Chairman Michael John Gray’s Address: The Arkansas Flag & The Confederate Star

“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.”

Chairman Gray’s Address: Valuing Work & The Minimum Wage

“Arkansans work hard, and we don’t ask for much. It’s just not in our nature to be asking for handouts, or to take them. But we do believe in giving someone a hand up. We expect for each one of us to earn his or her keep.

That’s a good thing. It’s good we know the value of hard work. It’s good we know that we all need to be responsible, and able to provide for ourselves and our families.

But sometimes, and we’ve seen in this in Arkansas more than many states, people just don’t get the pay that they’ve earned. Hard work is not always fairly compensated, people are not always valued like they should be.

When I was growing up you could work part time and put yourself through college. You could make it work without student loans.

I worked the night shift in a foundry and commuted to college during the day. It was hard work. But I did it, and I’m glad I did.

But nowadays someone who wants to do that, someone who wants to work and better themselves, is one flat tire or transmission problem away from having to drop out.

A tire was $60. Now just one tire could at up an entire weeks pay. There’s a lot of things besides tires that have gotten more expensive since I was working my way through college, through fundamental early years.

But one thing that hasn’t changed all that much, is the minimum wage. And that’s not okay. We’re asking people to do the same jobs, put in the same labor I put in all those years ago, yet they’ll have less money at the end of the week than I did. Our state can do better, we can value working people, we can reward people for their work.

And that means making sure we have real wages in Arkansas, wages that actually pay people a little bit of money for their time and labor. It’s the right thing to do, to reward work.

The people of Arkansas overwhelming support a basic minimum wage, that will let working people be able to pay at least some of their bills. About 70 percent of voters approved raising the state’s minimum wage in 2014, and then again in 2018.

Those votes mattered, those elections mattered. The people of Arkansas spoke overwhelmingly, and said that work deserves pay, and that working people ought to be able to provide for their families.

But now – there’s an effort in the Arkansas Legislature to undo the people’s work. There’s an effort to literally cancel and take back raises in the minimum wage. There’s an effort to go directly against the will of the people – who just approved a higher minimum wage.

We have representatives at the state Capitol in Little Rock for the next several weeks. There’s a handful of Republican lawmakers who filed legislation to make sure than about 250,000 Arkansans will be denied their minimum wage raise.

Arkansans know nothing is easy. Arkansans know anything that’s any good requires hard work. And now our work is making sure that the lawmakers we send to Little Rock know better than to take money from our wallets, than to take away the voter-approved minimum wage.

You know where I stand, do you know where you state Representative or state Senator stands? Let’s reward work, let’s give people a decent minimum wage, and let’s give people a shot at providing for themselves and their families.

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.”

Making Pre-K A Priority

When it comes to my life, I try to have priorities. It isn’t always easy to get it all right all the time, but there are some basic things that I have to get right.

I have to work, and, I have to take care of my son, John Major. Those are both responsibilities that I am glad I have. That doesn’t make me unique at all. Just about every family in Arkansas who I know wants to take care of their family the same way. And having a public pre-K school in your town, or your county can make all the difference in the world.

It can mean the difference between having the time to take an extra daytime shift at work, or having to skip out altogether because there is no childcare. Or it can mean having a lot more of your paycheck left over, not having to pay for childcare.

But most importantly – first and foremost, and above all else – going to pre-K makes a world of difference for the children of this state.

Pre-K gives children access to a wealth of knowledge, from things as simple as beginning to learn their letters, to using a paintbrush, to becoming master of a busy playground.

Kids that go to pre-k have better foundations for learning — it’s a fact. The data is clear.

But it’s also clear on the faces of the kids too. They enjoy it, they have fun, and they learn more than we often realize.

It’s clear on the faces of the parents, just ask a family in a part of Arkansas that has a public pre-K program. It makes all the difference to have pre-K in your school district. It makes all the difference, for all the right reasons.

We do have some public pre-K programs in many parts of the state now. But all too often there simply isn’t enough room to let every child in. And that’s not okay. It’s a problem when there isn’t enough room in our public school programs to let all of Arkansas’s children in pre-K.

That’s not a problem fixed in the classroom or a problem fixed in a district. That’s a problem fixed in Little Rock, at the state Capitol.

