Our first-term state senator, Dan Sullivan, laid forth his views first in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and then in The Sun under the heading “By what authority?” Sullivan relies entirely on the Bill of Rights.

Better to start at the beginning; “WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to our ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Put very simply, personal liberties do not trump everything else. Missouri’s motto is “The safety of the people is the supreme law.”

Defending public health has a long history. Europeans brought smallpox, a killing and disfiguring disease that killed more Native Americans than anything else. It continued to haunt Arkansas. Prior to the Civil War, a young immigrant arrived in Little Rock and was stricken by this disease. Without friends or family, he was left locked up for three days until he died.

Throughout the 19th century victims were made to sleep on lard-coated sheets and all their possessions were burned. Although English, Dr. Edward Jennings perfected a vaccine in 1796 and compulsory vaccinations became common in civilized parts of the country, and the Fort Smith New Era newspaper called for such a law in 1881, nothing was done. The Arkansas Legislature then and now was totally opposed to science.

In 1898, a returning Spanish-American War veteran brought smallpox to Salem in Fulton County, and 400 cases were the result. By 1900 half the counties reported cases. In 1916 the Legislature mandated vaccinations for all school children. Two state Supreme Court decisions upheld the law. Through vaccinations, this disease would become effectively eradicated.

Yellow fever led to massive quarantining in the 1870s as Forrest City’s population fell from 1,300 to 70. Repeatedly, all transportation was quarantined, and armed guards were posted.

Sen. Sullivan, so vigilant for liberty that he ordered everything opened up in June 2020, was not a libertarian on alcohol and voted against the new state law that permitted a brew club to open on Gee Street. Dying from COVID is, I guess, one of his “God-given rights,” but drinking is not. Jonesboro is an economic bright spot but remains a political dark hole.

Michael B. Dougan