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Arkansas party leaders give their thoughts on midterms, legislative session

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Democratic Party of Arkansas
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Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair Grant Tennille and Republican Party Chair Jonelle Fulmer are seen in these file photos.

The midterm elections are officially over in Arkansas. Republicans kept control of all state constitutional and congressional offices while increasing their supermajority in the House and Senate.

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair Grant Tennille says gerrymandering of district boundaries benefited Republicans, while Democratic candidates managed to do the best they could.

"When you draw the map the way you want it, you should do well, and they did. But facing all of that, we were able to defend all of our legislative incumbents on the ballot, save one who found himself in an R+10 district after redistricting," Tennille said, referring to Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia, who lost to Republican challenger Wade Andrews.

Jonelle Fulmer
Hear KUAR's interview with the head of the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Tennille blamed Republican election officials for closing a number of polling places for this year’s midterms. Going into the 2023 general session of the Arkansas Legislature, state Republican Party Chair Jonelle Fulmer says public safety will be a priority for lawmakers.

"As the Republican Party we certainly would support adequate facilities for prisoners rather than prisoner release. Oftentimes I think we're seeing prisoners released that are violent and should not be back in society," Fulmer said.

Fulmer says she expects education to be a hot topic in the session, with proposals to expand school voucher programs likely to be introduced by Republicans. After a failed attempt earlier this year, both Fulmer and Tennille say raising the minimum pay for public school teachers in the state will be a priority.

Grant Tennille
Hear KUAR's interview with the head of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

"Our legislature has a better handle on where those monies specifically are going for public education, that there is perhaps not always the best use of funds," Fulmer said. "A lot of those funds need to be going to teacher pay instead of a lot of the other avenues where they might be used."

While Republican leaders have said too much is being spent on public education, Tennille says chronic underfunding of Arkansas schools leads to poor outcomes for students.

"It's time for Arkansas to invest in the schools in a way that will produce the results that we want, which is more kids graduating, more kids going on to some form of education or training after high school... but without continued investment in our teachers, in curriculum, in technology, we're going to continue to spin our wheels," Tennille said, adding Democratic lawmakers hope to also focus on expanding access to pre-K.

Tennille also said state Republican proposals to limit the number of Democratic lawmakers who can serve on committees will only make the legislature less diverse.

Lawmakers will begin the next session on Jan. 9, 2023.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.