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OPINION: 'Red State' talk warns of divisive laws coming soon

by Maylon Rice | January 5, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.

Just days before Christmas, partisan politics ambushed Arkansas PBS (a new name for what was formerly Arkansas Educational Television Network or AETN).

And just to make it clear, state Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, wasn't kidding when he said a prospective contractor's personal political views didn't match his.

Sullivan said on Dec. 20 in an interview, he believes the views of people to whom the state awards contracts should be "reflective of the views of the state of Arkansas," which is a red state.

So, according to Sullivan, if your views "... aren't red – well, your state contract for services is dead," if he has anything to say about its approval.

How far have we tumbled over this "Red State," or "Blue State" rhetoric in Arkansas (and the nation)?

Arkansas PBS pulled its two contract requests for educational programming services after Sullivan brought up a prospective contractor's personal political views during a subcommittee meeting earlier this month.

His knowledge of the contractor's personal political views came from none other than Sullivan, himself. He personally bragged that he alone examined the contractor's personal twitter pages.

When does a state Senator have time to go through the thousands of state contracts or prospective contractors for a state contract request?

He and a couple of his far-right GOP legislative pals sure had time to argue against these proposed pair of contracts totaling $260,000 to produce educational content seeking to address learning loss among elementary school children. Funding would come from a federal grant.

Sullivan seemed relished on calling out one of the producers, Jesse McMahon, and saw what he described as "radical" views on climate change and the Biden administration's proposed infrastructure package.

Uh oh, climate change – like tornadoes and storms -- wouldn't a state Senator in a tornado alley of Arkansas – as the city of Jonesboro -- know something about climate change?

Apparently not.

"What restrictions are there on making sure, when she produces this curriculum, that it is in the best interest of Arkansas students, and what prevents her from presenting things that may be divisive, diverse, equitable, inclusive?" Sullivan asked, according to the newspaper accounts of the legislative meeting.

But let us get back to Sullivan's beliefs that the views of people to whom the state awards contracts should be "reflective of the views of the state of Arkansas," which is a "red state."

To try to argue the point, sadly, on site that day was Arkansas PBS's Marty Ryall, director of external relations for Arkansas PBS. Ryall said the state network will have oversight over everything the producers put together, and that the content will adhere to standards from the Arkansas Department of Education.

Ryall, who has been awarded national accolades for his external relations work with the network, can't put up a good argument against these politicians.

In fact, Ryall, is a rather jovial, but ineffective spokesman during the Arkansas PBS membership drives – often bordering on comical – in trying to get viewers to give donations for programs he, as an individual, clearly has not seen or watches on the network.

But Ryall, as a state employee, had more to lose by not cow-towing or trying to backtalk these politicians who apparently smelled blood in the water and were dead set on jerking these two contracts.

And they would have if Arkansas PBS hadn't pulled them off the table.

Now the matter, it seems, is put off until January's legislative meeting. Ryall and Arkansas PBS are scrambling behind the scenes to ensure legislators that Arkansas PBS will have oversight and control.

Ryall added that Arkansas PBS had considered several people for the contracts and focused on the backgrounds of McMahon and the other producer, Adam Rudman, in creating educational content for children. He noted that Rudman had worked on the PBS show Sesame Street, but Sullivan said "Sesame Street has taken a pretty good turn to the left."

Now quit picking on Big Bird Senator. The name of the program for those who worry about subversive messages "bleeding" into public television is "Nature Cat."

And we know Big Bird is wary of cats and now Arkansas senators too.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: 'Red State' talk warns of divisive laws coming soon

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