Understanding Arkansas’ brightest future depends on leaders’ ability to work together without sacrificing their values

It’s the United States of America. It never was, and never will be, the United People of America.

Name a time when the people of this country were united politically. Post 9/11, some will say, but that was unity in grief, grief and, to some extent, a desire for revenge. But there were still Republicans and there were still Democrats and there were still disagreements about politics. For a while, the attacks caused most to be more civil towards one another and to accept the fact that we are all Americans. We put the differences aside for a while as the nation recovered and responded, but in the 21 years since then we’ve moved away from that politically.

Pearl Harbor? Certainly, Americans united in a common defense against our enemies, but World War II brought even the United States and the Soviet Union together in a common purpose. Sometimes a unifier comes in the form of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Today’s social and political divisions reflect a deep rift between the country’s major political parties, and this is reflected in the population as a whole. As the Bible says about the poor, such divisions will always be with us. If you go back to the men who designed a political system 246 years ago that presupposed individual rights and liberties, they would say that dissent is a trait in the United States, not a flaw.

The question is – and has always been throughout the nation’s history – can Americans, despite their differences, find the commonality needed to create a productive future? And if not all Americans, what about their leaders?

“It’s still a 50-50 country,” Mitch McConnell noted last week when he was re-elected as GOP leader in the US Senate. “They gave us a 50-50 government again. I think what the public will see is if this tightly divided Congress can accomplish anything that will be good for them in terms of their lives.”

The longtime Kentucky politician suggested that President Biden and Senate Democrats try to “try to find some things between the 40-yard lines that we can agree on and do them.”

Right back to you, Mitch, the Democrats might say. It takes two to tango (does anyone tango in Kentucky? Maybe if they don’t constipate, which is rare).


[DROPCAP] This is at the national level. We are just as concerned, if not more so, about what is happening here in Arkansas. There is already a tendency for state politics to occasionally resemble the tug-of-war-like battles of Washington DC, but our small state cannot afford to have its oars pulling in opposite directions. There is too much to do and too much at stake as Arkansans work to improve the state’s national standing on so many fronts. Forty-nine (“Thank God for Mississippi!”) is not the full realization of the state’s potential, far from it.

Stagnation is unlikely as the Republican supermajority grew in both chambers of the state Capitol and Democratic representation shrank as a result of the Nov. 8 election. And any majority party might be tempted to simply ignore the people of Arkansas who—misguided according to the GOP—vote Democrats to represent them.

The situation boils down to the same question: is there a common ground for political leaders to move forward that the vast majority of Arkansans can feel good about?

Benton County’s Bart Hester, a senator since 2013, will take office as pro-tempore Senate president in January in a legislature that has more Northwest Arkansas representatives than ever before due to the region’s growing share of the state’s population . Here’s what he thinks Northwest Arkansas voters want:

“They don’t want the Legislature to be in the national news,” he said, citing the area’s Fortune 500 companies and their ongoing recruitment of employees in Northwest Arkansas. “When people out of state go to Google and search for Northwest Arkansas, we want them to see stories about bike lanes, safe roads and good jobs, not something the legislature has done.”

What does he mean? Hester can speak for himself, but it sounded to us like he’s interested in a Senate and House of Representatives where real gains that move the state ahead take precedence over hot-button headline-grabbing issues that make a lot of noise and the upset people, but ultimately have little to do with the state’s brightest future.

Hester, a staunch conservative, showed leadership toward this type of legislature by sitting down (gasp!) with a Senator Greg Leding, a progressive Democrat from what some in the GOP might see as the People’s Republic of Fayetteville.

“The Grand Canyon is between Greg Leding and I politically, but we had lunch together,” Hester said when the Senate recently held a session ahead of the Little Rock session.

It is highly unlikely that the two men will ever see eye to eye when it comes to public policy. But since Arkansans focused on Arkansas issues, no doubt the gulf can sometimes be bridged when people on both sides refuse to make villains out of their counterparts of opposite persuasions.

Every legislator in Northwest Arkansas wants the University of Arkansas to thrive in Fayetteville, Leding said. Every part of the region is affected by the university, Northwest Arkansas National Airport, Northwest Arkansas Community College, growth issues and other issues of common concern, Leding said.

“You never know where to get help from,” he said, encouraging colleagues to avoid partisan lines in the dirt. “Never take anyone’s position on anything.”


[DROPCAP] The attitude of both senators is encouraging. Arkansas has only 135 elected representatives in the House and Senate. The state urgently needs them in order to be able to talk to and listen to one another.

There were times when such a lunchtime might have been avoided because a senator couldn’t be seen by his supporters because he was so sympathetic to “one of them.” It’s hard to imagine that soon-dead lawmakers like Jason Rapert, Trent Garner, or Bob Ballinger would say what Hester said. But Hester seems to know that it isn’t necessary to sacrifice your values ​​in order to have a conversation with someone you don’t agree with. These people need to speak to each other primarily as legislators serving the people of the state, not as Republicans or Democrats.

Outgoing Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a recent interview that Americans sounded a similar trumpet in this month’s midterm national election.

“I think the biggest problem that played out in the midterm elections is something I’ve talked about a lot over the past eight years, which is that voters in general, especially in battleground states, aren’t interested in extremism. .. They want people who they think are sane, who are collaborative and who are some kind of fundamental carriers of democracy, that it’s supposed to be a distributed model of decision-making and you’re supposed to be okay with that.”

Whether in the Bay State or the Natural State, our leaders and their constituents should be okay with that.