AR-Land Comm: When Rhetorical Questions Attack!

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    In yesterday’s Democrat-Gazette, Michael R. Wickline had a column comparing and contrasting L.J. Bryant and Monty Davenport. (The paper also endorsed Bryant…again.)  The full text of the column is after the jump, and it is well worth a read, but I want to address a few parts of it directly. (All emphases in the blockquotes are mine.)

    Bryant said 62 percent of the voters Tuesday indicated they want the land commissioner’s office to be innovative and use new technology. That’s about how many voted for him and Berg, who promoted some of the same ideas.

    Davenport “seems like a nice guy,” Bryant said, but represents the “status quo” in the office.

    Davenport countered that he wants to improve the office. “I’m all for technology,” he said. “[But] it has to be something that works, that’s do-able and cost-efficient. After all, we are talking about spending taxpayer dollars.”

    Yes, that is exactly what we are talking about: taxpayer dollars. However it is a little surprising to hear someone who billed Arkansas taxpayers $52,047 for per diem, mileage, and expenses in 2009 alone worried about spending a few taxpayer dollars.

    More important than Davenport’s lack of irony in his statement, however, is the idea that any new technology brought to the Land Commissioner’s office “has to be something that works, that’s do-able and cost-efficient.” Implicit in this statement, of course, is Davenport presuppposing that Bryant’s proposals do not meet those criteria. Of course, Davenport fails to explain how or why Bryant’s measures won’t work, which you can chalk up either to laziness, a lack of understanding (my personal choice), or the realization that there isn’t any support for Davenport’s assertion.

    Let me address this through the use of an analogy: why do average, everyday Americans buy computers? I mean, computers are expensive, software is expensive, and both the computer and the software have to be replaced every 5 or 6 years (on average). That being the case, why would anyone buy one, especially in the current economy? Because they make life easier in the long run. With a computer, a person can access the Internet and shop for goods that they would otherwise not be able to find locally, and they can frequently find common goods more cheaply than they would in local stores; they can access online banking, which allows them to better manage their own finances, and they can export that information to other software like Quicken, which allows them to create a budget and stay organized for tax purposes; and they can research anything from a new movie to a new refrigerator, making them smarter and more prepared consumers. In short, a person buys a computer to make his life more efficient. The initial investment required is more than made up for by the savings, both direct and indirect, that the computer provides in the user’s everyday life.

    Efficiency is also exactly what we are talking about with Bryant’s proposed measures. All of the steps he has suggested, from aerial photography of tax-delinquent properties to allowing people to pay online with a credit card to transparency and competition in bidding on properties, are designed to make the office run more efficiently. An efficient office is a less-expensive office because you have reduced wasted time and effort. So, while Davenport crows about “taxpayer dollars,” what he fails to understand is that investment in technology in a effort to streamline the Land Commissioner’s is a form of fiscal responsibility. Holding on to the status quo, while it might make for a good soundbite about “taxpayer dollars” today, actually costs those same taxpayers more down the road, as they are the ones who continue to finance the waste and inefficiency that Davenport clings to.

    “I don’t think [Bryant] is as qualified as I am,” he said. He noted that Bryant obtained a real estate license earlier this year. “If you were in the position of having your land being forfeited for not paying property taxes, who would you want to be dealing with it?” asked Davenport.

    Who would I want to be dealing with it, Monty? Did you really just ask that? Because my answer has nothing to do with how long someone has been licensed to sell real estate.

    • I would want someone whose own track record wasn’t so bad as to inspire a site like greedymontydavenport.com.
    • I would want someone who did not forget to report over $3000 in gifts from lobbyists only to chalk it up to not knowing any better when he was caught.
    • I would want someone who hadn’t explicitly stated that he did not want Arkansas’s land commissioner’s office to be a leader in technological advancement, because I happen to believe that the goal of every elected official should be, in part, to try to make his office one of the best in the nation.
    • I would want someone who showed a basic understanding of economics and was doing everything he could to make his own office run more efficiently rather than hide behind a Luddite philosophy cloaked in a false “taxpayer dollars” excuse.
    • I would want someone who didn’t think that being a real estate agent for 40 years made him more qualified to discuss tax issues than a candidate who actually owns a tax preparation company.
    • In short, I would want an honest, intelligent person who I could trust to treat me fairly and not rip me off for the sake of his own interests.

    In the current race, I would want L.J. Bryant.

    Carmie Henry, a lobbyist for the group, reported that the cooperatives paid $2,124 in food, lodging and airfare for Davenport and his wife to attend a legislative conference on rural electric cooperative issues in Washington, D.C., from April 30-May 4, 2005. He also reported [that] the cooperatives paid $1,075 for food, lodging and airfare for Davenport for an educational tour of a coal mine near Gillette, Wyo., July 8-11, 2006.

