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Jason Rapert fails to remove funding from some state libraries

The “social section” in Crawford County Library’s Van Buren branch
Arkansas Advocate
Screenshot from court documents
Former Sen. Jason Rapert was not able to defund some state libaries.

Former Sen. Jason Rapert failed several times to remove funding from libraries that have books he finds offensive. Rapert serves on the State Library Board. He came to the Friday meeting on zoom. At the meeting, he put forward several motions to withhold funding from libraries that have books that he classifies as “obscene or pornographic.”

“I am going to make this motion every single board meeting to suspend funds,” he said.

Rapert presented a list of books he found objectionable at the meeting. The titles included books with LGBTQ themes and characters like All Boys Aren't Blue and Gender Queer. Several other books are by the writer Ellen Hopkins. She writes novels written in poetry that deal with themes like teen sex and drug use. Rapert said he found the books on a website called “Take Back The Classroom.”

He previously asked the state libraries to present a list showing how many times the books have appeared in state libraries.

On X, in April he wrote: “I call upon all library boards and librarians to IMMEDIATELY remove these books and secure them out of reach of minor children.”

Most of the books he listed are in Young Adult sections of state libraries. Under new laws, parents can see what their children check out.

Rapert says the Lonoke County library has been slow in responding to the request. The director of the Library, John McGraw, was at the meeting. He is the director of the Faulkner-Van Buren Regional system. The board approved a plan for him to also work as the “MLS of record” for the Lonoke County Library. The Lonoke County Library Director moved and the system is searching for a new director. During the meeting, Rapert accosted him for not responding to his request to know how many of the books on the list are in state libraries.

“Why would you not respond to that request,” he asked.

“I am literally still working on it,” McGraw said, explaining he had been too busy to finish it.

Later in the meeting, Rapert put forward new business to defund libraries. Rapert began his ploy to remove the books by asking the board if they had read any of the books on the list and asking them to go to the website.

“Of two of the books you go on the website and its material I would not want to have to read to you from this body,” he said. He said one of the books “shocked him” because it depicts incest. He also said one book depicts “children performing various sexual acts.” Rapert did not say the names of the books.

Lupe Peña de Martínez responded to the motion. She said she had read some of the books

“I agree with you that there are absolutely atrocious scenes,” she said. “They are intended for young people who have face trauma. The intended audience are not for people who have led comfortable lives with two parents or a loving household.”

She went on to say she was “repulsed” by the books.

“But not because I am upset with the authors,” she said. “I am repulsed at what children are victim to by predators.”

She said as an abuse victim herself the stories in the book “echoed her experience.” She now works in student services for the Department of Education. Martínez said she had seen children in similar situations to the books in her job.

“These moments for me in these books I realize they are uncomfortable, I've also lived them.”

She also said the abuse in the books, when put in context, is shown to be “not right.”

Rapert did not name any book specifically, but said that “some of the books are actually grooming children.”

Chairwoman Deborah Knox pointed out that the board had already passed funding for libraries earlier in the meeting.

“I don't think we would have any way of determining which libraries may be knowingly making obscene materials available to children,” she said. She explained that the books on the list are not in children's sections of the library.

Everyone else who responded to the motion spoke against it. One member of the board said it felt like “legislation.”

"My role here is to do one thing," Rapert said. "It's to stop pornographic sexual explicit materials from the shelves of libraries in this state. "

He then addressed the other members of the board as he was the only one on zoom.

"If you don't understand that, shaking your head on the screen, maybe you need to revisit what your on the board for."

Rapert did not get a second on one of his motions to remove funding from libraries that have the books. On another motion to revoke funding, everyone but Rapert voted no.

This comes amid an ongoing lawsuit on Act 372. The law would regulate books in libraries and criminalize librarians who do not comply with the rules. Parts of the law were blocked after libraries, bookstore owners, and patrons sued. Rapert attempted again to block funding for the libraries involved in the suit. This motion failed. His previous attempts at the same motion failed in February.

After the meeting, he talked about the vote on X, mentioning that the board is all female.

"I am appalled that women are okay allowing sexually explicit materials to be made available to little kids," he said.

He linked to a web post about the book Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said McGraw was the director of the Lonoke County Library System.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.