It pays to have friends in high places.
Arkansas, and the nation, are dealing with historically tough economic times. But you wouldn’t know it if you were part of the Republican Party of Arkansas’s inside circle. They just gave Commerce Secretary Mike Preston a $50,000 bonus — despite holding back pay bumps for just about every other state worker.
It’s especially egregious that Sec. Preston received a bonus (larger than an average Arkansans yearly salary), considering he was at the heart of a major COVID bailout scandal just a few weeks ago.
It’s been well documented that Arkansas’s Ready For Business bailout program was designed to favor industry insiders. All of the major news outlets in Arkansas covered the Ready For Business scandal, when more than $15 million in COVID-recovery grants were leaked in advance to only certain businesses with lobbyists ready to pounce on this first-come-first-serve economic bailout.
The corruption was so blatant, that a bi-partisan group of lawmakers grilled Sec. Preston about his insider-dealing and secrecy. Read more from Talk Business & Politics >>>
However, a bipartisan group of legislators grilled Preston during a Friday afternoon committee meeting – which was held before the PUA breach was made public. Legislators said the grant program was “botched at the outset,” “disappointing” and changes were made unilaterally by the Commerce Department without legislative approval, according to this report by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, said it was “plain to see people knew ahead of time.”
The Democratic Party of Arkansas has called for an investigation into the clear favoritism at play with the Ready for Business grant program. And the fact that Preston and Governor Asa Hutchinson chose to bypass the legislative process — a clear violation of the separation of powers.
But Republican leadership, rather than listen to bi-partisan grilling and examining Freedom of Information Act requests documenting insider dealing, chose instead to reward Sec. Preston. After all, he made sure their friends were taken care of with the state’s limited COVID bailout.
Arkansas Needs New Leadership