The governor’s unprecedented abuse of power — and the legislature’s deference to it — threatens Arkansas’s system of checks and balances

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve noticed the merging of power-structures between our state’s legislative branch and executive branch. There are some very specific examples, like the executive/legislative tag team bullying of public school educators on social media and Senator Breanne Davis gunning for a spot in the governor’s inner circle. There has also been word of legislators being strong-armed into voting “yes” on the governor’s omnibus education bill and troubling reports the governor has forbidden journalists from contacting state officials without receiving consent from her office beforehand.

To the average Arkansan, especially one who (understandably) finds politics messy and ridiculous, the examples above may seem like run-of-the-mill political power moves.

America worked hard remove itself out from under the crown’s thumb. Do we really want to go back to that?

The truth is, there’s a more serious component to this commingling of government branches. Recall your middle school civics lesson about the importance of governmental checks and balances.

The three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) are meant to serve in a balanced way to keep the power of each branch in check. The governor (executive branch) can veto a bill that the legislature (legislative branch) passes. The legislature can then override that veto with a higher threshold of votes. The courts (judicial branch) can then take up the issues of constitutionality brought forward from the laws that are passed, and declare the laws constitutional or not.

Each of the three branches of our state government, just like our federal government, is accountable to the other two in some way. This system is by design, ensuring power is not centralized in one branch or individual — namely, the governor. In these great United states, our founding fathers were determined to prevent monarchical rule. No kings and queens for America.  We have separation of powers so the three branches of government can be accountable to one another, to the people of Arkansas, and to prevent absolute rule by one individual. 

This is why when we see the legislators teaming up with the Governor’s staff to cyberbully a superintendent for speaking out against a bill, it is more concerning than if it were a couple of members of the legislature alone.

This is why when we see legislators who are known for speaking out against unfunded mandates allowing costly reform with little pushback, we wonder, “What’s he afraid of?

This is why when we’re told that members of the legislature are being threatened by the governor to have funding withheld from their districts, we are alarmed on a constitutional level.

With a GOP supermajority, she already doesn’t have to work across the aisle. Now we’re witnessing her reckless squashing of dissent within her own party.

This is more than a Governor who came to play hardball. Let’s call it what it is— an unprecedented abuse of power and rejection of norms that sets a tone for what’s to come in the Sanders administration.