As Arkansans, we know all about tough times and hard work. But right now our farmers, the backbone of this state, are being hurt by decisions made in Washington D.C. about tariffs and a trade war.
Farmers know all about uncertainty and having to manage the cards that are dealt us, whether it’s life, or weather. And a lot of the times we are just one flood, one drought, or one natural disaster away from a real crisis. We put our homes, our cars, our land, and many times everything our family owns up for mortgage, just to put a crop in every year, and just make enough money to support our families. With one bad crop, with one bad hailstorm, all of that could be lost.
That’s just the way it is on my farm in Woodruff County, and it’s that way it is for most of my neighbor’s too. We can’t begrudge it, it’s a way of life, it’s what you have to accept. It comes with the territory.
But in addition to all that, farmers are facing a man-made crisis, created by politicians in Washington D.C. The Farm Bureau has said that this trade war and these tariffs are creating a “slow disaster” for agriculture. To make matters worse our own U.S. Senator Tom Cotton has gone on national media to downplay the impact on Arkansas’s number one industry – agriculture.
Sen. Cotton said that the sacrifices that farmers make is nothing compared to the sacrifices that soldiers make. It’s true that there is no sacrifice greater than what our servicemen and women do for our country everyday. But to pit that sacrifice against the sacrifices our farm communities are making everyday was a political stunt, and frankly beneath the office that Sen. Cotton holds.
We need our U.S. Senator and frankly we need all our representatives in Washington to understand what is happening on the farms in Arkansas. Because when farms fail, local grocery stores, local auto parts stores, and coffee shops and cafes from Hope to Hoxie will feel the effect of it. We’re even seeing that big box stores like Walmart are feeling the effects of this trade war, saying that they’re gonna have to raise prices on all of their consumers because of it.
We’ve got to have good trade deals, and we’ve got to continue to be a leader on the world stage, but it doesn’t mean we get there on the backs of our farmers.
Agriculture is our number one industry, it is the backbone of our state, and it’s time for our leaders in Washington to act like they have a backbone. It’s time for them to act like they’re on Arkansas’s side.
Farm income is down, Arkansas’s economy is slowing, and China just announced that in retaliation its raising tariffs on $60 Billion worth of goods. That’s something that everyone of us will feel in our pockets at the end of the week.
We’ve got to get this turned around. We’ve got to support Arkansas farmers, and we have to remind those people that we send to Washington that Arkansas comes first. It’s not political ideology, it’s not quick soundbites to get on national television, it’s real lives and real families, and we need to stand up for them.
I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
The past few days we’ve been honoring the teachers in our lives, and in the lives of our kids, for Teacher Appreciation Week.
It’s getting close to summertime, and it’s important that we take a moment to thank all the people who have dedicated their time to making our schools and our communities better.
We all know how much of a difference a good teacher can make. We’ve all had those people in our lives, people whose example sticks with you.
A good teacher isn’t hard to spot. A good teacher can mean the difference between your child gladly telling you all about their day, and a child who doesn’t have much of anything good to say. The presence of a good teacher in a classroom is about learning, but it’s about that little bit of something more too.
School needs to be welcoming. It needs to be a fun, and safe place. And the people that work there need to want to be there.
The best teachers encourage you to do what you were born doing. They affirm in you that it’s good to be curious, it’s good to be thoughtful, and it’s good to want to seek out more. Our horizons are truly as big as we make them. A good teacher can help nourish those thoughts, a good teacher can help us grow.
They make school about something more than getting to class before the tardy bell in the morning. They make it about more than waiting for the clock to tick closer to the end of the school day.
We need to make sure that we show our appreciation for good teachers, that we personally reach out and let them know how thankful we are. But we also need to make sure that our values, our appreciation, is reflected by the decisions that the men and women we send to the state Capitol make.
Arkansas lawmakers recently voted to give a small salary increase to new teachers. That’s good news. But, we still rank in the bottom half of the nation for teacher pay. And to make matters worse, with inflation taken into account teachers in Arkansas are actually making about 5-percent less in 2019 than they were in 2009.
The 31,000 public school teachers in Arkansas deserve better. The 440,000 public school kids in Arkansas deserve better.
It’s not enough to just say we appreciate teachers. It’s not enough to be truly thankful for their work. We need to do better. That means putting aside partisan labels, and making sure that the people we elect, and send to the state Capitol, are serious about appreciating our teachers.
Their hard work, their effort, is what builds our communities. They are our neighbors, they educate our children, and they are fixtures in the schools our children grow up in. They give us real peace of mind.
We need them, we rely on them, and we should make sure they know they are appreciated.
