*

Scott Loftis

From the Editor

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

Opinion

Ballinger in the spotlight

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Arkansas Legislature will convene Jan. 11 in Little Rock and our own state Sen. Bob Ballinger is likely to be among the more high-profile legislators.

A couple of things about that statement — first, I say “our own” because the District 5 seat owned by the citizens of the district and currently occupied by Ballinger represents a large portion of Carroll County, although Ballinger is no longer a resident of the county. He currently resides in rural Johnson County, in a house purchased by his parents last May for the sum of $200,000.

Ballinger himself once owned a home in Madison County but lost it to foreclosure, explaining that the bank wouldn’t accept his payments. Bankers are like that, you know.

Second, Ballinger will get some attention during the legislative session not because he’s an effective legislator and not because he’s a skilled politician. In my view, he’s neither.

As both a legislator and a politician, Ballinger is a clumsy caricature — an almost cartoonish figure who would be funny if he weren’t so dangerous.

Ballinger will be in the spotlight during the upcoming legislative session because he is among several partisan extremists — along with folks like senators Trent Garner and Jason Rapert — who will try to pull our state backward at a time when we desperately need to move forward.

Among Ballinger’s legislative priorities for the 2021 session will be derailing a bill that would allow the imposition of enhanced sentences for hate crimes while pushing for passage of a bill that would allow Arkansans to use deadly force if they have “a reasonable belief” that they are in danger.

Ballinger says he’s opposed to the hate-crime bill because of some specific exemptions in the bill. For one, the bill includes an exemption for defendants convicted of sexual indecency with a child. I reached out to Sen. Jim Hendren, the bill’s sponsor, to try and get some clarification on the exemptions and he explained that sexually based crimes and crimes against children already have enhanced penalties. Hendren said he had pointed that out to Ballinger.

“It’s disappointing that Sen. Ballinger has chosen to portray this as giving sex offenders special treatment – clearly that’s not the case,” Hendren said by email.

Based on Ballinger’s track record, I suspect his real objection to the hate crime bill may have a lot to do with the fact that it would allow sentence enhancements for individuals convicted of targeting victims based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to protect some groups and give them more rights,” Ballinger said in a Facebook video explaining his position.

Make of that what you will.

The “stand your ground” bill is a whole different can of worms. I firmly believe in every individual’s right to protect themselves, but this bill goes far beyond that.

Arkansans already have a legal right to self-defense. This bill is unnecessary — much like the additional violence it’s bound to create.

Ballinger recently lashed out at local newspapers in a Facebook video. He doesn’t appreciate the fact that journalists are reporting — and sometimes offering opinions, on a page clearly labeled as such — on his actions as a state senator.

It doesn’t make sense, Ballinger says, when it’s not an election season. Of course, for a politician, it’s always election season. And along with the paltry salary — $41,393 in 2019, with an additional $32,254 for per diem, mileage and other expenses that he received that year — that Ballinger has cited in explaining his personal financial issues, his “active calling to public service” also comes with a degree of scrutiny. It’s part of the job.

As I’ve said before, Sen. Ballinger, I believe you’ve sacrificed enough. Toiling away for peanuts, being held accountable for your actions and words — it’s all just so unfair. I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you just walked away.