If you happened to visit downtown Mountain Home last night, you might have heard the booming chant of “Sarah” coming from Rapp’s Barren Brewing Company.
Arkansas Gubernatorial Candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders officially returned to Mountain Home last night to a packed crowd at Arkansas’s number-one brewery.
Locals from all over the county packed in for Rapp’s fresh food and cold beers while waiting for their turn to grab a photo with Sanders after her opening speech. Everyone in the crowd was invited to join Sanders on Fox News for a segment with Fox News host Jesse Waters.
After the event wrapped up, Sanders joined KTLO owner Heather Loftis and the Observer in a joint interview to discuss local issues facing Mountain Home.
“My husband Brian is here with me. We’re going to have to relocate to Mountain Home,” said Sanders to a packed room on the second floor of Rapp’s Barren. “We’ve spent the last two years traveling all over the state of Arkansas, and it has been an absolutely unbelievable experience. We have the best state in the country.”
During her Thursday night speech, Sanders told the crowd stories about her children and her time in the White House, including a humorous meeting between U.S. officials and North Korean delegates.
But while the jokes may have gained laughs around the room, Sanders reminded the crowd this election was no laughing matter as she focused on campaign topics like education and crime.
“I’m not naïve enough at all to think that the road ahead of us is going to be an easy one, but it is one we absolutely have to go down,” Sanders said. “Arkansas needs a fighter. Someone who is capable of stepping up and pushing back against the radical left and the craziness coming out of Washington DC.”
Over the past month, Sanders has released two plans covering both education and crime.
Her education plan, titled Arkansas LEARNS, focuses on literacy, parent empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking, and school safety.
Under her plan, the parents would see improved access to quality pre-K programs and reading coaches for at-risk children. Parents would also be empowered to move their children from failing schools to better ones while also providing a level of curriculum transparency through online resources.
Her plan also calls for teachers to be rewarded with higher pay for stellar classroom performance.
She also wants to expand high-speed internet throughout the state and add additional physical security options to schools across Arkansas.
For crime, Sanders would focus on strengthening the parole system and expanding the state’s prison system to prevent violent repeat offenders from being released into the public. She has also called for a victim’s bill of rights to ensure that people victimized by crime have basic protections under the law.
“We will take Arkansas to the top,” Sanders said. “I’m running for governor because I love Arkansas. This is my home. This is where I grew up. This is where my husband, Brian, and I have chosen to raise our family, and it’s where I hope my kids will one day raise their own families.”
Mountain Home Issues
Following her event, Sanders took some time to talk with journalists from KTLO and the Observer in a joint interview about some of the community’s local problems.
Heather Loftis led the discussion focusing on Mountain Home Public Schools and the district’s focus on workforce development with its students.
Mountain Home Public Schools has been investing resources in its K-12 Career and Technical Education program for 20 years, prompting Loftis to ask if Sanders had plans to put more resources into programs like those at Mountain Home Public Schools.
“Absolutely, I don’t know if you saw that I recently released a plan called Arkansas LEARNS, and one of the key pillars of my education plan is readiness, which is for workforce readiness,” Sanders said. “We got to stop asking the question ‘what does a student know?’ and instead ask what can they do. I think what they are doing here [in Mountain Home], focusing on that technical education, preparing students for the workforce, is one of the most important things we can do.”
After discussing workforce education, the Observer asked Sanders if she would work with the state legislature to expand Highway 412 and connect Mountain Home with the rest of the state. Discussions about expanding Highway 412 have been ongoing for several years, with little to no progress being made.
“We’re certainly working to make sure there is greater access. Infrastructure has to be one of the greatest priorities for the state,” Sanders said. “This is one of the places worth driving and taking the extra minute to get here, but we’ve got to focus on good infrastructure across the board, and it’s something that’s certainly on the table.”
Following the conversation on infrastructure, the interview pivoted to tourism and how Sanders would help support tourism growth in some of the state’s less populated areas, like Mountain Home.
“There is so much we can do in this space,” Sanders said. “Mountain Home should be a hub for a lot of that economic activity. I want to phase out of the state income tax. One of the ways we do that is by growing our economy. We have one of the most incredible, most beautiful landscapes anywhere in the state, and one of the best parts about it is that you can enjoy it 12 months out of the year. We have to do a better job telling our state’s story. I want to be the chief salesperson for Arkansas, not just Mountain Home, and incredibly boost our outdoor economy.”
The conversation then pivoted back to school infrastructure.
Mountain Home Public Schools recently faced defeat in a special election to raise its millage rates to pave the way for a multi-million dollar upgrade to its aging high school. Portions of the high school sit under a roof built in the 1960s. That roof has turned into a fire hazard that needs to be replaced, but with the rising inflation of groceries and gas prices, community members rejected a raise in taxes.
During the special election, many of those against the new millage rate stated that the district should ask the state for assistance in fixing the issues at Mountain Home High School.
Sanders addressed the issue when informed of the school’s infrastructure issue.
“There’s more than a billion dollars in facility money for schools, and those are grants that individual districts have to go after. That money is available. We just need to make sure that you guys have a way to find it,” Sanders said.
For the last question of the night, Sanders addressed struggling rural hospitals, including Baxter Health, and how she plans to help them keep their doors open.
“Hospitals are absolutely vital to our state,” Sanders said. “We have so many communities that absolutely depend on them. What we can’t do, though, is just keep giving out money without putting long-term sustainable plans in place, so we’re not right back here in the same place we are in a year. So, working with hospitals, making sure they have a long-term plan and sustainability is going to be really important. But, I’ll make sure we keep the doors open.”
Arkansas Gubernatorial Candidate Chris Jones
The Arkansas Democrat party’s pick for governor, Chris Jones, will be in town on Saturday.
Jones will arrive in town during the evening to participate in the Rural Caucus of Arkansas’s Razorbacks post-party event. The event will feature a meet and greet with Jones and his fellow Democrats – Jesse Gibson, Natalie James, Goldi Gaines, and Monte Hodges.
Mountain Home native and State Senate candidate Derek Huber will also be at the event. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. and wraps up at 7:30 p.m.