About 10 years ago Arkansas took a big step, under Democratic Governor Mike Beebe we made a big investment in public pre-K in Arkansas. It was a good start, but we have failed to build on it. Instead we have started draining our state’s revenue, we have started spending money on all sorts of things.

But even though we know that public pre-K is good, and that all can benefit from it, pre-K hardly exists in huge portions of Arkansas. Rural Arkansas, as it too often seems to be, gets the shortest end of the stick.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to keep accepting this raw deal.
It’s never too late to make better choices, to have priorities.

Arkansas can decide to make public pre-K funding a priority. All of us who elect state representatives and state senators to go to the state Capitol in Little Rock, can make it a priority.

My son John Major is fortunate, we have in a good pre-K program. But what good will it be, if he grows up in a world where kids his age in the county next door, or two towns over, don’t have the same opportunities?

All of Arkansas deserves the opportunity to succeed, none of Arkansas should be left out, and without public pre-K. I know where my priorities are, and I know we’ll get there together.

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Highways Are A Rural Lifeline

Take a listen to the Democratic Radio Address!

 

 

 

“I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Arkansas’s roads are more than just asphalt. They’re a literal lifeline for countless Arkansas communities.

When you’re talking about the very roads that let us take our crops to market, that take our children to school, and that take our loved ones to the nearest hospital, you’re talking about more than just concrete and cement. You’re talking about livelihoods, and quality of life.

I’m a farmer, I’m a father, I need these roads just like you do. It’s one of the reasons I think this state will come together on a funding solution. A good road affects all of us, no matter our job or status in life.

It is critical that we don’t just curse every pot hole, and swear at every orange barrel we see. It is critical instead that we demand real solutions. Our elected leaders are meeting at the state Capitol the next few weeks, during this year’s session of the Arkansas Legislature.

They, just like you and me, know what it’s like to drive on Arkansas’s sprawling road network. They, just like you and me, know that some parts of the state always seem to have better roads than other parts of the state.

I’m proud of having a highway system that connects 75 counties. But we need to do more to make sure that everyone is truly served. We need to make sure that all 16,000 miles of roadways are actually drive-able. We can’t leave anyone behind.

While we appreciate more lanes to get through big cities, like Little Rock. We have to make sure there is just as big a commitment to our rural areas. Our rural towns do not matter less than our big cities, but unfortunately our highway dollars aren’t always spent that way. But we are a rural state, and we can unite behind making sure our rural roads are just as important in the conversation.

We have to ensure that all of our communities, especially our rural towns, are treated fairly in any highway funding plan. It is critical to our state’s economic development and to our quality of life.

There are many ideas on how to fund our highways. Many of those ideas show great promise. Both Republicans and Democrats know how critical it is that we stop kicking the can down the road on highway funding.

I believe we can come together on this. This is a common-sense issue. It is simply too important to ignore.

And frankly we can’t ignore it. We see the problems on our roadways first-hand everyday. We see it when we’re driving from our farms to town, we see it when we commute to work, or when we go in search of the nearest services.

We feel it when traffic grinds our drive to a halt, and we feel it when our car hits a bad patch of roadway. We especially notice it if we travel out of state, we can feel how smooth our drives could be.

So let’s fix our roads. Let’s come together.

And let’s do it in a smart way. Let’s do it in a comprehensive way.

That means making sure that working people don’t have to shoulder the burden of paying for our roadways all by themselves. We’ve got to make sure that any changes to the gas tax don’t hurt us at the pump. We’ve got to make sure we don’t take money from schools, or from our hospitals, or from critical state services.

But we can balance our priorities — if we’re smart, if we make sure to dot our “i’s” and cross our “t’s.” There is room to fund our roads. It’s about priorities. I’ve told you where mine are.

And now it’s time to get going. It’s time to turn the ignition, put our foot and the pedal, and to move.

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.”

Black History Month Shows Arkansas at its Best

Take a listen to the Democratic Radio Address!

 

 

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Arkansans have a rich history. There really is a great deal for us to take pride in. Throughout our state’s great moments, and crisis, time and time again we have seen great leaders emerge. These are people we should celebrate, who have shown us that good can break through, even when it appears we are in the wilderness.

It shows us that faith, can get a long way.

That’s why we celebrate Black History Month, that’s why we are paying attention to our history.

