Arkansas House District 36 Special Election: Denise Ennett

Jul 23, 2019

Credit Denise Ennett

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 the main issues in the district, and what their plans were for the legislature. 

Denise Ennett spoke with KUAR News about her candidacy. You can find selected responses below and hear the interview with Ennett above. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

"I'm a mother. I'm a wife and a community activist/advocate. I currently live in Pettaway. That was the neighborhood that I was raised in and when my husband retired from the military, we decided to come back to the same house, in the same neighborhood to raise our family."

"As [an] advocate, as an activist… I have three children and they mean the world to me. And since they attend the Little Rock School District, there are some things that have happened [in the] last couple [of] years. The state did take over the school district and one of my main priorities is to try to get the school district back to local control. We need a school board. The people here in Little Rock pay taxes for the school. We need to have a say on what's going on with the school district."

How do you feel that your skills, background and experiences qualify you to represent District 36?

"I have been very active with the Little Rock School District. So, I am familiar with going to the Capitol. I'm familiar with testifying against or for something. Also, being involved in several boards and commissions, you learn how to delegate. You learn how to set up committees. You learn how to work across the aisle and you have to learn how to study whatever it is in front of you so you can make the best decision. So, with those skills and me just being a mom, you know, learning how to juggle things back and forth. All those skills I have, I could take that to the state legislature to make some good sense laws."

What do you believe are some of the greatest strengths and challenges of your district?

"My district is in the heart of Little Rock. In the 'ground zero' in terms of neighborhoods that have the most to gain and the most to lose depending on what path we choose. So, we do have a lot of momentum in parts of District 36, so that's a good thing."

"But some of the challenges are…you have food deserts. You still have neighborhoods that still need some of investment in and so there are parts of District 36 that needs…. We don't need more outside gentrification and delinquent landlords. We need legislation that gives renters just as many rights as our landlords. We need a legislature that will hold bad actors accountable and provide a more level playing field for our community."

What are some ideas to face those challenges and to bolster those strengths?

"I think…having town hall meetings in certain areas and getting the input from the community is a good thing. Taking the information that you learn and studying it and seeing how [the] legislature can come up [with and] devise a plan to address that need."

"I would like to see what we can do to incentivize people to invest more in District 36. And [in] the legislature you can try to pass bills, sponsor bills that make it easier for people to come in and have businesses… By making it easy for neighbors to come in to the community and buy a house if they want to. Have different programs so you don't leave people out of neighborhoods. Continue to have affordable housing for people in the newer neighborhoods."

"Another way I think will help the neighborhood is by passing a landlord tenant act. Arkansas is one of the states that doesn’t have protection for renters. I think it’s very important to pass that legislation that came through earlier this year, so the renters have rights and I think that will help the community as well. It will help keep the landlords accountable for their properties and help the neighborhood look better because or some of the landlords out there have these properties that are just awful, and they still rent them every month, they rent them out. And I think if we could figure out a way to get that going, I think that'll help the neighborhoods as well."

How would you accomplish your goals in a majority Republican legislature and coming from a district not in the mainstream of political power?

"My past experiences, I've been able to work across the table with various groups, various stake holders, and I believe the key to that is learning the bill. Learning exactly the details because the devils are in the details… Learning what that point is where you’re not going to compromise, I think things can happen. You just have to have the will to make it happen."

What is an issue that you find emerging in Arkansas as a whole that has yet to be addressed in the legislature? What are you planning to do to address this challenge?

"Homelessness in District 36, as we all know, we see a lot of it downtown. I would like to try to get the housing fund back and...put money into the housing fund and help with affordable housing. But recently, it hasn’t been funded. Every state has one and I would like to see that revisited and see how we can get that going again."

Are there aspects within the legislature itself that you would like to change or challenge?

"I believe we should have more women at the table. We have a voice and we need our voice to be heard at the table when these laws are coming up about reproductive rights or anything dealing with family, anything dealing with school. We just need to be more represented at the legislature."

What would you say is your signature issue or an issue that needs more attention from lawmakers?

"Public education would be the one item that’s most important for me right now. We need to stop making these laws that make it easier for charter schools to come in. We need more oversight on charter schools…We need to invest more in pre-K.  We haven't had a major investment pre-K. in over a decade. We need to value teachers and pay them what they're worth."