    Davenport didn’t list the trips on his annual personal financial-disclosure reports for 2005 or 2006. The state’s financial-disclosure law requires state officials to list on their reports each nongovernmental source of payments for expenses exceeding $150 for food, lodging or travel which bears a relationship to their office when they appear in their official capacity.

    I just overlooked it,” he said, adding that he wasn’t trying to hide that he went on the trips with other lawmakers. Davenport said the trips occurred during his first two-year term as an elected official. “I was just naive.”

    First, would someone please get this man a dictionary? “Naive” means “marked by or showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile or worldly experience.” “Overlooked” means “to fail to notice or take into account.” (It also means “to disregard deliberately or indulgently,” but we’ll give Davenport the benefit of the doubt for a moment.) Translation: saying you were naive means that you were just too inexperienced to know that you had to report those things; saying that you overlooked it means that you knew you had to report them and you simply forgot to. These are not the same thing.

    But, for just a second, let’s assume that you really were naive and did not know that you had to report them. This whole thing occurred four years ago, when you were fifty-eight. If you were really so ignorant as to the requirements of elected officials at fifty-eight years old, it could only be because you had simply failed to ask anyone or look into the matter yourself.  If you didn’t stop to think four years ago that, “gee, maybe I should tell someone about the thousands of dollars in travel and lodging I just got from that lobbyist,” you have demonstrated a basic lack of common sense that is unacceptable in someone now seeking statewide office.

    On the other hand, if you did “just overlook[]” it, you have demonstrated a sloppy inattention to detail that is likewise unacceptable. Why should I trust you to keep track of property deeds, tax payments, and the like if you can’t even keep track of a trip that you are required by law to report?

    Finally,

    Davenport said he won’t accept gifts from lobbyists, either.

    You’ve taken gifts from them for four years — apparently so frequently that you overlooked some of them when reporting those gifts — but you are going to stop now? Riiiiiight.

    Early in this campaign, you said nothing about not taking those gifts. If it takes a competitor who is willing to say that he won’t take them for you to say the same, I can’t help but wonder how your position might change once that competitor was no longer around. Given your history, I have to think greed might win out once again.

    Innovation, qualifications cited in runoff

    Davenport, Bryant let barbs fly in land commissioner race

    A 62-year-old state representative from Yellville and his 23-year-old opponent from Newport are stepping up their criticism of each other in the June 8 Democratic runoff election for land commissioner.

    State Rep. Monty Davenport, a real-estate broker and cattle rancher, qualified for the runoff in Tuesday’s primary but was surprised to finish second behind L.J. Bryant, who has owned his family’s tax service in Jonesboro since 2008 and rents out about 160 acres of farmland that he jointly owns in Poinsett County.

    Mike Berg of Little Rock, who owns a commercial realestate company, failed to qualify for the runoff.

    Bryant said 62 percent of the voters Tuesday indicated they want the land commissioner’s office to be innovative and use new technology. That’s about how many voted for him and Berg, who promoted some of the same ideas.

    Davenport “seems like a nice guy,” Bryant said, but represents the “status quo” in the office.

    Davenport countered that he wants to improve the office. “I’m all for technology,” he said. “[But] it has to be something that works, that’s do-able and cost-efficient. After all, we are talking about spending taxpayer dollars.”

    Davenport said he’s had a real estate broker’s license for about 40 years, brokered thousands of real-estate transactions, and served in the Legislature since 2005.

    “I don’t think [Bryant] is as qualified as I am,” he said. He noted that Bryant obtained a real estate license earlier this year. “If you were in the position of having your land being forfeited for not paying property taxes, who would you want to be dealing with it?” asked Davenport.

    Bryant said whether he’s qualified to be land commissioner is a decision for Arkansas voters. “It really doesn’t matter whether [Davenport] thinks I am not qualified,” he said. Bryant said the Arkansas Realtors Association endorsed him, so it believes he’s the most qualified. “I think age is just a number,” he said. “Mr. Berg and I shared ideas, although we are generations apart.”

    Davenport said he’s been supported by the Arkansas Education Association, the Arkansas AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union.

    A graduate of Yellville-Summit High School, Davenport received a bachelor’s degree in biology at Arkansas State University in 1971. He’s married with three children. Bryant, a Weiner High School alumnus, graduated from Hendrix College with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2008. He’s single.

    The land commissioner primarily oversees the disposition of tax-delinquent property and since 2003 has helped collect more than $40 million in taxes, returning about 49,000 parcels to tax-generating status, according to the office’s website. The tax money goes to public schools and county government.

