Rep. Ladyman, former Rep. Smith angle for State House District 32 GOP nomination

by George Jared ([email protected]) 545 views 

Rep. Jack Ladyman (left) and former Rep. Brandt Smith.

There were few differences between the two Republican candidates vying to be their party’s nominee for the State House District 32 seat that encompasses most of Jonesboro. GOP incumbent Rep. Jack Ladyman and Republican challenger former Rep. Brandt Smith squared off in a debate Wednesday (Jan. 31) at the Jonesboro Kiwanis Club meeting.

The two candidates, both self-avowed conservatives, were peppered with questions about the LEARNS Act that passed during the last legislative session. Parts of the act that modified starting teacher pay in the state, the removal of AMI days that had been used for remote learning during the pandemic and inclement weather, and allowed for public tax dollars to be used for private school tuition have been controversial changes since its passage.

Ladyman said he still supports LEARNS and he was a co-sponsor of the bill. He said the short rollout for the bill, which passed only weeks after the public was given notice, was a mistake and more time should have been given to let the bill be more thoroughly vetted.

He noted the bill has only been in effect for less than a year, and it will take a couple of years to see its full impacts. He said it may need to be tweaked, but it was the right legislation for the state.

“The LEARNS Act was a bold move…I think we will all agree our schools need to be improved,” he said.

Smith said he wasn’t in the legislature during the last term when it passed, but he fully supports the act. He agreed with Ladyman that the rollout for the bill was poorly handled. Smith and Ladyman were both mum about any specific changes that needed to be made.

“If the LEARNS Act succeeds, our children succeed,” Smith said.

When asked about private schools receiving tax dollars, but not having to adhere to the same requirements as public schools, Smith said he could support some annual standards or tests for students in private schools that utilize public tax dollars.

Ladyman said he could support possible changes like that too, but he wants public and private schools to remain separate entities. One of the problems with public schools is the many regulations and crushing paperwork that has to be filled out by teachers.

Both Ladyman and Smith agreed the state’s Freedom of Information Act laws need to be modified. Controversy erupted last year after Gov. Sarah Sanders called a special session to modify the state’s FOIA law after public debate regarding her concerns over travel logs, scrutiny of her purchase of a $19,000 lectern, and other expenses that had been requested by news organizations and journalists.

Citizen pushback to make no changes to the laws led to mostly minor changes. The debate spawned an effort to codify the FOIA laws in the state constitution.

Ladyman said the governor’s personal travel records should not be public records. The problem is two-fold, he said. On one side, there are unreasonable requests while on the other side transparency must be protected. He doesn’t support FOIA being part of the state’s constitution.

“FOIA doesn’t need to be in the constitution. It needs to be tweaked every (legislative) session,” he said.

Smith agreed that the governor’s personal movements and schedule should not be subject to FOIA requests. He noted that Sanders and her husband have young children and she has received threats in the past. Many of the requests are made to just “tie up workers” and bog down the system, he said.

“I would be willing to work on (changes) to the FOIA laws,” he said.

Ladyman has served in the legislature for five terms. Smith previously served for four terms. The nominee will be decided during the March 5 primary election. The winner will face Democrat David McAvoy in the general election in November.