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Catching Up.

IT'S TIME TO CATCH UP ON A number of observations after several months away from this space:

* The ongoing controversy regarding University of Arkansas football games in Little Rock has inflicted deep -- and perhaps permanent -- wounds on relations between central and northwest Arkansas. This division is the last thing Arkansas needs. As important as Razorback football may be to some people, we can't let sports split this state.

* I'm ready to eat crow about what was expected to be a horrendous parking situation at Alltel Arena. After nearly a year of operation, parking has been a nonissue, and everyone involved in the parking plan and implementation is to be commended. On the other hand, downtown Little Rock is every bit as bad as expected with no sign of improvement.

* UA Chancellor John White publicly chastised the northwest Arkansas legislative delegation for its lack of effectiveness in generating more funding for the university. What could he have possibly been thinking? I'm now absolutely convinced that White needs to stick to his visionary thinking, keep his mouth shut and let UA system president Alan Sugg and lobbyist Joyce Wroten handle the politics.

* Arkansas dodged a bullet once again with the Arkansas Supreme Court's ouster of the property tax elimination ballot proposal. Now here's hoping the Arkansas Casino Corp.'s gambling initiative falls short on signatures, because it's one of the shadiest organizations and worst proposals imaginable.

The Coalition for a Healthy Arkansas Today (CHART) plan that outlines investments for the $1.6 billion tobacco settlement has survived the process and will be on the November ballot. Its focus on specific health-related treatment, prevention, education and research measures is right on target. Criticism of the research elements is incredibly short-sighted and can be overcome with the voters.

* The growth of the two-year college campuses across Arkansas is remarkable. New facilities in West Memphis, Mountain Home, Rogers and El Dorado that I've seen in recent weeks are very impressive, and many of them are focused on much-needed technology programs. The two-year colleges are filling education voids that were in those communities, and the cities are showing strong commitments to them.

* Porter Moser is an exciting choice as the new head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He offers a refreshing attitude, displays extraordinary drive and energy and shows every sign of being hungry for success. I think we're in for some exciting years ahead.

* It's embarrassing to think what visitors to the capital city must be thinking from the stories dominating the media: a Chinese "sex slave" trial, the football brouhaha and the "triple wide" governor's s mansion.

* Which is sadder: Arkansas' continued loss of public companies or the pain of watching the stock prices sink for what's left of the Arkansas public company stocks? By the way, Southwestern Energy Co. in Fayetteville appears to be the next departing firm. Like .Arkla Inc., Arkansas' loss will be Houston's gain.

* Arkansas' little remaining influence on utility players Arkla/Reliant Energy and Entergy Corp. is quickly disappearing. Arkla eliminated its Arkansas division president position (formerly filled by Mike Means), and now Entergy will become part of an even bigger electric operator.

* What's up with the Gov. George W. Bush presidential campaign raising so much more money in Arkansas than Vice President Al Gore? First and foremost is the support of Gov. Mike Huckabee and his ability to generate contributions. Second, Arkansas "investors" in two campaigns for Bill Clinton received little return, so why should they think a Gore investment is worthwhile? I do think significantly more money ultimately will be raised for Gore in Arkansas.

Jeff Hankins is president and publisher of Arkansas Business Publishing Group.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 7, 2000
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