One might say September 11th is a strange day to travel. Then again, one might say September 11th is a strange day to do anything now, except to remember. But on this anniversary of the fateful attacks where so many American civilians and First Responders lost their lives, I fly to Arkansas — in search of the country we carry in our hearts.
Among the 36 states electing new governors, new members of Congress, and new legislatures this year, Arkansas has somehow stayed below the radar of national news coverage. After eight years of solid, progressive Democratic leadership by Governor Beebe, in 2016, Arkansas elected a Republican Governor and Republican supermajorities in their legislature.
But there is an energy in Arkansas that is very much like the energy I have touched in special elections all across the country — from Delaware, to Oklahoma, to Washington state.
It is the energy of an electorate hungry for new leadership.
In Arkansas, a dynamic duo has emerged to make the promise of new leadership a reality. Their names are Jared Henderson and Clarke Tucker. Both young, both white, both male, both husbands and fathers of young kids, and both mainstream Democrats but with the values and fresh perspective of a new generation of leadership.
As I walk down the concourse of the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock, I am met by our Democratic nominee for Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District, Clarke Tucker.
Clarke is 37 years old. He is running for Congress for the first time. A lawyer by training and practice, he studied public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He and his wife Toni have two kids. For the last four years, Clarke has served with distinction and rare bipartisan effectiveness in the Arkansas State House of Representatives.
It is hard for any legislator in the minority to get things done, but Clarke is not just any legislator. He is likeable and smart. He is humble but driven. He is even-tempered but passionate about the dignity of the people for whom he fights.
One year ago, he led and won the fight to preserve health coverage for hundreds of thousands of people in Arkansas.
You see, thanks to former Democratic Governor Beebe’s own effective bipartisan leadership, Arkansas was the only southern state to expand Medicaid coverage for its citizens under Obamacare back in 2012. And when the newly elected Republican legislature and Governor were elected in 2014, they tried to kill it. But they ran into Clarke Tucker, and the persuasive reality of Clarke’s own story.
Clarke Tucker is a cancer survivor. It was a diagnosis no young father should ever have to hear, but it was a cancer he was able to beat, thanks to his own healthcare coverage. Therefore, his fight to preserve healthcare coverage for other moms and dads was personal. And he — and the people of Arkansas — won.
We drive to a lunchtime fundraiser and gathering of young professionals and campaign volunteers at Rebel Kettle Brewing in a trendy warehouse neighborhood not far from the Arkansas River. Pork sliders. Red beans and rice.
Clarke speaks with a centeredness and presence. He doesn’t call for burning down Washington or for tar-and-feathering bankers. He speaks, instead, of the goodness within us as a people. He will fight for more federal funding for education; he will work across the aisle for the steps and solutions necessary to bring down the rising costs of healthcare. He will work to make college more affordable for more families.
Clarke is a life-long hunter who can say plainly and clearly, “weapons of war designed to kill combatants in foreign conflicts should not be sold to kill Americans at home.” He tells us that we must all face this defining political moment for our country “with courage,… with heart… and with decency.”
I consider it a continuing sign of God’s grace, that any honest person in our country puts themselves through the process required to run for Congress. Arkansas is lucky to have someone like Clarke.
Clarke Tucker for Congress — I do believe he will be one of those Democratic candidates this year who will win a Republican seat to restore some greater balance to our Congress. Remember who told you first…
Next, I dash out the door and high-tail it (hunting term) to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The event is a “dormstorm” for Jared Henderson for Governor — one of the youngest and finest candidates for governor in the country this year. As the student gathering morphs into a field training, we duck outside to talk to reporters.
Understandably, the reporters are looking to pigeon-hole (non-hunting term) Jared’s governing philosophy into one of the millimeters on the left or right side of the ideology ruler. But Jared isn’t an ideologue. He is a scientist by education — computer science and physics, more specifically. He believes that good public policy should be guided by the evidence of what works, not by the inertia of what has always been. Or by what’s popular among the wealthiest of our people.
Jared is a living embodiment of the American Dream and the strength of the American family. Courageously given up for adoption by his young biological mother, he was adopted by loving parents. Studied hard in school. Learned about public policy at McKinsey Consulting, worked for a time at NASA. Jared was a leader of Teach for America. He and his wife, Dr. Melanie Prince — a practicing surgeon — have a year and half old son.
Jared Henderson doesn’t look for “left” policies or “right” policies, but for policies that move Arkansas forward, not back. For example, his opponent — Asa “I’ve-been-around-forever” Hutchinson — pushes for an income tax cut for the wealthiest ten percent of people in Arkansas and has therefore zeroed out any increases in education funding. As a result, Arkansas has dropped in rankings from being one of the top ten state public school systems in America, to being 47th out of 50.
Ouch. Arkansas deserves better.
Jared Henderson, on the other hand — with a political fearlessness which is a hallmark of younger Americans — tells voters he is opposed to yet another tax cut for the wealthy, and would use the dollars instead to make Arkansas teachers the best paid in America over the next ten years.
Fiscal responsibility; future responsibility. Making our children winners in a rapidly changing economy. It’s just one big thing, but it’s important. And growing numbers of people in Arkansas seem to understand.
The packed fundraising crowd that night at the home of good Democrats, Christine Altoff and Jim McHugh, hung on Jared’s every word.
The midterms are less than two months away. It was nice of President Obama last week to come out and remind us to vote. It’s a Constitutional Crisis; every vote matters, every voice is needed. These midterms will — without a doubt — be the most important midterm elections in our lifetimes.
C’mon Arkansas. You gave us Johnny Cash and Maya Angelou — certainly you can afford to give your country one Democratic Congressman and a New Democratic Governor.
Save our democracy. Vote Democratic. Win Back Your State.
— Martin O’Malley, this week’s Arkansas Traveler