Democrats outline legislative priorities, question Gov. Sanders’ messaging

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,281 views 

House Minority Leader Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, answer reporter questions.

Arkansas Democratic legislators outlined their legislative priorities on Wednesday (Jan. 11) and questioned how to interpret Gov. Sarah Sanders’ messaging spelled out on Tuesday.

Democrats hold a super minority in the 94th General Assembly, controlling 18 of the 100 seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives and six of the 35 seats in the Arkansas State Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, and House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, were joined by other colleagues at a state capitol press conference Wednesday morning.

“Democrats are ready to work with our Republican colleagues on these issues. But we couldn’t ignore the difference in tone between the Governor’s two speeches yesterday,” said McCullough. “First in her address to the legislature she mentioned reforms to the foster care and adoption system and Pre-K expansion, then she left those out of her public address. She didn’t mention Critical Race Theory in her speech to lawmakers—and, by the way, Critical Race Theory is a college-level course that isn’t taught in any public K-12 school—but she mentioned it a number of times in her remarks on the Capitol steps. We’re ready to work with her, but we want to know which governor will come to the table to talk.”

Sanders’ delivered a speech to lawmakers in a joint session of the 94th Arkansas General Assembly on Tuesday (Jan. 10). She gave an inaugural address to the general public later in the day on the front steps of the state capitol. The new governor also signed seven executive orders on her first day in office.

Sanders’ said her legislative priorities primarily center on education, criminal justice reform, and tax cuts.

Leding referenced the history-making nature of Sanders’ election and said Democrats agreed with some of her platform proposals and hoped to work with her on legislative common ground.

“Arkansas made history with the inauguration of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the first woman to hold that office. We welcome her calls for a 2023 legislative session that brings necessary focus to our state’s public schools, foster care, criminal justice system, healthcare, and tax rates,” Leding said. “We agree with her that answers to these issues require ‘bigger,’ ‘bolder,’ and ‘better’ ideas than what we have seen in the past. We’re committed to working with her and our Republican colleagues where we can. As Democrats, we’re united in our own bold vision for Arkansas: to create a healthier, safer, fairer, brighter future for all Arkansans.”

“We don’t yet know the details of Governor Sanders’s proposed education reforms. Yesterday, the Governor shared her core approach to improving our public education, and we agree: The road to a brighter future in Arkansas starts with raising our worst-in-the-South teacher pay and expanding access to Pre-K,” McCullough added. “However, we cannot do these things if we keep pushing the same regressive, failed approach to cutting taxes. Phasing out the income tax isn’t a solution, and it will only keep us from achieving meaningful progress.”

Senate and House Democrats vowed to fight against school voucher programs, which Sanders and Republicans largely support. They said they are unproven and will lead to less regulation and accountability of public taxpayer funds. Other elements of the Democratic legislative agenda include:

  • Raise teacher salaries;
  • Fully-fund education opportunities;
  • Decriminalize marijuana and expunge non-violent possession charges to match newly-established federal guidelines;
  • Expand healthcare for women and all Arkansans; and
  • Pass criminal justice reforms to keep Arkansans safe without committing the state to hundreds of millions in new spending.

“During the next several weeks, we as Democrats will be united. We will put the needs of hardworking Arkansans first and not let issues crafted only to distract and divide us get in the way of our work,” Leding said.