Senate President Bart Hester once weaponized FOIA to help control the Governor’s narrative. Now he’s gutting FOIA to help control her narrative again.

Sanders and her Arleg loyalists claim the state’s Freedom of Information Act is being weaponized by the radical left to threaten her safety. The truth is, she would rather change the state’s transparency laws than be held accountable to Arkansans; read our post about it here.

But the Governor’s press conference about the FOIA-killer special session reminded us how the GOP has used FOIA in the past to intimidate and punish members of its own party.

What’s that one political adage again? Oh right: every accusation is a confession.

During this year’s regular legislative session, the Governor and her hype squad ran a six week PR campaign ahead of the LEARNS Act. But the statewide messaging effort revealed little to nothing of the bill’s substance, leaving Arkansans — including lawmakers — wondering what the bill would actually do. The Governor and her team had to come up with something to present to the public, especially since Sanders was scheduled to give the GOP response to President Biden’s State of the Union address.

At a GOP-only watch party for Sanders’ televised response, the Governor’s team placed promotional posters up that outlined top-line elements of LEARNS. Shortly after, a pic of the poster was circulated online among education advocates just hours before Sanders’ official LEARNS press conference. Someone from her own party had taken a photo of the poster and shared it with the public.

The infamous leaked LEARNS photo

Over the next few days, top GOP insiders, including Senate Pro Tem Bart Hester, submitted multiple FOI requests to public school district superintendents (quick reminder that Hester is on record stating superintendents are the “enemy”; this seems to only be true when they’re in his way) to discern which member leaked the photo of the poster.

Hester and lobbyist Nic Horton (were they working together?) pounded away at the FOI requests until they found the leak: GOP freshman Representative Wade Andrews of District 98.

According to our own FOI records, it seems Rep. Andrews wasn’t acting nefariously when he shared the photo with a superintendent in his district.

We don’t know his intent, but one could assume Andrews was doing right by superintendents, sharing relevant information that would impact their public schools.

What happened after Hester and co. found the leak?

We don’t know, because Rep. Andrews claimed legislative exemption from our request on the matter. In response to our request, House chief counsel John Vines stated our request didn’t fall under FOIA because it did not “record the performance or lack of performance of official functions.”

So there you have it. Bart Hester weaponized FOIA to help control the Governor’s narrative on LEARNS, but is now the sponsor of a bill that will gut FOIA to help control the Governor’s narrative.

It’s our guess that Rep. Andrews got a serious brushback from Sanders and the caucus for sharing information relevant to the public with… the public. Too bad GOP dressing downs are exempt from FOIA requests.