I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Arkansans are going to have their plates full in the next election. There are more than 20 candidates running for President. That’s a lot of names, and a lot of positions and issues we’ll have to try and sort through.
It’ll be tough to do, but it’s important that we make the time to study the issues, to learn what each candidate is promising, and to question them, to see if they can really deliver.
The future of our country depends on it, and Arkansas can play a good role in this. Our primary election date has moved. In 2020, Arkansas’s primary will be in early March instead of late May. That means instead of being at the end of the process when most of the candidates have dropped out, we’ll be at the beginning when we’ll still have a choice of most of these 20-plus candidates. Our ballot is going to be full. It’ll be full of a lot of good choices.
We’re going to see a lot of familiar names like Joe Biden or Cory Booker and you’re going to see some new names like Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, or Kamala Harris. All these people, and all those that I didn’t mention,bring something to the table. I’m not asking you to take a look at them just because they’re Democrats. Pull the partisan labels off and see the solutions they’re offering, instead of just the same old political rhetoric.
When we’re voting we need to keep our priorities in mind, and see if the candidates match up. We need to find a real path to make sure people get paid what they deserve. We need to make sure that healthcare isn’t just accessible, but that it’s affordable. We also need to make sure that education must be affordable, and we must stop saddling our children with insurmountable student debt.
And for a state like Arkansas, we need to make sure we aren’t written off, we need to make sure that our state and our people get to be part of the economy of tomorrow, that we get to fully participate in and benefit from the strides our nation takes.
I’m excited about this Presidential field. I’m glad Arkansas will get to play a role in the process. I expect to see some of these 20-plus candidates campaigning in Arkansas, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say — and letting them know what Arkansas wants in a President.
It’s getting close to that time of year where people are heading to graduations, then heading toward their futures.
Some of them have, or at least think they have, a pretty clear idea of what lays ahead, and what they want their life to become. Some of them, and some of us, know that life’s paths aren’t always so easy to see, or easy to follow.
But imagine for a moment, that you followed all the right steps. You went to class, you did the work, you found your passion. But something was holding you back, something very much beyond your control.
Well that’s the case for a few thousand Arkansans enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a lot of people just call it DACA.
These are children who were brought to this country as children, by parents who were looking for a better life.
They went to school, they put in the work. They have grown up and lived alongside all of us, just like every other neighbor, and every other Arkansan.
They face a difficult path though, in this state you could do all the work needed to become, say a nurse, but be denied your nursing license simply because you were not born here. That’s not right. And it’s certainly not right for a state facing a nursing shortage.
But there’s good news.
The improbable has been done, and been done by a new lawmaker no less, from Springdale. Megan Godfrey just got to the Legislature this year and she’s passed a bill into law that will allow DACA recipients to get their nursing licenses, and to serve the communities that they live in.
This is a huge win for Arkansas and for our immigrant communities. And the best news about it, is that it’s something just about everyone in the Arkansas Legislature agreed on.
It was a true moment where we didn’t see Republican or Democrat. We didn’t see ideological differences. Selfishness, hostility, and fear, all took a backseat to doing what was right.
Megan Godfrey ran for the Legislature to go up there and do what was right. And at least for one moment, on a bill that serves so many young Arkansans, our Legislature put Washington style politics aside and said this is better for Arkansas, this is better for our immigrants, and because of that all Arkansans are better off for it.”
Arkansans spend a lot of time in conversation, we all do it whether it be in the grocery store, in the coffee shop, or on the bleachers at a football game and we talk about what we’d do different and what we’re not happy with in the world.
A lot of times we complain about things we see locally. Like being in line at a grocery store and seeing someone buy things that aren’t necessarily healthy, and people using food stamps to purchase them.
Often the conversation comes back that the government ought to tell people what they can and cannot buy with food stamps. To a lot of people that makes sense and to a lot of people it’s hard to argue the other side with.
But with policy decision like that you always have to look a little deeper, you always have to look at who it really effects and what it really means. All of us have been there.
Remember those times where you’ve been in the grocery store behind a single mom who looks like she’s just had one of those days that we’ve all had, and you just want to get it over with. Her cart is full and there is a kiddo hanging off the side of it with a big smile on their face, maybe with a dirty elbow, runny nose and just clawing at a candy bar at the cash register.
That smile, often times, is because of a candy bar clutched in their hands, put there by a parent who loves their kid enough to make sure to keep them happy in the grocery store line. The mom gets them the candy bar just to get them to stay quiet, so they can get home.
Now imagine being in that line and seeing that smile on that kid and hearing the clerk say, ‘I’m sorry you can’t buy those two candy bars, the government says no. And oh by the way that brand of Mac and Cheese, those type of hot dogs, and that generic Captain Crunch…you can’t buy those either.’
