Making a Mountain Out of a Non-Existent Molehill

Maybe I shouldn’t at this point, but I continue to find it absolutely hilarious how many Republicans on Twitter will lose their collective mind at the drop of hat without thinking through an entire issue.1

The Senate prevents a tax cut from passing? OUTRAGE! Do you care that said cut was unconstitutional and would have cost the state the cost of doomed litigation in federal court? NO! GRAB YOUR PITCHFORKS! RABBLE RABBLE!

The Democrats vote in favor of redistricting maps that don’t favor Republicans? LET’S MARCH ON THE CAPITOL!!!!  Do you think Republicans would have even tried to draw non-partisan maps if the roles were reversed? THAT DOESN’T MATTER! FORGET MARCHING; LET’S LIGHT THE CAPITOL ON FIRE!!!

It was not surprising, then, to see so many of the Twitter-based GOP brain trust going bat-turds over Jason Tolbert’s post on Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and an FOIA exemption.

Wait.  Let me back up and set the stage.

After a story in the Democrat-Gazette quoting the AG’s office saying that they had been working on some redistricting maps, Jason requested copies of the proposed maps.  Spokesman for the AG’s office, Aaron Sadler, replied (correctly) to Jason that these maps are considered working papers under the FOIA, and they are exempt from FOIA disclosure under A.C.A. 25-19-105(b)(7), which excludes

Unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General.

Tolbert then sent a second request to the AG’s Office, which was also sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Governor’s Office, and the Board of Apportionment. The AG again claimed the statutory exemption; the Governor claimed the exemption, but also said that they had no draft maps; and the Board and the Secretary of State fulfilled the request.

Well, Wednesday, after 2nd Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington tweeted “Just heard @AttyGenMcDaniel discuss the importance of the FOIA and the public’s right to know,” Tolbert thought it ironic that the AG would make this comment while denying Tolbert’s FOIA requests twice in a week. Tolbert, while admitting that the statutory exemption was legit, ended his post asking “If the public has a ‘right to know’ as he states, why not freely give up his exemption?”

Now, I don’t mean to sound like I am criticizing Tolbert for the post in the least. Jason knows his audience well, so I figure he knew that, whether the exemption was legit or not, Jojo Conservative McTeaBagger would jump all over this post as “proof” that the AG was (a) a hypocrite or (b) doing something untoward.

Sho’nuff, almost on cue, whichever genius runs the @ARGOP Twitter account screeched:

@ARGOP: Is @ArkDems @AttyGenMcDaniel plotting another “Fayetteville Finger?” http://ow.ly/4YBwY #arkdems #argop #arleg

This 160-character brilliance was picked up by such noted non-partisan thinkers as @atucr (the Arkansas Tech University College Republicans), @ArkCR (the Arkansas College Republicans), and @KRyanJames (K. Ryan James, the former Timmy! Griffin campaigner and staffer who (allegedly) lost his job in Griffin’s D.C. office because of his penchant for writing stupid stuff on Twitter under a fake name).

Other tweets, both from the ARGOP (who apparently had nothing better to do than to pretend like this was an issue) and from similarly minded Republicans, were prevalent as well. To hear this group tell it, AG McDaniel was … doing … something wrong?

Even though, you know, he wasn’t.

What’s more, the people who were acting like McDaniel was somehow in the wrong were — surprise! — not even thinking about what they were complaining about.

For one thing, the exemption in A.C.A. 25-19-105(b)(7) does not apply to the Board of Apportionment, meaning that, the instant that the AG’s Office forwards these maps to the Board, they are subject to the FOIA. Considering that it is the maps that actually go to the Board that are subject to votes and could possibly become the boundary lines, I’d think that waiting until they are actually sent to the Board is not asking all that much. As soon as there’s the slightest chance that these maps could have an impact in your life, you can get them under the FOIA. Prior to that, why would you care?

For another, has anyone considered what it would mean if the AG waived the exemption? It’s not an exemption that only applies to Board maps, mind you; it also applies to working papers, unpublished memoranda, and other office documents that relate to the AG’s role in criminal and civil cases. By asking him to waive the exemption, people are asking McDaniel to put himself in a position down the road where, when he rightly declines to waive the exemption regarding office documents in a court case, Republicans inevitably whine about how he is “inconsistent” in his application of the FOIA. Considering that the maps are available from the Board the instant that they are submitted, why would anyone expect him to create a poor precedent that puts him in a no-win situation?

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1 Not that Democrats are immune, mind you, but, assuming you aren’t one of the loons in question, you can’t spend much time on Twitter following Arkansas politics without admitting that the vocal Republican crazies outnumber the vocal Democrat crazies by a huge margin.