Opinion Piece by Paul Harrell
On March 29, 2017 State Representative Josh Miller and Senator Bryan King appeared before the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee to present SB175. The bill would have greatly increased transparency by requiring taxpayer funded Medicaid entities and public officials to disclose their business relationships. The bill failed with seven “Aye” votes and five “Nay” votes. It takes eleven “Aye” votes to pass a bill out of a House committee. See the picture of the vote below.
If the “Nay” vote next to State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw’s doesn’t seem significant to you then you probably haven’t heard the news that Wardlaw used his position as a legislator and as head of the powerful House Public Health committee to secretly enrich himself as well as his secret business partner, nursing home owner David Norsworthy. David Norsworthy is also under investigation for sending a wire transfer to now convicted felon and former state Senator Jake Files for the amount of $80,000. The money was sent shortly after a different bill was filed that would have favored special interests like the nursing home industry.
“Thank you Mr. Chair, I have been texting back and forth with a few agencies here in state government and as you know I am a consistent no vote on big government issues and I had this discussion the other day with somebody about this bill and I got confirmation of it now. If this bill passes in its current form, it’s going to create a whole new division at DHS. Which is, let me remind you, big government. That agency is going to be responsible for having all disclosure forms files. So, I just want to remind you guys that want to go home and say you are for smaller government and lessening government that when you vote this through you are voting for big government. Thank you, Mr. Chair.”
In hindsight, Wardlaw’s reasoning for voting against a bill that would have required him to disclose his secret business dealings seems dishonest at best. Also, consider the possibility “Big Government” itself enabled him to hide from the public his corrupt dealings as a Medicaid provider and lawmaker. Now that the public knows about what Wardlaw was really protecting, his corrupt livelihood, the Arkansas General Assembly must act to make sure this never happens again. If you are not convinced, I highly recommend you watch the video of Wardlaw instead of only reading his remarks. Most people would assume what State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw did was criminal. Sadly, It’s perfectly legal. Watch the video for yourself.