Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

TOP STORY >>McDaniel reports progress

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With the leadership of first-term Gov. Mike Beebe and support of the attorney general’s office, the state is free for the first time in decades from the Lake View school-funding decision and court oversight, Attorney Gen. Dustin McDaniel told Cabot Rotarians Tuesday, just moments into his address.

“We took a totally new approach,” said McDaniel. “We decided to win on the merits.”

And after the legislature put hundreds of millions of dollars into school facilities, teacher salaries and pre-kindergarten programs, the special masters released the state from oversight.

“We put unprecedented dedication into education,” he said. “It’s a new day.”

“The largest tax cut in state history was coupled with the largest increase in educational funding,” he said.

Arkansas’ dedication to funding pre-kindergarten was now the model, with future students better prepared to learn and to compete in the marketplace.

“Every dollar we spend on pre-kindergarten is a dollar we won’t have to spend on jails in the future,” he said.

McDaniel said he was amazed daily by the lengths some people will go to prey upon their fellow man “with no soul at all.”

He said his office had successfully protected Arkansas ratepayers before the Public Service Commission from a $150 million a year rate hike proposed by Entergy. In fact, he said, the PSC ordered a $6 million a year decrease beginning next month.
“So for some families, twenty, thirty, forty dollars a month makes a huge difference,” he said.

Addressing some of the popular scams defrauding people of hundreds and thousands of dollars, McDaniel warned, “Nobody in Zimbabwe wants to email you $10 million.”

He said his office has filed suit in Jonesboro against a company advertising in Spanish and charging $150 for an “international driver’s license,” which is particularly attractive to immigrants seeking some sort of legal documentation. “The drivers’ licenses include holograms and magnetic strips and look very professional, but signify nothing,” he said.

He told of one Arkansas resident who bought two nonexistent jet skis on eBay for $10,000 and his office’s quick response, which had the money back in her account in days.

McDaniel said he and Beebe had decided to join 10 other states paying a private law firm to represent them in a suit against the manufacturer of Zyprexia for psychotics—people howling at the moon from under a bridge—but which was represented to physicians as appropriate for children and senior citizens with attention- deficit disorder or dementia.

Not only was it not approved for such use, but also the side effects can include great weight gain.

He said one 9-year-old boy gained 160 pounds in months and as a result developed Type II diabetes.

McDaniel said the states had negotiated the law firm’s take down to 15 percent, much lower than most contingency rates.
He said the law firm would bring hundreds of lawyers to the fight, something that his office couldn’t do and he warned that the pharmaceutical industry would produce misleading advertisements trying to erode support for the suit.

Paraphrasing federal District Judge Bill Wilson, McDaniel said going to work at the state attorney general’s office is “like getting paid to eat ice cream.” He said he is paid to do good things, just like schoolteachers and ministers.

“Serving is what God expects,” he said.