As we close out 2020, I am also closing out my responsibilities as District 9 state representative, including these weekly articles. I hope my successor will find keeping you informed and traveling around Drew and Ashley counties as delightful as I have for the past four years.
I wish I had kept track of the numbers of parades and fairs and events I’ve had the pleasure of attending in this time. You can throw a lot of candy during 18 parades— among them Christmas, county fairs, rodeo, military, Juneteenth, MLK! I spoke at senior luncheons, civic meetings, Juneteenth celebrations, church homecomings, county spelling bees and even emceed a beauty pageant. I’ve met you each year at annual hospital fundraisers, robotics tournaments, MLK events, and Chamber of Commerce, education foundation and NAACP banquets. I enjoyed 4H dinners and career fairs and ribbon cuttings for new businesses.
Through you, I learned about rural water systems and highways. I’ve been to school board and City Council and Quorum Court meetings and appreciate even more the importance of being involved in local government. I spoke to you each year at Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day events in both counties, where I’ve loved meeting veterans and seeing girl and boy scout troops honoring those that fought for freedoms we so often take for granted. I was honored to celebrate veterans that served in Vietnam in numerous ceremonies, to lay wreaths on gravesites, and to speak to students about patriotism and service.
I came to appreciate even more the state employees that keep our state running during a crisis, to include at the Health Department, Workforce Services, Revenue Office, Transportation Department, and the Department of Human Services. I also have tremendous respect for our first responders, and appreciate the Police and Fire Chiefs in District 9 , as well as the State Police that have helped me understand their needs and the work they do, and how important it is for legislators to support them. Thanks to each one of you that helped me represent southeast Arkansas better.
I fell in love all over again with UAM and its students and staff as I visited classes and talked about politics and policy. Sitting on the Higher Education subcommittee allowed me to advocate for it even more. It’s been a few years since I attended summer school there to gain credits to graduate early from college to “catch” Bobby Burch, who was 2 years ahead of me. I’ve loved hearing from constituents that knew him and also his family. He and his dad, Dr. Robert Burch (Sr.) were part of the dental community of SE Arkansas for 50 years. I better understood the fears and struggles of small businesses because of them.
Cancer took Bobby six years ago, and his father and mother before him. Their struggles with this horrible disease gave me insight on policy and legislation dealing with healthcare and the caregivers that journey with loved ones down paths no one wants to take.
When you drive the 65 mph speed limit on I-530 between Star City and Pine Bluff, please smile at how this legislator, in her first term, learned the importance of working with the Department of Transportation and ensuring people there understood the need to re-look at that original speed limit. Relationships matter. People matter.
Some of my favorite days were spent visiting the 4 school districts in District 9. I’m glad they didn’t limit me to “Bring Your Legislator to School Month (September)” for my visits. I laughingly have said that I had those superintendents on a group message I would “speed dial” during the legislative sessions, especially when the issue of vouchers and tax credits for private schools would arise. I expect it will arise and will pass this upcoming session, and that will be a shame for rural public schools if alternate funding can’t be found to supplement what this will cost them. Let your representatives know how you feel about taking money from public schools.
I appreciate the superintendents, teachers, staff and students that helped educate me about the needs of rural public schools, and awed me with their passion for children and the future of our state and nation. Serving on the House Education Committee helped me better understand school funding, as well as the struggles of students and schools with inadequate broadband availability during a pandemic. I also loved hearing our local choir students sing holiday songs in the Capitol Rotunda when the Capitol was decorated in all its Christmas glory.
I was honored to Chair the House Hunger Caucus and raise money for the food banks in our area and across our state. Visiting distribution sites and meeting the volunteers that staff them so that others can eat is humbling and inspirational. I also chaired the House Military Caucus, and was honored to focus on legislation and research that has benefitted veterans and military families.
I learned that partisan politics can get in the way of doing good things for Arkansas, and certainly for SE Arkansas. Working together to find commonalities, and not punishing others for having differing views, makes good sense in politics. It’s a lesson I wish politicians in Washington would exercise more often.
Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving. To those of you that reached out and asked, informed, badgered, shouted and otherwise got in touch with me about ideas, needs, invitations and more – thank you. You gave me insight and passion and knowledge and hope.
I’m not sure what’s in store for me in 2021, but I hope it includes more time for grandkids and traveling. I’ll still keep up with what’s happening in Arkansas politics, so give me a shout if you want to meet for coffee and talk. And for goodness sake, please pay attention to what is happening during the 93rd General Session that starts in January.
Remember you can also read all bills that are filed, watch committee meetings and daily sessions, and see how each legislator votes on every bill online at www.arkansashouse.org. The Senate also has a link to watch its meetings and sessions on its website.