Arkansas Lawmakers Reject Themselves

by Maggie Van Ostrand

There’s so much more out there than primaries, caucuses and election coverage. There’s Arkansas.

Just when we thought the theft of our personal freedoms had added yet another level of frustration right along with no smoking in a saloon, no guns even though you’re getting robbed, and no place to buy products made in the U.S.A., we learn that all is not lost. America is still full of it’s own particular brand of humor and just plain don’t-tell-us-we-can’t-do-that attitude. There’s news, and the news is big.

Arkansas lawmakers have rejected a ban on snuff.

At first glance, this might not seem like a big thing, not compared with “Get us out of Iraq,” “Why are so many of our politicians crooked?” or “If Americans don’t allow child labor or eat dogs, how come we buy from a country that does?” but just give this micro-revolution a little thought.

Sure, it’s not the same as throwing tea into Boston Harbor to protest unjust taxation (although that might not be a bad idea even today), but it is one small voice crying out “Enough!!!!” That’s the old American way. We didn’t allow ourselves to be pushed around then, the way we do now with everybody having to be so very correct, politically speaking. Except in Arkansas.

But in Little Rock, the lawmakers will not be forced go give up their spittoons or cans of snuff, thanks to some good, tough House of Representative members who fought back and rejected a year-old rule banning chewing tobacco from their chambers. Imagine that. A guy couldn’t even chew and spit. Now that’s not the American way. Never was, never will be.

It was a shame when attempts were made to ban the use of all tobacco products, when Arkansas House rules and state law already prohibited the smoking of cigars, cigarettes or pipes in their chamber. What’s a congressman to do when all those rules and regulations the state has might tempt them to take a drag off a Camel or a Marlboro? After all, if you count the dead armadillos in the road between Arkansas and Virginia where a lot of tobacco comes from, it’s not that far between the two states.

In Arkansas, rules prohibit food and drink in the chamber, but they do permit a day’s worth of tobacco juice, which allegedly brings joy similar to that of Dogpatch’s Kickapoo Joy Juice, seeing as how they’re not allowed anything else.

They did stay within the letter of the law, technically anyway, because they put loathsome pictures of tobacco-chewin’ diseased mouths on the desks of all members as a last-ditch effort to win the vote to ban even a little tobaccy.

Apparently the Associated Press is interested in this little freedom as well, because they reported some of the conversations as follows:

“We need to set an example in here for all the kids who sit in the gallery and watch us work,” said Democrat Rep. Randy Stewart.

Rep. Billy Gaskill, who smokes and does not chew tobacco, said he opposed the ban and suggested supporters of the restriction were hypocrites with their own health problems.

“Here we go again, telling us how to live and how to die, and the very people that are most for this amendment are about 50 pounds overweight,” said Gaskill, another Democrat. “Leave us alone. … Let us die the way we want to.”

Rep. Monty Davenport, who voted against the ban, pulled out a can of chewing tobacco during an interview outside the House chamber after the vote. Davenport said he wouldn’t have minded if the ban passed and said he’s trying to quit using chewing tobacco.

“It is gross, and as a health issue you can’t defend it. It’s unhealthy,” said Davenport, a Democrat.

A law banning smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces in Arkansas has gone into effect. It does not cover chewing tobacco.