“I want to go home,” Arkansas State Senator Jon Woods whimpered last weekend.
The poor, pitiful politician — announcing he would not seek election to another legislative term — cried that he had not “been fishing with [his] brother in a year.”
Before reaching for a tissue, however, consider: the legislator lives roughly three hours from the capitol in Little Rock and the legislature has only been in session for about 100 days in the last two years.
Certainly, that Senator Woods has any friends left is news — at least, non-lobbyist, non-legislator friends. Mr. Woods infamously authored Issue 3, which narrowly passed in 2014 and is now Amendment 94 to the state constitution.
It passed, even though every single poll during the election and afterwards shows that voters opposed Woods’s amendment . . . that is, when they understood what was actually in the longest constitutional amendment in the state’s history. Amendment 94 now comprises roughly an eighth of the entire document, including nearly a hundred other amendments.
But voters didn’t know the contents.
Because Woods didn’t tell them.
Instead, he cheated voters by wording the ballot title to claim Issue 3 was “PROHIBITING MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY . . . FROM ACCEPTING GIFTS FROM LOBBYISTS.” But now with the amendment in effect, lobbyists buy legislators breakfast, lunch and dinner pretty much every day they’re in session.
He misleadingly told voters the amendment was “ESTABLISHING TERM LIMITS FOR MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY,” when in reality the term limits already in effect were weakened under his measure, allowing pols like Woods to stay a whopping 16 years in a single seat.
The slippery solon’s amendment also created a so-called Independent Citizens Commission — a majority appointed by legislative leaders — to set salaries for elected officials, including state legislators. Like Woods, for instance. Said commission received overwhelming public comment against increasing pay for state legislators and yet, in an unmistakable sign of glorious independence, rewarded legislators with a whopping 150 percent pay raise.
The Arkansas Times’s Max Brantley called it “strange” that the “full-time legislator . . . would drop out of the race at this point.” Now that it’s time to face the voters with all his mighty “accomplishments,” the senator decided “to start a new chapter in [his] life.”
Dejected, befuddled, limping home as a martyr to crony politics, Woods knows he can’t win — meaning the Arkansas insider’s reign of trickery is thankfully ending.
It’s ironic. Woods defrauded Arkansas voters with his deceptively worded 2014 ballot measure. The successful scam weakening term limits allows him to stay in the Senate for 16 years, instead of just eight. But now, angry voters won’t allow Woods another term.
At least, that sure appears to be the case.
Now, it is true that if voters in next year’s March primary could possibly be as uninformed about Woods’s record as they were about last November’s Issue 3, he would walk back into office in triumph. But Woods has made enemies: term limits supporters and Conduit for Action, a group sharply critical of him for supporting Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and for gutting the Arkansas Ethics Commission, to identify just two. He not unreasonably fears they would communicate with his constituents.
In effect, “tell on him.”
Fool the voters once, shame on Woods. Fool the voters twice . . . well . . . ’tain’t going to happen. That’s not to say the sly schemer didn’t have another unethical, underhanded, anti-democratic trick up his sleeve.
Of course he did.
“I’ve had serious conversations with my family about leaving . . . since April,” Woods told reporters. Yet, the incumbent didn’t bother to announce publicly that he was vacating the seat until the weekend before a Monday filing deadline.
“My intention was to announce this decision earlier,” Woods acknowledged, “but constituent obligations, being under the weather, and tremendous pressure to remain in the race delayed my action.” Yeah, right. No doubt the sun was in his eyes as well.
His delay? A tactic — not new. By postponing his announcement he helped circumvent a meaningful election. He provided a leg up to a crony. Waiting until the last possible moment to announce one’s retirement is an age-old method whereby insider politicians game the system.
Luckily, Justice of the Peace Sharon Lloyd had already stepped up to challenge Woods — and his insider political games.
It’s nice to know that Woods is on his way out. It’s too bad, though, that he doesn’t just resign and spare the people another year of suffering.
Wait: maybe the wicked Mr. Woods won’t last that full year.
“Rumors have been flying for months about federal investigations of Arkansas politicians and lobbyists,” notes a commentary on the Conduit for Action website. Both the FBI and IRS are now investigating the misuse of what’s known as General Improvement Funds — a slush fund that allows incumbent state legislators to steer millions in taxpayer money to their favorite cronies in similar corrupting fashion to the U.S. Congress’s earmarks.
Sen. Woods is a walking advertisement for term limits. It would certainly be poetic justice if the next term he serves is behind bars.
Paul Jacob, November 15, 2015
This column appeared first at Townhall.com.