It was all smiles at Rapp’s Barren Brewery Saturday evening as a crowd of local Democrats packed into the second floor for their chance to visit with Arkansas Gubernatorial Candidate Chris Jones ahead of election day Tuesday.
The event was put on by Steve Grappe and the Arkansas Rural Caucus. Also in attendance were Mountain Home local and State Senate Candidate Derek Huber and Arkansas Attorney General Candidate Jesse Gibson.
“We have to come together. This fighting, this name-calling, this being angry at the other side, and you don’t even know who they are. We got to start reaching across the aisle. We have to get some solutions and not a bunch of rhetoric and make Arkansas a better place,” said Steve Grappe while introducing Jones and the other candidates last night.
Derek Huber was up to bat during last night’s events.
A Mountain Home native, Huber is currently challenging long-term incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Scott Flippo for his seat in Arkansas’s Senate.
Huber has run an aggressive social media campaign, hosting podcasts and discussions with 23rd District North Central Arkansas residents to learn and understand their needs better. He most recently finished his documentary “Ride the District,” which captured his campaign’s journey, often by kayak and bicycle, across five counties as he worked to connect with rural Arkansans.
“Our campaign did something really unconventional. I’m extremely proud of it,” Huber said. “We put out a documentary that’s called ‘Ride the District,’ where myself and some others rode a mountain bike and a kayak. And we went a little over a hundred miles around these five counties and met with people.”
During his speech, Huber said that regular people have to get involved, even if it means opening up and making themselves vulnerable. He said that regular people, who grew up in factories and worked on farms, could step up and represent their communities and that leaders should continue to have conservations with their constituents when crafting legislation instead of going it alone.
“We need to have leaders that are back down here talking to us,” Huber said. “When we make legislation that involves farmers, let’s be out there talking to farmers and get their input and stop a lot of these unintended consequences and stop pretending that we don’t have anything we can work together on.”
Following Hubers speech, Jesse Gibson, Candidate for Arkansas Attorney General took to the floor.
A lifelong Arkansan, Gibson hails from Lead Hill, Arkansas, where he was raised by his parents, who both served as educators at his local elementary school.
In 1996, Gibson earned his first degree in Business Administration before earning his J.D. degree with honors in 1999. In 2002, he founded the Gibson Law Firm and specialized in personal injury, medical negligence, and civil litigation.
In 2005, he was named the outstanding young trial lawyer by the Arkansas Trial Lawyer Association, of which he served as president in 2018 and 2019. Gibson is also chairman of the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Commission and on the board of trustees for the Arkansas Bar Association.
“I grew up on a dead-end, dirt road in far north Boone County,” Gibson said. “Bull Shoals Lake was my backyard. And that’s where my brother and I spent a lot of our time growing up — hunting and fishing and just exploring the woods.”
During his speech of the night, Gibson focused on expressing how much he wanted to help others over getting into the minutia of the policies he would enact as the head attorney of the state.
He said he was a seeker of justice and focused on doing the right thing while stating that he would represent all Arkansans throughout the state.
His website states that he is for common sense gun reform, fighting human trafficking throughout the I-40 corridor, securing the right to vote for Arkansans, protecting the environment, and reducing crime.
His site also states that he believes that abortion is a woman’s right, though he states that he will uphold the law passed by the State Legislature. He is against the state’s mask mandate ban.
“I want the people of Mountain Home, of Baxter County, to have a choice and a decision to make on Nov. 8 because I know that if you put our policies and our ideas and our plans for Arkansas up against the other side, we come out on top every time,” said Steve Grappe while introducing Jones and the other candidates last night.”
Love and PB&J
As the son of two preachers, Chris Jones has gone far in life.
He attended Morehouse College on a NASA scholarship for physics and math before studying at MIT to become a nuclear engineer. He also holds a Ph.D. in urban planning. He is also a pastor, like his parents.
As a professional, Jones has led the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub with a focus on providing Arkansans with the tools and technology they need to build businesses and create jobs.
And while he was relatively unknown at the beginning of 2020’s midterm cycle, he quickly rose through the ranks, winning his party’s nomination by 72%.
“We’re going to try something different,” Jones said. “You all know the physicist named Albert Einstein. And he said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, why not try something different?”
During his speech, Jones focused on a message of loving one another and uniting to make the state a better place. He said that the color of the jersey you wear, whether red or blue, doesn’t matter because God called for everyone to love one another regardless of their differences.
“It doesn’t say love my neighbor if they were the same jacket or are of the same gender, or have the same beliefs. It says to love my neighbor as myself, period,” Jones said.
Following his call for unity, Jones introduced the crowd to his PB&J plan for the state. Under the plan, Jones would focus on providing high-quality preschool education to all Arkansan children while also bringing broadband internet and new infrastructure projects to the state. He would also work with business leaders and the legislatures to build the economy to create new jobs throughout the state.
“I’ve heard stories about Mr. Farr, who is a disabled veteran,” Jones said when speaking about providing a better quality of life to people in Arkansas. “At the end of every month, he is $200-300 short. And the only thing he asked for after we talked was, ‘when you win, don’t forget about me.’ It’s all folks are asking.”
Following his speech, Jones sat down for a joint interview with the Observer and KTLO to discuss local issues affecting Mountain Home and Baxter County residents.
The first topic of the night focused on the Highway 412 expansion project that is currently stalled in the planning phase.
“Broadband is a door to infrastructure,” Jones said. “Because across the state, they’re infrastructure issues that have to be addressed, and I think about somebody in South Arkansas named Jim. When I talked to him, the only thing he said was I just want my roads fixed. The same is true here in Baxter County, and so as Governor, I am committed to making sure that project is fixed and others across the state.”
In keeping with the discussion about infrastructure, the topic pivoted to Mountain Home High School and the school’s struggle with infrastructure. He touched on his deferred maintenance plan that was created to help struggling schools across the state.
“It’s the same story I see across the state,” Jones said. “I think the state needs to invest in making sure that the projects like yours across the state, the school districts, they’re trying, or they have half the money, and they need to close the gap. That fund could help do that.”
For the last questions of the night, the conversation shifted to rural hospitals and crime.
On rural hospitals, Jones told the story of his mother, who survived a stroke, and how difficult it would have been to help her if she had lived in her rural hometown instead of Little Rock.
He said that reimbursement rates and cuts to Medicaid were hurting hospitals, with many rural hospitals being forced to shut their doors within the next few months. Underneath the state’s current reimbursement rates, hospitals across the state are losing anywhere between $10 million to $100 million a year.
“As Governor, I will try to renegotiate those reimbursement rates, and then we invest in our rural hospitals,” Jones said. “In doing so, we attract positions to rural areas, and we can make sure that our communities are healthy and safe.”
When asked about crime, Jones said the issue was one that fell into two parts: short-term and long-term.
In the short term, he said we should listen to law enforcement experts while giving them the tools they need to get the job done. For the long term, though, he said the focus should be on education and jobs.
“If you have a job, you’re less likely to commit a crime,” Jones said. “If you have a high-quality education, you’re less likely to commit a crime. If you have access to expand your base, you’re less likely to commit a crime. That’s PB&J. Preschool. That’s the starting box. If you start out right, we know the research shows that kids that go to pre-K are more likely to read by third grade. We also know they’re using third-grade reading levels to determine the number of prison beds. So, why don’t we make sure they’re reading by third grade.”