Five Democratic candidates are seeking to replace former state Rep. Charles Blake in representing House District 36, which stretches southeast from downtown along the Arkansas River.
Blake resigned in May to serve as chief of staff for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Voters can choose a candidate at a special election on Aug. 6.
KUAR sat down with each of the candidates, and asked the same questions on what they felt were their main issues in the district, and what their plans were for the legislature.
Darrell Stephens spoke with KUAR News about his candidacy. You can find selected responses below, and hear the interview with Stephens above.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
"Originally I am from Lee County, Marianna, at the time of the poorest county in the state. I left home and went to college… at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. When I finished college, I started working with people with disabilities here in the city. I started my own business, Stephens Solutions, where I help people with disabilities find resources for the state. And through all those things I have been involved in politics, working on all the statewide campaigns from [Mike] Beebe, [Mark] Pryor, [Mike] Ross, Blanche [Lincoln], you know, all those guys, to Obama's campaign."
How do you feel your skills, background and experiences qualify you to represent District 36?
"Coming from eastern Arkansas, I saw a lot of issues when it came to our seniors, our veterans, people with disabilities and working families. And so when I got here in Little Rock I saw the same stuff… I came from hard times and coming here and seeing hard times and doing little things to make people’s lives better… kind of puts me in a good position have this seat."
"I think I'm the only candidate that has political experience, that has knocked on doors, that has organized… it's kind of hard to choose a state [representative] in 40 days. You know, I've been on the ground going on 500. My opponents, they don't have 40 days to campaign."
What do you believe are some of the greatest strengths and challenges of your district?
"I think that the district is so well diverse. Man, I mean you've got from the most wealthiest to the poorest, and I think the strength is that we’ve got people who have resources, who have the businesses… the room that the district has for growth."
"We have so many people. When it comes to our seniors that are still suffering. People with disabilities who are being pushed out of mainstream society. You know veterans, we still have homelessness in our district… so togetherness is something that we need to work on, try to bring the district more together, you know, where we can take care of one another just for the common good."
What are some ideas to face those challenges and to bolster those strengths?
"The district is huge… you have Wrightsville doing their thing, you have downtown doing their thing, you have southwest doing their thing. Sweet Home, Hensley, all these areas doing their own thing. And my idea is to bring them all together. Not work on issues separately, but together as a district. And I think that's a good way of being more effective… and those things don't require legislation, don't require changing bills or drafting laws or anything like that, it just requires building the community up."
How would you accomplish your goals in a majority Republican legislature and coming from a district not in the mainstream of political power?
"Any time you start talking about laws, bills, legislation you always have to have allies… so, you know, lining up with people that come from kind of like the area that I’m serving, and they understand the same issues that my voters, the people in my district are dealing with."
"You know, your first two years is pretty much learning the ropes… but I can go in looking at bills that's already out there and make those bills better for the people in the State of Arkansas."
What is an issue that you find emerging in Arkansas as a whole that has yet to be addressed in the legislature?
"We need to start talking about our seniors. You know, there's so many of our seniors that that are hungry one day of the week. Trying to decide whether they're going to pay a bill or buy their [medications]."
"The thing that scares me is that, not only the state but the nation, we're becoming a nation of interest groups. And if you become a nation of interest groups, who speaks for those that suffer the most? They're being left out, and that's what we get now. That's why our seniors, our veterans, people with disabilities and the working families, you know, they get nothing."
What are you planning to do to address these challenges?
"That's more of a community neighborhood type of issue. You know, working with churches, working with businesses to just kind of watch out for the seniors. And just making sure that where money can be funded in helping seniors meet their needs, just making sure more money is there."
Are there aspects within the legislature itself that you would like to change or challenge?
"Just common sense politics, and that's something that I wish that both sides would kind of just come together on and get some things done where our seniors won’t have to suffer, where people with disabilities won't have to suffer, where the middle class will get a break… but one thing that I would love to see is the parties working together."
What would you say is your signature issue or an issue that needs more attention from lawmakers?
"There's so many. Education… we need our school board back… we need more funding in education. The prison system, privatizing our prison system… those things really need to be addressed, because we can't… let people benefit off of someone else's hurt by privatizing our prisons. You shouldn't benefit off of someone else's hurt, someone else's pain, and that’s what's taking place."
"I think our criminal justice system and education, those are two big deals. And then healthcare… those three things will always be an issue. And I don't think they'll never get fixed, it's just something we have to continue to try to make sure whatever we're fighting for, it is going to benefit the people the most."