Candidates For Arkansas House District 36 Special Election Debate As Early Voting Underway

Jul 31, 2019

(From L to R) Darrell Stephens, Roderick Talley, moderator Benjamin Jackson, Russell Williams, III, Philip Hood and Denise Ennett take part in the final debate before the Aug. 6 special election for Arkansas House District 36.
Credit Daniel Breen / KUAR News

With just one week until Election Day, the five democratic candidates running to represent District 36 in the Arkansas House of Representatives spoke with voters at the final forum before the election.

Russell Williams, III, Roderick Talley, Denise Ennett, Philip Hood and Darrell Stephens spoke at Philander Smith College Tuesday evening in the forum sponsored by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and the Social Justice Institute.

The five are running to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Charles Blake, who resigned in May to serve as chief of staff for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr.

Here’s how the candidates stacked up on the issues:

On how to improve the lives of Arkansans:

Stephens: "On any given day you have seniors right in this district who go hungry and who need something to eat… our veterans are sleeping on the streets at night waiting weeks and months for services, and the middle class needs a break."

Talley: "One of the things that I want to fix if elected is taking a simple possession charges and not treating them as a felony and actually treating it as trying to rehabilitate those that are on drugs as opposed to giving them sentences and taking their rights away." 

Williams: "It’s up to us actually make sure those students who are graduating from here and, we want them to stay here, they see themselves lying within the individuals who are in public service, who want to go into the police force, who want to go into healthcare advocacy, want to go into disability rights, because those ideas of course are there, but they need new fresh people to actually push them forth."

Hood: "I think that pay disparities are huge, we need to have a living wage. Anyone who’s working needs to be able to… afford the necessities. And I think communities should have an advocate… someone within the police department that knows the community."

Ennett: "I would like to find a way to fund the Housing Trust Fund. That fund is used to help with affordable housing, and also I’d like to see a renters’ rights bill passed." 

On how to work as a Democrat in a majority-Republican legislature:

Stephens: "You have to be understanding. You have to have bills and laws and introduce bills and laws that are workable. I think that going into the House and presenting bills that only cater to my own interests… it’s pretty much a waste of time."

Talley: "One of the things that’s lacking in government is transparency and accountability… I don't have a problem with taking the backseat with any legislation if it’s going to be in the best interest of the people, I don’t care if a Republican wants to pass it on my behalf or if Democrats want to pass it." 

Williams: "I believe it's incumbent upon those who want to go into this office to actually have ideas and have the endeavors to tap into not only the needs of our district but the things which we know that they are going to appreciate, things we know they’re going to push forth and ultimately support in terms of legislation." 

Hood: "Relationships matter. We need someone in there who will have the temperament to talk to the other side. We're going to need someone in there who already has relationships, which I do. We need someone in there who’s going to be able to present something in a way that would be beneficial to them and us."

Ennett: "I think the key to that is to bridge gaps or to create coalitions, to find common ground and see what each person can bring to the table… so I think it's possible, it will be hard to get some stuff done, but I don’t think it's impossible."

On how to improve public education:

Stephens: "I think our teachers are not paid enough. You know, I think our teachers need a living wage where they don’t have to work second jobs. Not only that, we need to start talking about scholarships, we need to talk about the lottery. I think that needs to be looked at." 

Talley: "Universal Pre-K… I think to allow more rehabilitative services in the school, bring back the guidance counselors. I think a lot of kids bring problems from home into school, so of course having parents involved would be a good thing."

Williams: "I would begin with returning local control of the school district back to the citizens of Little Rock, and in doing so actually making sure we assess and look within ourselves and asking, 'Okay what can the community as a whole do different?'"

Hood: "I'd protect public schools from school vouchers. I think that is going to be an attack that is going to continue to happen, they’re going to continue to try to get public tax dollars to go to private schools… I think that there is a wage gap between teachers and administrators that needs to be closed." 

Ennett: "One thing I would like to do as far as public education is to overhaul special education. My son has special needs, and I’ve been an advocate for my son and other parents as well. I think that whole part of the Arkansas Department of Education needs an overhaul."

On how to ensure youth are represented in lawmaking:

Stephens: "What I would do is create an 18 to 25 year old council where people… can come together and address their concerns that can be taken to a legislator. But let me say this: when I was young and wanted to get involved, no one had to tell me to get involved." 

Talley: "The youth, they use social media to push their own agendas, and I think if we get them more on par with politics and understanding how valuable their voice is, then they won’t feel left out in this." 

Williams: "I would just simply begin with the conversation from a relatability aspect… I know what student loan debt is, I know what it’s like to graduate from college and not actually be able to find a job within the first six months to cover your first student loan payment." 

Hood: "Legislation is geared toward helping demographics that are in need… and legislation is put forth to fix something. And unless that demographic comes forward and says they need something, you will be overlooked." 

Ennett: "I think one way of doing that is for the representative to maybe come to the campus and have a meet-and-greet, and talk about some of your concerns and how the legislative process works." 

On how to be intentionally inclusive in representing constituents:

Stephens: "In [2008] I worked with Obama here in the state of Arkansas with all types of people. I can remember people flying in from other countries working… This state was against Obama, but I brought people together from all different colors, all different backgrounds and we won. And I know we're better together." 

Talley: "My district is made up of a variety of different nationalities and so within my campaign I have worked closely with… people of different nationalities of Hispanics… to help out along the way. To reach out to those that I couldn’t speak to."

Williams: "[As Student Body President] by me just simply having the input of the student body I was able to incorporate the city, the state legislature, the community as a whole and most importantly our students here on Philander Smith College’s campus to accomplish a major goal of mine, which is simply to just have students cross the street make it to their residence hall safer." 

Hood: "I think that when you are working on any project, it’s important to find your centers of influence. In any group, any organization you’ll find the leader, the person others listen to… so finding those people in the community… bringing them in to the table, that is the best way to do it."

Ennett: "It's easy, you just go to the places where people hang out and you introduce yourself and you express that you need their help in bringing them together and come to the table and figure out some ideas to make to make things better."