NO SECOND THOUGHTS: All the Wrong Reasons

Joel Phelps

And just like that, a freedom was stripped from all Arkansans

By JOEL PHELPS | arkadelphian.com

It started with a nosy man named Matt Campbell, an attorney and blogger who’s not afraid to sue over infractions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Campbell, you see, wanted to know who rode on an Arkansas State Police plane with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders — way back in February — as he had been probing some travel expenses of some of the state’s top officials.

Nuh-uh, he was told. The state’s top cops told Campbell he didn’t have any business nosing around in who was on that plane.

That plane, mind you, is property of the state of Arkansas, paid for by the people. It’s those people who have every right to know where that plane goes and who’s on it, just as a parent who bought their teenager’s first car has the right to know where their child is going and who’s with him.

Here’s a little known fact: In 1997, when Sarah’s daddy was governor of The Natural State, the Huckabees took a little trip to Las Vegas for a national meeting of state governors. Sarah and a friend got to go, too.

It wouldn’t be until the following year that some nosy reporter in Memphis leaked that a campaign advertising agency paid for personal charges the governor made on his state-issued credit card, paying for Sweet-16 Sarah to accompany them on the trip. What happened in Vegas and on the state plane, he hoped, would stay on the state plane. It was thanks to our Sunshine Law that he got found out. Did the governor suffer any consequences from that news report? Just a little bad publicity.

Fast-forward to a present-day Huckabee governorship, with a similar request made by a similar citizen. State Police wouldn’t provide Matt Campbell with the lawful request he had made — instead giving him a flight request form with redacted names — so Campbell sued. With the help of a tech-savvy friend he was eventually able to remove the ASP’s shoddy attempt of redacting the names, and the Blue Hog himself found that — just like Daddy Huck — the whole First Family was tagging along with Sarah on trips.

If Campbell had been able to blog about that, Arkansans across the state probably would have yawned — Yours Truly certainly would have. SHS couldn’t stand the fact she just might be the target of scrutiny, so she called for a quick meeting of lawmakers to nip burdensome FOIA requests in the bud.

Campbell shared a copy of his lawsuit with arkadelphian.com, but we sat on it with hopes that statewide media would pick up the story (they did, and followed the story well, while Yours Truly was busy following the Hostess/Smucker transaction). 

Last weekend, state Sen. Steve Crowell called us to say he was co-sponsoring the bill that would eventually alter our Sunshine Law. His reason to co-sponsor the bill, he told us, was “To have a seat at the table.” Crowell said “some things” needed to be changed with FOIA, but didn’t specify what he wanted changed (disclaimer: we didn’t ask, either). The articles that appeared over the course of the following days didn’t mention Crowell — not once. A member of our delegation had his seat, but did he speak up? Yes, at the end of the week when he said “yes” in support of SB10. Maybe he’s hoping for a seat at the table on Huckabee’s next plane ride.

In the end, Sarah got what she wanted: It was an act of treason, she left us out in the cold, for all the wrong reasons. Like going to Vegas (“Daddy, can I take a friend?”), it seems she always gets what she wants. Let’s hope she truly wants to accompany DeSantis in his presidential bid so Arkansas can be rid of her and anyone else who stands in freedom’s way.

Give politicians an inch, and they’ll take a mile. Mark our words: This will not be the last of the FOIA laws we’re stripped of. This past alteration was too easy to make and only paves the way for more unnecessary exemptions to be made.

In 1967, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller signed the state’s FOIA into law, and Arkansas’s Sunshine Law was one to be coveted. The slogan on the most recent, 20th Edition of the FOIA handbook reads: “Open records, open meetings, open government for all Arkansas citizens.”

Maybe the cover of the 21st Edition should read “Y’all don’t need to know.”