OPINION: Jason Rapert, picked for library board, may find service not his cup of tea

Just in time for around-the-table political discussion of the Thanksgiving holiday, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has nominated former State Senator Jason Rapert of Bigelow to the state's library board.

And it was, to be blunt, such an outlandish move as to upset most holiday dinners. Some in the family had to go outside and sneak a smoke, stealthily take a swig of whiskey or even howl out loud at the early rising moon on Thanksgiving eve.

Others, especially those who can only remember the Rev. Rapert for his one and only biggest legislative achievement in his decade in the legislature -- that of shoving through a monument to the Ten Commandments on state capitol grounds -- were excited about moving backwards yet again. And even that project, fraught with Rev. Rapert and his personal charity, The Holy Ghost Ministries, raising the monies (which were never entirely made public) gave many sane persons pause of his divine proclivity for wanting only cash donations towards this project.

After much thought, I am not sure whether Rapert, who accepted the call from the Governor's Mansion for this new role, knew what he (and the governor) was getting into.

First, and in full transparency, I have served 10 years on the Fayetteville Public Library Board of Directors, I am currently a Trustee Emeritus of that institution by a vote of its Board. I am (and have been for years) a dues paying member of the Arkansas Library Association. I have been a dues paying member of the American Library Association. And I am a firm advocate for public libraries open to everyone in every community in our state and our nation.

But Rev. Rapert will be a poor, poor nomination to the state library board.

The qualifications are spelled out in the Arkansas State Library Board bylaws. Under article 3, membership, it plainly reads: "The Board shall be composed of seven members appointed by the governor, and subject to confirmation by the Arkansas Senate, for their interest in libraries and statewide library development." I emphatically stress the latter part of that sentence: "... for their interest in libraries and statewide library development."

Rev. Rapert, using words from his own mouth, has said his presence on the board is to believe "the board should consider suspending funds from any library suing the state (some libraries are currently in a legal battle with the state over Act 372)." In other words, just the opposite of the written intent of the board.

Rev. Rapert in all his years in the state senate has never once advocated for libraries. Just the opposite. He has time and time again, swung his limited Biblical teachings at all attempts for any type of literary development in Arkansas.

Rev. Rapert is an unlikely library board member, having said on his "Save the Nation" YouTube program that Jesus would likely have burned books, and that librarians who let children access books with LGBTQ+ themes would be better off outfitted with millstones around their necks and sunk to the bottom of the Arkansas River.

I say he will have a tough time, stepping down from a state senator to serving on a state public board with six other individuals and a state director of libraries.

First, he has never had "an interest in libraries and statewide library development."

Secondly, he will be under the Freedom Of Information Act, like he has never been before. Every email he sends to the library director, or other board members, or any state staffer of the Library Commission, state finance and Administration or others, will be under the FOI. As a state Senator, many such emails were considered "legislative working papers," and not under FOI.

His behind-the-scenes written tirades and threats will be available for public display.

Some in the state Senate have already begun forming sides. His own state Senator, Terry Rice (not related) of Waldron, says he is "for Rapert." Others such as Democrat state Senators Greg Leding of Fayetteville and Republican Bryan King of Green Forest, have expressed rebuking the Rapert nomination.

Others, especially veteran senate members of the majority Republican Party, say it "might be a hard issue" to refuse Rapert the appointment, knowing his ire and his constant revenge factor over such a slight as saying no to his appointment.

The member of the state library board that Rapert is replacing Joan McNeal of Greenbrier was never told she wouldn't be reappointed, but replaced by Rapert.

But fairness, civility, decorum and fair play have never been a part of Rapert's playbook. One must wonder if our governor reads that same awful script these days.

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several Northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected].