Democrat Celeste Williams, 44, of Bella Vista launched a Third District Congressional challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, on Wednesday (Aug. 14).
From Frisco Park in downtown Rogers, Williams rolled through a litany of issues she said will be discussed during her campaign. They include health care, pre-K, higher education, workforce development, immigration reform, tariffs and trade, and the growing budget deficit.
“I got into politics because I cannot allow this to be the world that is left for our children. We must make sure Arkansans have enough money in their pockets to have a life of financial stability and opportunity. I cannot put my children to bed at night and stand back and do nothing,” Williams told a crowd of about 150 who attended the early evening kick-off rally.
Williams, a nurse practitioner, was a candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2018. She lost that race to incumbent State Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Rogers, by a 65-34% margin. She said there wasn’t a specific instance that convinced her to jump into the race to unseat Womack in 2020.
“Every day, I hear someone’s story that I feel like they deserve better. They’re working really hard… It’s the struggles all the time and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “People are dissatisfied with the way things are. I think that focusing on reaching out to all voters and offering clear solutions to the problems that people are struggling with, eventually the numbers are going to be there.”
Williams made a point of emphasizing the growing national debt – an issue that Womack has campaigned on continuously. He was briefly the chairman of the House Budget Committee last year. She noted that when Womack took office in 2011, the national debt was $14.8 trillion, but today it is $22.8 trillion.
“We will never have economic justice when we have a system in place where Amazon pays no federal income tax and everyday Arkansans are struggling to make ends meet and being burdened with crushing educational, medical, and our ever growing national debt,” Williams said. “It is morally reprehensible to saddle our youth with low paying jobs and massive debt, while simultaneously cutting our social safety system to give tax cuts for the billionaire class and large multi-national corporations; they should pay their fair share.”
Other notes from Williams’ kick-off speech included:
On trade: “Our current representative doesn’t do what is best for our communities. Using hard-working farmers as political pawns in a tariff war is wrong. They have lost out on market shares that may never be regained.”
On healthcare: “I believe we should give all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.”
On education: “It should not cost $100,000 for tuition room and board to get a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas. The average wage growth over the past two decades has risen 14% yet college education costs in that same period have risen 311%. Not everyone is going to college, all work has value and we must make sure there is a path towards good paying jobs through workforce training.”
On immigration: “Human migration is as old as humanity. Recognizing that the movement of people is generally in response to a crisis or need, it is incumbent on nations to maintain immigration policies that are compassionate, responsive, and efficient. I look forward to grace filled conversations about immigration. At a minimum we need comprehensive immigration reform, a pathway for citizenship for DACA recipients, more judges to handle asylum cases, and provide safe sanitary conditions for asylum seekers.”
Womack, the former mayor of Rogers, quickly tied Williams to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and House Democratic leadership.
“The foundation of our government is the ability to choose among candidates and their ideas every two years. I’m anxious to have that conversation. I’m confident that Third District Arkansans will reject the socialist ideals of the Democrat Party. I’m confident that they don’t want to give Nancy Pelosi another reliable vote,” Womack told Talk Business & Politics. “Those I represent prefer smaller government, lower taxes, the rule of law, a strong economy, and support for our military and veterans. I am prepared to defend my work on these critical issues.”
Womack was first elected to Congress in 2010. He was most recently re-elected by a 65-33% margin in 2018 when he defeated Democrat Josh Mahony of Fayetteville. Mahony is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent GOP Sen. Tom Cotton.