Arkansas Senate opens for business, Hutchinson makes more appointments

by The City Wire staff ( 32 views 

Sen. President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, opened the 2015 legislative session by urging his colleagues to have faith in each other the way he has had faith in his sons.

Also, Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson made a pair of announcements Monday for key positions in his administration a day ahead of his swearing-in as the 46th Governor of Arkansas.

Sawyer Dismang, 5, led the session’s opening prayer, while Cade Dismang, 10, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Sen. Dismang related how he had trusted that Sawyer would ably lead the prayer, and he described a hunting trip where he had trusted that Cade would kill a deer. In the same way, each senator must trust that their fellow officeholders are representing their constituents in good faith.

“We need to make sure that we trust our colleagues and be sure to trust the fact that while we may disagree … they’re standing with their constituents and they’re doing what they think’s correct,” he said in brief remarks. “I’m also going to put that same responsibility upon myself. We have to protect this institution and the unique camaraderie that’s developed here.”

He said much had been made about the changes that have occurred in the Senate. After a century and a half of minority status, Republicans now control all seven constitutional offices and two-thirds of the Legislature, including 23 of the 35 Senate seats. While the House swore in 40 new members, only four of the 35 senators are new to the chamber.

Senators opened the session by remembering former Sen. David Wyatt, D-Batesville, who died of cancer Monday morning. Senators who entered office with him spoke – Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs; Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff; Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock; Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock; and Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah administered the oaths of office to the newly elected and returning senators.

Newly elected Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin was the presiding officer. As Griffin was in the chamber, Capitol workers were preparing to replace the glass in his door – absent a name since the resignation of Griffin’s predecessor, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr – with one featuring Griffin’s name.

The first bills were assigned to committees, and the 2015 legislative session began.

Hutchinson appointed Leon Jones, Jr. as the director of the Arkansas Department of Labor and Dr. Charisse Childers as the director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. Hutchinson said Jones and Childers have experience in their fields.

“Leon is not only a good friend, but he is a good leader, which is why I am pleased to announce him as the new Director of the Arkansas Department of Labor,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “I previously named Leon as my Policy Director, but his background and law expertise have provided him with the experience and knowledge are needed to lead this department, and I am delighted that he has agreed to take on this new role. I know he will represent our state and my administration well.”

Jones, a Pine Bluff native, began working as a stocker at a local grocery store in high school, and he held several positions in the retail and restaurant industry and taught high school prior to attending law school. Jones, who graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, is in private legal practice concentrating on helping individuals and businesses. Jones also serves as a commissioner with the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission and the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund and most recently served as a commissioner with the Fayetteville Housing Authority.

Jones was Governor-elect Hutchinson’s Minority Outreach Coordinator during the campaign and was named to serve as Policy Director.

Childers has served for nine years as the executive director of Accelerate Arkansas, an eighty member statewide group of business and education leaders dedicated to knowledge-based economic development in Arkansas.

“I am pleased to announce Dr. Charisse Childers as the new Director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. She recognizes the critical nature career education plays in our economy, and she has the experience necessary to lead this department under my administration. I have no doubt she will serve this position well.”

She served on the Arkansas State Police Commission for seven years and is the vice chairman of the Arkansas State Police Foundation. She also is the vice president of the Arkansas State Alumni Association, a member of the EAST (Environment and Spatial Technology) Initiative Advisory Council, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Childers earned her bachelor’s degree in business from Arkansas State University and earned a doctorate in public policy from the University of Arkansas.