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INTERVIEW: Arkansas State Rep. Clarke Tucker On Decision To Run For Congress

State Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock).
Jacob Kauffman

State Rep. Clarke Tucker says he will seek the Democratic nomination for Arkansas’s second congressional district. The lawmaker from Little Rock announced Monday he will file paperwork for the office later this month.

Democrats Paul Spencer and Gwen Combs are also seeking the party’s nomination. Incumbent Republican Congressman French Hill is running for his third term.

Tucker spoke with KUAR News about his motivation for getting into the race and ask for reaction to statements released by the two other Democrats after Tucker announced his candidacy. You can listen to the full interview above.

MICHAEL HIBBLEN: Why did you decide to run for Congress?

REP. CLARK TUCKER: Well, healthcare is really the issue that pushed me into the race. It’s an issue that I’ve worked hard on in the Arkansas Legislature for the last several years, making sure that our Arkansas Works program is bi-partisan and sustainable for the 300,000 Arkansans who really depend on it; to have access to healthcare. And then I watched as Congress last year voted to remove the protections for people with preexisting conditions and to dismantle the bipartisan programs like Arkansas Works that we’ve worked on here in Arkansas. So that was really what got my attention to start seriously considering this possibility. And then actually late last summer I was diagnosed with cancer, and when that happened, the healthcare issue just hit home all that much harder. And it’s just something that as I came out of that, and I’m now… I had great care and I’m now cancer-free thankfully, but as I came out of that process, it gave me a perspective that I think you can only get with some experiences. And some of that perspective was that you need to take advantage of the time that you have while you’re here and you need to fight for the things that you believe in, and so that preexisting condition issue, like I said, really hit home with me and that’s what really got me to think seriously about this.

HIBBLEN: Healthcare has become such a divisive topic and used so effectively in recent political races, but do you think that you can humanize the issue for people in a way that could help you in this race?

TUCKER: Well, I think that it’s just a real issue that Arkansas families have to deal with on a daily basis and you have to have access to a doctor and be able to see a doctor to get healthcare. And so even though I wouldn’t have set it up this way, I had a trying experience in 2017, but I feel like I put a human face on the healthcare issue at this point given the experience that I’ve had, and so I know I now have a preexisting condition and so I know how much it means to me to be able to have access to a doctor.

HIBBLEN: Your opponents for the Democratic nomination have released statements this morning welcoming you to the race, but also offering some criticism – and I’ll note that we interviewed each of them when they made their announcements to run – but if I can get your reaction to their statements. Gwen Combs, who works as a Little Rock public school teacher, said your “background is too similar to that” of the incumbent, French Hill, and essentially said Arkansas doesn’t want candidates who “come from money or privilege.” You graduated from Harvard. How would you respond?

CLARK: Well first, I respect Paul Spencer and Gwen Combs and I hope to have a high-minded policy discussion during the course of this primary and I certainly respect their right to run. I have had some great educational opportunities. I went to Central High School and I got, not just a great academic education there, but a life education as well. And I did go off to college and got a great education and I was lucky enough to come back to Arkansas for law school, and so I have had some great opportunities in my life, but I think anyone who would say that my background is just like Congressman Hill’s… that’s a surface-level analysis. And again, I would point to my record in the legislature as evidence that I really work for all Arkansans. I’ve worked to have access to healthcare, to have more kids have access to high quality Pre-K, to enhance our public safety for everyone. I voted for tax cuts for the middle class, to let more working class Arkansans take home more of their paychecks, and so I think my record in the legislature shows that I really work for all Arkansans and that’s the same thing I would seek to do in Congress.

HIBBLEN: And Paul Spencer, he’s running more as a grassroots candidate, refusing to take PAC money; really positioning himself as the outsider. He says people are tired of what he called, “tepid incremental policies that fail to address the systemic underlying problem of ever-widening inequality.” He also said if Democrats want to win back districts like the second district, they can no longer be afraid of making bold, progressive demands on issues that matter. And basically he seems to suggest you, maybe as a member of the state legislature, are part of establishment politicians. Your response?

TUCKER: I think big ideas are never a bad thing, and hopefully we can have a discussion of ideas during the primary, as I said. But at the same time, I’m also a pragmatist, and I think you actually need to get things done when you govern. And when you have two people on different sides, or two parties on different sides who never compromise, that’s when you end up with government shutdowns, and that just hurts the people of the United States. So, I certainly have big ideas of my own, but at the same time, I think Congress was set up by our founders as an institution where compromise was supposed to happen to get things done. So while I do have those ideas, I do believe in working across the aisle to get things done. That is the type of Congressman I would want to be, and I think that’s the kind of congressman the people of central Arkansas would like to have.

HIBBLEN: Do you think President Trump will be a factor in the second district?

TUCKER: I think presidents are always a factor in congressional races, especially in the midterm after they were elected, and I certainly am aware of that, but that’s not going to be my focus. My focus is going to be on the issues that affect Arkansas families on a daily basis, like their jobs, economic growth, access to healthcare, education, public safety, and issues that really affect people on a day-to-day basis.

HIBBLEN: How would you go up against Representative French Hill if you win the primary election? What issues would you use to run against him?

TUCKER: If I were to be the nominee, then the healthcare issue, I think that’s something where we would have a contrasting position, and again, I would point to my position in the legislature where I really worked across party lines in a constructive manner and just get things done, and you just don’t see that in Washington right now. Everything is so hyper-partisan, even our law enforcement agencies are hyper-partisan these days, and that’s problematic for the people of America because our government is really not functioning and not getting the things done that we need to get done. We should have addressed infrastructure already, we should have addressed the opioid crisis, we should already have a plan in place to protect the dreamers and let them stay in the United States with a path to citizenship, but we just haven’t been able to address the rest of these issues because Congress just can’t seem to get anything done. And so I would point to my record in the Arkansas Legislature as reason to believe that I would take that same approach in Congress.

HIBBLEN: Congressman French Hill has more than a million dollars in his reelection bid as of the end of last year. Does that set a big challenge for you?

TUCKER: Yeah, undoubtedly, and I wish money weren’t such a central part of the democratic process these days. I think that’s problematic and I’ve tried to work on it in the state legislature, and if elected, I’ll try to work on it in Congress. But that’s just the reality that we live in, and Congressman Hill has a lot of financial support and so he’s got a big head start and in order to be competitive, I’m going to need to raise a fair amount of money myself and I just hope that the people in Arkansas, and central Arkansas in particular, will be responsive to my message and follow through in the manner that we can run a competitive race and hopefully win.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
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