billion financial bailout bill just a few hours away, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., signaled Wednesday she would support the measure.

Lincoln said she still wanted to talk to a few more of her colleagues about the bill intended to stabilize the nation’s imperiled economy, but that: “I definitely think that doing nothing is not an option.”

The House rejected its bailout effort Monday, sending the stock market into a tailspin.

The Senate added to its version an extension of popular tax breaks on businesses in a move designed to lure support from House Republicans. A business research and development tax credit, incentives for renewable energy and a fix to protect more than 20 million Americans from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) is in the Senate bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would take up the measure (if approved by the Senate) Friday, only if leaders knew they had the votes to pass it.

Lincoln said her constituents have made it clear Congress needs to do something, even if the bill may appear unsavory.

The measure is much improved over an initial Bush administration proposal that didn’t set limits on executive compensation and pledged a full $700 billion automatically. Lincoln said the Senate bill applies more accontability and transparency into how the government adminsters the bailout plan.

“We’re going to try to take a two-pronged approach here, which is making money available in installments,” she said. “The first, being $250 billion, then an extra $100 billion would be available for the executive branch to use if necessary.”

Lincoln called the tax breaks a “parallel approach” to the rescue plan for fixing the economy.

“Business and industry are the engine of the economy,” she said. “We have to make sure the jobs they have, they keep, and the jobs they want to give, they can give.”

While the tax package may entice House Republicans, it may put off a number of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Blue Dogs oppose tax breaks that aren’t offset in the federal budget by additional revenue.

The incentives are partially offset with tax hikes for oil companies and closure of a corporate tax loophole. Still, about $25 billion would be added to the budget deficit under the proposal, Lincoln said.

“I try to be fiscally responsible, too, that’s important,” she said. “But we’re looking at a circumstance that needs a timely response.”

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