It’s a time to be inspired. It’s a time to stand firm in our resolve. But it’s also a time enjoy the great accomplishments of our state.

Too often we think of African-American history just a struggle. But it’s not just that. It’s a story of victory. It’s a story of overcoming. Our history certainly has its dark moments, but that’s not who we are. It’s not what defines us. What defines us is the moments where the light has broken through. And time and time again we have seen powerful lights in Arkansas history, prophetic lights.

That’s why we talk about Black History Month. That’s why we celebrate.

We celebrate people like Edith Jones. She was the first African-American to be accepted at a medical school in the entire south. She graduated from the University of Arkansas Medical School.

We celebrate people like Silas Hunt, a World War II veteran, who in 1948 became the first time black student admitted to any all‐white university in the South since Reconstruction, at the U of A’s law school.

We celebrate the men and women who entered the legal world, and made this state better for all of us. People like Scipio Jones, born the son of a slave, defended black sharecroppers after the Elaine Massacre of 1919, the deadliest lynching in U.S. history.

We celebrate the hard things, the difficult things our state has endured. We also celebrate the good, the joy that people have brought this state. People like composer Scott Joplin of Texarkana, who became the “Father of Ragtime Music” fill our rich history, and give us much to be proud about.

These are just a few examples, a few of the people. But we also can rest assured that the heroes of our state, our countless. We all live with our history, and we all can take a role in shaping it.

Black History Month shows Arkansas at its best. It shows the tremendous strides we can take, no matter the circumstances. It also shows us that the seemingly improbable, is often more feasible than we think.

I have faith we will honor these legacies in our state. I have faith we will expect more out of our state in the future. And I have faith our generation will leave a strong legacy for our future generations, for the future history of Arkansas.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Black History Month. I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.”

Democratic Weekly Radio Address: February 1, 2019

Take a listen to the Democratic Radio Address!

“I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas

Arkansans work hard. And maybe none more so than our First Responders. We all know this. Many of us have seen their work firsthand, and know it can literally mean the difference between life and death. That’s especially true when vital services get stretched thin, sometimes critically out in rural Arkansas.

Despite our shared values and support for firefighters, police, and paramedics – our politics fail us, and fail them. But I know we can do better.

Our politics must live up to our values. It’s about who we are, it’s about what we want this state to be. And our priorities must put our firefighters, our police, our EMTS first. Let’s put Arkansas First.

Over the next few months the Arkansas Legislature is meeting at the state Capitol in Little Rock. There is real opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together, and do what we all know is best. I have faith that as Arkansans, we can pull together, we can do this.

There will be opportunities to advance real relief, some real support for those that give their all, day in and day out for our communities. The men and women who selflessly serve our communities deserve our support.

Our state troopers risk their lives to protect and serve. They don’t deserve the second lowest pay in the nation. Let’s do better. Let’s do right by them.

Our firefighters, who would literally walk into the fire for each and every one of us, make even less. These brave men and women also face a unique danger. They aren’t just battling flames, but they’re risking exposure to toxic elements that can cause diseases such as cancer. As a result, 70 percent of firefighter line-of-duty deaths are from cancer.

You’d think our values, our priorities would make sure that at the least, we took care of them when they are down, when they get sick. But the sad truth is, we often don’t. Arkansas is one of only two states that doesn’t give firefighter’s cancer disability benefits, and we don’t provide cancer-sick leave either.

Right now, our state is asking our firefighters to fight cancer at the very same time they are putting out our fires. They have our backs in times of crisis, it’s time for us to do the same for them. Let’s do better. Let’s do right by them.

The good news, is that the solutions are simpler than we think. There is a bill in the Legislature right now, backed by firefighters, that would provide cancer-sick leave so that firefighters battling stage 4 cancer won’t have to be asked to run into a burning building, but instead will be able to fight for his or her own life.

I have faith that there will be many opportunities in this legislative session to help out hardworking Arkansans. Democrats have good ideas to put on the table, like the bill to protect firefighters battling cancer. That idea comes from a freshman Democratic legislator. It’s her very first bill, and it’s a good one. There are good, new ideas, on both sides of the aisle that just make common sense.

Let’s not let politics get in the way. Let’s recognize that there is much that unites us all. And let’s continue to put Arkansas First.

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas”