The Case of the Mobile Lectern

Arkansas Politics

            New Orleans      This is juicy!  Where’s Sherlock Holmes when we need him?  We have a case dripping with irony.  A politician who was a former press secretary for the president who was notoriously hostile to the press, calling an almost record low number of press conferences from the lectern of the White House Press Room, is now hoisted by her own petard by of all things, a lectern.  Yes, we’re talking about Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is long gone from the White House and that Trump-time, and is now a politician, not a press officer, and governor of Arkansas.  The lectern in question is a mobile job, ready and able to go with her everywhere in its own case.

The lectern cost $19,000, and that’s just part of what has set tongues wagging throughout Arkansas, making front page news in the state and showing up in reports everywhere across the country in all major news outlets and newspapers.  Let’s talk about the problem with the cost first, though, even if that’s just part of the emerging back-and-forth of mystery and denial.

This $19,000 job was bought on a no-bid deal.  It was also bought at this price from a Virginia Beckett and her company, Beckett Events.  Becket is a longtime feature in the Washington, DC political and communications scene, including a stint as field director for Utah Republican Mitt Romney’s ill-fated run at the White House in 2012.  On a no-bid deal, this already looks too cozy by half, but there’s way more.  When the Wall Street Journal priced a similar lectern, here’s what they found:

AmpliVox Portable Sound Systems lists a Falcon lectern similar to the one the governor’s office purchased for sale between $6962 and $7553 for one with a mic.

We’re talking between two and three times less than what the governor paid!

There was also funny business by the governor’s office on the invoice.  When a local blogger made a public information request and this credit card transaction came up, others stepped forward to “provide lawmakers with evidence that the governor’s office altered and withheld files.”  The state Republican Party, seeing blood in the water, and likely getting a call from the red phone in the governor’s office, stepped in and paid the bill after the controversy came to light.

All of this happened in the equally well-publicized national and state uproar over the governor trying to amend the well-regarded Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, so that she would have to reveal less about her expenditures and activity.  When that snowball started rolling down the hill, it triggered an avalanche of FOIA requests, which is part of what turned up the lectern mess.  Even the Arkansas, hard red and right legislative majority, had to turn down the governor’s attempt to hide business from the press and the public.  No one in Arkansas or elsewhere bought the governor’s line that she only wanted the changes in the act for more personal security.  Now she seems to have proven she had plenty to hide.

Sanders, having worked as an apologist for Trump, is simply following his playbook to the “T” and affecting the posture of the aggrieved party.  To hear her tell it, she wasn’t caught in a political mess and an expenditure scam, but is just being targeted because of her great conservative program by Democrats and the left.  Truthfully, these days in Arkansas you could almost put both groups in a good-sized party bus and still have room to pick up people on the way home.  Maybe Sanders needs to spend less time and energy looking over her shoulder and be more careful where she’s going and how she’s getting there, because so far, it’s her own missteps that are tripping her up, while everyone on all sides is watching her fall.