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.
Russell Williams, III spoke with KUAR News about his candidacy. You can find selected responses below, and hear the interview with Williams above.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
"I am a native of Opelousas, La. I came here for my collegial education at Philander Smith College. I am a senior majoring in political science. Four sisters, the only male, so of course a household with quote-unquote 'five mothers' is definitely an interesting dynamic. Of course, it worked to my betterment in a lot of ways."
How do you feel your skills, background and experiences qualify you to represent District 36?
"I feel that my skills and background qualify me to represent District 36 due to my activity in the district on campus at Philander Smith College. I've served as student government association vice president and president. I'm a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I've been trained in social justice by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation… so of course that was an eye-opening experience, and it definitely was slanted toward the needs of Arkansas and central Arkansas in particular."
What do you believe are some of the greatest strengths and challenges of your district? What are some ideas to face those challenges and to bolster those strengths?
"Just its deep sense of history. It has a very deep sense of pride, and of course it goes back to the civil rights movement of individuals… pushing the advocacy for our communities that was needed and that is still needed in a lot of ways to this day."
"Just to help the newer generation, the younger individuals that have migrated to District 36 understand the role that they can play in shaping the history going forward while also paying deference and showing reverence to the past. Allowing those to shape our perspective and say, 'Okay if they could do that then we could definitely push our own agendas and our own advocacy efforts going forward.'"
How would you accomplish your goals in a majority Republican legislature and coming from a district not in the mainstream of political power?
"I feel that some of the legislation I could put forward would definitely cater toward the availability of educational programs for youth, recreational programs for youth, and it being more organized so that the district feels more combined, more connected in a sense."
"Definitely having an understanding of the needs of our senior citizens in the district, what programs could be added benefit to the quality of life as we know it, what assistance could we provide them in terms of transportation or in terms of medical benefits and care, and most importantly what ways can we help them to still feel connected and involved in their community."
Are there aspects within the legislature itself that you would like to change or challenge?
"The obvious can be stated, I'm 21 years of age, I am going into my final year in college… and I feel as if the status quo of… you have to have some of those more notable areas of recognition in order to amass to the position of state representative, I feel as if that whole area can be a hindrance to individuals that have a spirit of wanting to serve."
"Although I understand the importance of experience, because experience is a definite factor, I do not feel as if, simply because an individual does not have the experience in your eyes, does not mean that they don't understand their segments of the population or understand the individuals they've talked to."
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?
"The transition of students from high school to college, then from college to the work force or service opportunities or just existing in communities to add to the overall quality of life. I feel as if there could be more effort put towards keeping those individuals and retaining them and retaining the talent pool that Arkansas has invested in because personally, I feel as if Arkansas has invested in me greatly. It's important to me, and I see the effect that it’s had on students from across this country who attend school here."
What would you say is your signature issue or an issue that needs more attention from lawmakers?
"I feel that lawmakers should definitely pay more attention to the high school students who are transitioning to college and the experiences that they are going to gain in college because that's the key pipeline to maintaining an informed and an educated and active constituency within our state."
"I just feel that as a whole we can approach it differently and make sure that we have more creative avenues by which to include the dialogue of those high school seniors who are transitioning to college and have those questions about the community. Or those college freshmen who want to know how they can be involved over the summer, or those college seniors who are saying, 'Okay, I think I want to remain in Arkansas. In what ways can I possibly grow and develop here past my actual degree?'"
"Those things make the difference in the quality of life of community, the makeup of community, the ways in which we impact our youth, the ways in which we go about appreciating our elders. And most importantly, the way in which we continue to move forward."