LITTLE ROCK — Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray responded to the Governor’s State of the State Address on Tuesday and outlined solutions to make life better for Arkansas families.
Chairman Gray called out the governor for setting a low bar when it comes to: raising and funding teacher pay; making broadband access not only accessible but affordable; for creating tax policies that help everyone but the very people and communities left behind in Arkansas; and for failing to deliver hard truths about COVID and accountability.
“This is Arkansas, we are better, and we should be better,” said DPA Chairman Michael John Gray. ”
READ THE FULL REMARKS BELOW:
Today we heard from Governor Hutchinson in his last address to a regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly. He pointed out successes that he’s had in his seven years and his legislative agenda.
We appreciate Governor Hutchinson’s service to Arkansas. We have certainly have seen Republican governors across this nation do a lot worse. With respect to Governor Hutchinson, not doing worse shouldn’t be our standard.
This is Arkansas, the land of opportunity. We are better. And our bar should always be to be better.
Governor Hutchinson touted his success in economic development, education, and taxes and highlighted his goals to seek police reforms, to further address education in Arkansas and Hate Crimes legislation to bring Arkansas in line with the rest of the nation.
He couched all this under the voter’s favorite topic of tax cuts and paying teachers more. And while we are definitely supportive of both, the governor stopped too short. We believe we can do more and we believe we can be better.
In his remarks the governor spoke about the need to strengthen and fund our police departments and he gave a casual mention to the need to increase accountability. We believe we should be more direct.
Those who put their lives on the line to protect us every day should have training, standards and a level of wages that meets those standards of training. Further, cities across this state shouldn’t have to choose between balancing their budget and fully funding and supporting those officers and their families.
While strengthening our police departments and lifting up our first responders like we should, we must also demand accountability and we must demand equality in treatment. Because no mother should have to worry that their child is not coming home that night, because they had a broken tail light. This is Arkansas, we are better. And we should do better.
Governor Hutchinson touted his successes in raising the average teacher pay in Arkansas and moving us to the front of the nation in computer science.
The reality is, he has put superintendents and school boards in a position where they cut teachers with higher levels of education and more years of experience in the name of meeting their budget goals. Our teachers deserve more pay, but they deserve more than the $20 a week that the governor spoke so fervently about today.
The rising costs of teacher health insurance, the countless hours they put in away from their classroom, demands that those who are shaping the future generations of Arkansas not have to take part-time jobs or resources away from their families to do the job that we so desperately need them to do. We are Arkansas, we can do better, and we should be better.
Computer science education is a great goal. However, there are school districts in communities across this state whose only vocational opportunities are sewing buttons and building picnic tables. This is Arkansas, we are better, and we can do better.
The governor touted successes in higher education. However, college tuition is higher than it’s ever been. It is no longer possible for a young Arkansan to work a part-time job and be able to pay their way through college.
If the governor truly wants to see success in higher education whether it be through colleges and universities or through workforce training, he should create affordable opportunities so that the children of working Arkansans are not one flat tire or one transmission away from having to drop out of college. This is Arkansas, we are better, and we can do better.
The governor talked about the use of federal funds to increase broadband access across the state. It was much needed and much appreciated. However, once again the bar is set too low. The goal should not only be access but affordable access. To many of those families who now have access, the cost is too high. They have to choose between paying their internet access or paying their water bill.
They should not have to choose between paying for internet access or paying their water bill. The General Assembly and the governor have an opportunity to create a tax credit for those who are making $600 a week to attain this access at a much more affordable price. Further, the governor and the General Assembly should require these companies that we are subsidizing to provide free and safe areas of wireless access in every community across this state. This is Arkansas, we are better, we can do better.
How do we achieve these goals?
The governor, to the applause of any voter, talked about cutting taxes. But his first tax priority was to lower taxes for those who wanted to move to Arkansas.
Imagine an Arkansas where instead of cutting taxes for those who are coming from outside our borders we use them to implement tax credits for those making less than $600 a week to be able to afford internet access. To be able to put their children in pre-K. And to be able to make sure that there was quality health insurance for every member of their family.
The governor touted the successes in the expansion of industry in Arkansas. Some 60 percent of our counties have been left out of that conversation, places like Forrest City and Arkadelphia whose economic development promises went away. Imagine an Arkansas where the funds that would go to those from outside our borders were used to develop communities like Hope, Brinkley, Walnut Ridge, and Dermott.
For without true community development there can be no economic development. This is Arkansas, we are better, we can do better.
We heard the Governor ask the General Assembly to keep the emergency declarations he made in response to the pandemic in place. However, I would implore the governor and the General Assembly to do more to protect Arkansas, to lead by example and remind Arkansas we are far from out of the woods. If stronger measures have to be taken, I ask them to remember that gatherings of 10 or more are rarely seen in our hair salons and flower shops across this state — but a common sight in the big box stores everywhere.
The governor and the health department should immediately reach out to every Arkansan and give them a date, time and place for where they can get their vaccine. And it is imperative that right now there is a nurse ready to put a vaccine in the arm of everyone that walks in a teacher’s lounge in the state of Arkansas. This is Arkansas, we are better, we can do better.
The governor failed to mention one of the hottest topics in the General Assembly — a bill called Stand Your Ground. A bill that many would lead Arkansans to believe that opposing it would be an assault on their Second Amendment rights. This could not be further from the truth.
In Arkansas, our parents and grandparents have taught us to utilize common sense and to not go looking for a fight. And that walking away and taking the higher ground is what we should seek to do.
This is not about the Second Amendment, this about us being better. Arkansas is better than this.
The governor asked for support for Hate Crimes Legislation to bring Arkansas in line with the rest of the nation. He implored those who were listening to understand if you’re Hispanic, this law would protect you. If you’re Jewish this law would protect you. If you’re African-American this law would protect you. If you’re Caucasian this law would protect you. That if you’re a member of any race this law would protect you.
But the governor stopped short. People should also know that if you’re heterosexuals this law protects you. If you’re a member of the LGTBQ community, this law protects you. If you love someone, if you support someone, if you do not want to see someone you love or yourself targeted, this law protects you.
This is Arkansas, we are better, and we should do better.
On April 4, 1968, one month after my grandfather’s 58th birthday Robert F. Kennedy uttered these words to announce the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…”
I do not know what Robert F. Kennedy would add to that quote today…But I know what my grandfather would say.
We need an America who has leaders with integrity.
We need an America that has leaders who are not afraid to tell the truth.
We need an America whose leaders will speak out against atrocities, hate and unfounded conspiracies despite the cost at the ballot box.
He would say this is America — and we are better, and we can do better.