Imagine the shame you would feel if your children had to watch you leave their breakfast, their lunch, or their reward for being good going through the grocery store…Imagine having to hang your head and leaving that food on that worn vinyl belt in line at the grocery store.
When we argue that it makes sense to some people that the government restricts what you can buy, we try to use the argument that we want people to be healthier. But we also want people to have dignity.
There are better ways to help people develop healthy habits and still retain their dignity. There are better ways than yanking that smile off that child’s face or adding one more burden to that single mother just trying to make it through the day.
I agree we should all eat healthier but we shouldn’t punish people for purchasing things that fit within their budget. And frankly in rural Arkansas options can be pretty slim and we’re purchasing what we can
We shouldn’t be punishing people as a way to incentive people to be healthy. There are a couple bills in the Arkansas Legislature that try to do that. Arkansans are better than that. Just because it sounds good in the bleachers or in a coffee shop. We should always look to how we can help people be better, not simply punish them because they’re not having the way we think they should.
We should always be focused on helping people, not having the government tell people how they should live. But having the government be there to be a helping hand to help them live better.
Let’s incentivize healthy eating, let’s ensure there are good food options whether you live in the city or in rural Arkansas.
That’s a path toward a healthier Arkansas. That’s a path toward a happier Arkansas. That’s a path to show the rest of the nation that we truly are better than they give us credit for.
I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas
I grew up in east Arkansas, out in the Delta. And for me, just like just about anybody whose family goes back any amount of time in Arkansas, we are descendants of people who fought in the Confederacy.
Our state flag has a special commemoration, designating the blue star at the top of the white diamond for the state’s time in the Confederacy. That was put there in the 1920’s. It wasn’t by accident, it happened at the height of KKK influence in this state.
Our children see that star, some of them learn its meaning in school. And some of us don’t pay much attention. But our symbols have meaning, and it’s up to us to get it right. Sometimes symbols can mean a lot more than you or I might think.
Thankfully there was an effort in the Arkansas Legislature this month, although it fell short, to re-designate the meaning of that blue star on our flag. It would stand for the United States, our nation that we pledge allegiance to. Although we didn’t prevail that was a battle worth fighting.
I remember hearing stories from family members, talking about hating Yankees. I’m sure many of you grew up like that too. And rallying around something like the Confederacy, something so fraught with complications, I think comes about because we also grew up being told that the South is less than, that the South is inferior somehow.
And so, some people tend to wrap themselves up in the Confederacy, they take pride in a time when us Southerners fought for something. But unfortunately those boys who fought back then, faced some indoctrination, just like we do.
But there comes a time when we have to get out of that mindset, get out of that mentality that the South is less than – and what makes us not is the Confederacy. We have a lot to take pride in — we can love where we live. We can love our food. We can love our small towns and cities, we can love our people.
We can love the South. But to truly love the South, we have to shed fondness for what we were during a few short years in the 1860s.
We cannot ignore that during that time the South was fighting primarily over the right to literally own people. That’s ugly. That can’t be glossed over.
If we want to truly honor Arkansas – and ALL of its people – we must be brave. We must acknowledge our darkest moments.
As a young man there was just about nobody more proud than me of the South — and don’t get me wrong, I still am.
But I know a lot more now than I did when I was growing up.
I refuse to be proud of the parts of a history where it was okay to whip someone for not working as hard as you thought they should work. I refuse to be proud of a history where people could literally sell a child and send them downriver, never to be seen from, or heard from again. And I refuse to celebrate a past where someone could rape your daughter, because they literally owned your child.
In these arguments, we usually hear about how one side or the other is trying to erase history. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to let our history be erased or forgotten.
The struggles of our nation, of ALL of its people, is simply to great to ignore. We can not wash away the sins of the South. Nor can we celebrate the South while holding on to that which deserves no commemoration. We must acknowledge our full past, for what it really is.
We must celebrate those who struggled, we must celebrate those who fought for and who won their humanity, and the right to be seen as people on this Earth. We should not look toward those that fought to keep an entire people enslaved in perpetuity. We should look toward those that would not and could not accept such an intolerable, such an un-Godly way of life.
The South has its real heroes, they are too numerous to name, and often too far gone in the past for us to know today. But their legacy endures. Theirs is the lasting, and meaningful contribution that the South has offered the world. The Southern story to celebrate is not about an army that fought to keep slavery, it is the story of freedom against all odds.
That is the South that I honor, that is the South that I choose to be a part of. I hope you’ll join me.
I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.”