Just say no to Ballinger

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bob Ballinger will tell you — and anyone else who will listen without taking the time to do a little homework and check his facts — that the “liberal media” is ganging up to pick on him.

Well, I’m a member of the media and I’m a liberal on an awful lot of issues — like not hating my neighbor because of whom he chooses to love and not treating poor people like subhumans because they have committed the sin of being poor. I’m also conservative on some issues — like the death penalty in cases where guilt is absolutely certain and abortion in virtually all cases.

But this column isn’t about my personal political beliefs, and it’s not about Bob Ballinger’s, either. I will “cross over” and vote in the Republican primary this month. I’ll do it almost entirely for the purpose of casting a vote against Bob Ballinger, and my vote will have practically nothing to do with 99 percent of his political positions.

Make no mistake. I disagree with Ballinger’s politics. He would make a poor state senator, simply based on those politics.

But even if I agreed with him on almost everything, I still could not bring myself to cast a ballot for him.

One reason and one reason alone is powerful enough to convince me that Bob Ballinger has no business in public office. I will vote against Bob Ballinger because of his incestuous association with Ecclesia College.

If you aren’t familiar with Ecclesia, it is a very small, “private” conservative Christian college in Springdale. It is a “work college” similar to College of the Ozarks — if only in that respect. Ecclesia was founded in 1974 by a gentleman named Oren Paris II. His son, Oren Paris III, was Ecclesia’s president until April of this year when he resigned after pleading guilty in a kickback scheme involving state legislators and General Improvement Fund grants to the college.

Let me be very clear here: Bob Ballinger has not been accused of or charged with any criminal activity relating to Ecclesia College, or anything else. That isn’t the issue, and it isn’t the problem.

The issue is that Ballinger has worked for Ecclesia as an attorney, and he has directed GIF funds to Ecclesia as a legislator. Among the work that Ballinger has done for Ecclesia is title work on a parcel of land in Springdale that the college purchased in 2013. The 23.2-acre tract had an appraised value of $204,600 in 2016 — three years after Ecclesia paid $675,000 for it. Perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation for why the college paid so much for the land, but we haven’t heard it. Ecclesia isn’t talking, and neither is Ballinger.

The fact that Ballinger has done private business with Ecclesia while also directing public money to the school is a clear conflict of interest. His defiant attitude about the situation only serves to make it more infuriating.

If that wasn’t enough, Ballinger has gone to great pains during this campaign season to present himself as a champion of government transparency. The fact is that Ballinger pushed for the passage of a bill that would have severely damaged the state’s Freedom of Information Act, then claimed there was no organized opposition to it, although he chaired a committee hearing where the state press association argued against the bill. Another fact is that Ballinger’s law firm is currently defending Ecclesia College in a lawsuit directly related to freedom of information — the college maintains that it is a private entity, despite receiving hundreds of thousands of public dollars. The plaintiff in the suit, Jim Parsons of Benton County, has asked that Ballinger’s firm be dismissed as counsel for Ecclesia because of Ballinger’s involvement in directing GIF money to the school. In its response to that request, Ecclesia argues that it is actually a church. Of course, it presented itself as a college when it applied for the GIF grants.

The bottom line is that Ballinger’s connections with Ecclesia, the obvious conflict of interest that those connections represent and his defiant unwillingness to make public the details of those connections disqualify him from being worthy of a single vote in this month’s primary.

Bob Ballinger — a candidate we just can’t trust.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com