    The office also preserves certain historical records and issues permits and leases for natural resources on some state-owned lands. The job pays $54,305 a year.

    Term-limited land commissioner Mark Wilcox, a Democrat from Wooster, is in a runoff with Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien for secretary of state. Davenport or Bryant will vie with Republican John M. Thurston of Bigelow, who works for Agape Church in Little Rock. Thurston is 37.

    Wendy Richter, director of the Arkansas History Commission, said she isn’t sure who is the youngest person to be elected as a constitutional officer in Arkansas. Land commissioner is one of the state’s seven constitutional offices (the others are governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor). The first state auditor, Elias Conway, was born in 1812 and elected in 1836 by the General Assembly, Richter said. She’s not sure exactly how old he was when elected. Robert Crittenden was appointed by President James Monroe in 1819 as the first secretary and served as acting governor for the Arkansas territory at the age of 22.

    Nearly two years ago, Bryant narrowly lost in a Democratic primary runoff to now-state Rep. Jody Dickinson of Newport. He worked on then-state Sen. Tim Wooldridge’s unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2005 and 2006 and as an aide to then-[state] Senate President Pro Tempore Jack Critcher, a Democrat from Batesville, for the 2007 legislative session.

    Bryant said it’s “irrelevant” to his bid for land commissioner that he lost a race for the state House.

    So far, Davenport has had a substantial fundraising advantage over Bryant. Davenport reported contributions of $119,350 and spending $115,158 for the primary, according to his last report May 11. Davenport received $2,000 contributions for the primary from, among others, The Stephens Group of Little Rock, Wilson & Associates of Little Rock, U.S. Rep. Marion Berry of Gillett, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s Leadership political action committee, and Texarkana attorneys John Goodson and Matt Keil.

    Bryant reported contributions of $10,165, lending $62,501 to his campaign, and spending $72,673 for the primary. Bryant received a contribution of $2,000 from Arkansas Realtors PAC. His other contributions include $250 from former state Ethics Commissioner Steve Bryant of Batesville and $100 from Bill Bristow, an attorney in Jonesboro who lost to Gov. Mike Huckabee in 1998.

    Bryant said he’s not “a political insider, so I don’t have the support of the political establishment.” Davenport said the land commissioner’s office could use technology to handle a potential increase in workload for tax-delinquent properties. He said he wants all counties to electronically file the legal descriptions of properties. He said he also wants counties to provide correct legal descriptions to the office so people will be able to view the properties online.

    Bryant said he favors using state funds to develop an aerial image of property statewide to allow for better marketing of tax-delinquent properties. Davenport questioned how much that would cost. “All that sounds good,” he said. On Google Earth, one can look at a home and a car with an address, he said.

    Bryant said he’s been advised that it would cost roughly $1.3 million, but it would save counties the cost of doing that and allow for the collection of more taxes.

    Both men said they favor allowing people to pay their delinquent property-tax bills by credit card at the commissioner’s office. Some counties already allow this option, they said. Bryant said it’s worth exploring whether the office should allow competitive bidding such as on eBay with a clock so bidders could over several days submit bids for properties and see one another’s bids.

    Davenport said he’s not ready to turn the office “into an eBay site.” Sealed bids for property already can be submitted to the office online, he said.

    Bryant said he would post the commissioner’s public schedule on the office’s website. He said he wouldn’t accept gifts from lobbyists. That’s not a problem in the office now, he said. Davenport said he won’t accept gifts from lobbyists, either.

    Asked whether he was among many lawmakers who have toured a coal mine in Wyoming over the past several years on the tab of the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., Davenport said he had been on that tour during his first term in the state House of Representatives. Carmie Henry, a lobbyist for the group, reported that the cooperatives paid $2,124 in food, lodging and airfare for Davenport and his wife to attend a legislative conference on rural electric cooperative issues in Washington, D.C., from April 30-May 4, 2005. He also reported [that] the cooperatives paid $1,075 for food, lodging and airfare for Davenport for an educational tour of a coal mine near Gillette, Wyo., July 8-11, 2006.

    Davenport didn’t list the trips on his annual personal financial-disclosure reports for 2005 or 2006. The state’s financial-disclosure law requires state officials to list on their reports each nongovernmental source of payments for expenses exceeding $150 for food, lodging or travel which bears a relationship to their office when they appear in their official capacity.

    “I just overlooked it,” he said, adding that he wasn’t trying to hide that he went on the trips with other lawmakers. Davenport said the trips occurred during his first two-year term as an elected official. “I was just naive.”