Paul Jacob
As the summer ends, here's hoping you and your family were able to find the time and money to take a vacation and get away from it all. Yet, forgive the good citizens of Arkansas if they don't express similar sentiments for their state legislators, who happen to be vacationing all across the country.

And sending the bills to taxpayers back home.

Legislators in Arkansas, as in every other state, regularly moan about finding enough money for essential government services. But, one might wonder as to their definition of "essential." Last year, Arkansas legislators miraculously found the dough to reward themselves with a nice, fat pay-raise.

This year, legislators discovered an innovative method to maintain services and accomplish ever more of their brilliant schemes. They passed the largest tax increase in state history. (Now, why didn't we think of that?)

After the hard work of legislative sessions filled with audacious pay-raises and muscular tax increases, haven't these public servants earned a little rest and relaxation?

Well, lately, they have certainly been getting their share. In July, 38 Arkansas legislators attended a National Conference of State Legislatures convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Such conferences are part vacation and part education. However, I'm not sure most citizens consider the occasion of legislators and lobbyists kibitzing in fancy resorts to be the optimum sort of learning environment for their representatives. Exactly what is being taught, and what lessons learned?

In 2002, the National Conference of State Legislatures convention featured a lavish tribute to Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, in honor of his role in leading Idaho legislators to repeal unilaterally their state's voter-enacted term limits law. As one NCSL muckety-muck put it: "Speaker Newcomb demonstrated extraordinary political courage and a deep commitment to the institution of the state legislature by taking on the unpopular challenge of repealing term limits."

They even gave the courageously unrepresentative Newcomb a special award ? The William M. Bulger Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award. It's worth noting that the award's namesake is the former Massachusetts senate president who in 1992 refused to abide by the state constitution, which explicitly required legislators to vote on a term limits petition from citizens. Yet, Bulger is better known for taking the Fifth Amendment before a congressional committee when asked if he knew the whereabouts of his brother, Whitey, wanted on murder charges.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.