Opinion Politics

Op-Ed: Prioritizing Opportunity

by Jared Henderson

My life has been blessed with many opportunities. I was born in Little Rock and at four days old was adopted into a family ready to take on parenthood. My mother worked hard at an after school program and my father sold wood windows and doors. I spent K-12 in Springdale Public Schools and am a proud graduate of the University of Arkansas.

Thanks to the opportunities Arkansas, my parents’ hard work, and our public schools provided me, I was able to work towards becoming a first generation college graduate who went on to join the world’s best and brightest minds in science, business, and education.

But not everyone in this state is afforded those same opportunities. Our governor said in his State of the State Address this year that “the state of the State is stronger than ever before.” This might be true in four or five counties. However, for the other 70 counties in Arkansas that is simply not true.

I have been on the campaign trail for seven months now and every day it becomes more clear that Arkansans are looking for change. They are looking for leaders who will fight to make their paychecks go further, their jobs more reliable, or their health care more affordable. They are looking for someone who can provide opportunities that, when matched with hard work, can help them achieve making life a little more simple.

Earlier this year our governor announced a $180 million tax cut for Arkansas’s highest-income earners. Meanwhile, our state struggles to find salaries to pay our teachers a respectable wage, find funding for our roads, and continues to debate whether we can handle the rising cost of health care. It is clear that whether or not we address these issues is not based on lack of ability, but a lack of priority.

If we prioritize education by setting a goal that in ten years Arkansas can the best state in the country to be a public school teacher, we begin to build an education system that works for every child. We know the potential for talent in our schools is universal, but the opportunity to expand those talents is not. We could prioritize attracting the best and the brightest to the teaching profession with respectable wages and focus on providing schools with resources our children need to be their absolute strongest.

Currently, Northwest and Central Arkansas are seeing increased business development and entrepreneurial opportunities. The rest of Arkansas is filled with smart and innovative people who have the vision and the motivation to step up and contribute to their local economy, but have few opportunities to act on those ideas. Innovators and entrepreneurs across our state should have the opportunity to work hard and create a small business without impossible barriers in the way. If we prioritize giving them the resources and tools needed to bring their vision to life, such as seed capital or affordable health insurance while they take the risk of starting a business, we begin to see real economic development that empowers our smaller communities to thrive again.

If we chose to prioritize health care, we could finally move past the annual debate of whether or not our state will continue to fund Medicaid expansion that provides quality health insurance to thousands of working Arkansans and keeps our rural hospitals open. We could instead look towards tackling the skyrocketing cost of health insurance that even solidly middle class families are struggling to keep up with and search for opportunities that allow Arkansans to access affordable health insurance and maintain a healthy, productive life.

Finally, we could prioritize addressing one of Arkansas’s most urgent and pressing issues – our incredibly high rate of teen pregnancy. Whether it is through education services, healthcare services, or just beginning to have a conversation between generations, we could bring community leaders together in each county and address this issue in a way that is consistent with local values. Many other states have tackled this issue head-on and if Arkansas chose to, we could finally begin to break the cycle of generational poverty in this state and let our kids grow up before becoming parents.

That is why I’m running for governor. We should expect leadership in Arkansas that blazes a path forward and prioritizes opportunity not for the richest among us or only those in well-off counties, but for every Arkansan in every corner of our state.

I want what we all want for our kids and grandkids – to have a little more opportunity than what we have right now, and for the next generation to get to tackle a different set of challenges. Whether or not that happens will be up to us. All of us. People are looking for change, but we must have leadership willing to meet Arkansans where they are and work together to make it happen.

Let’s have the courage to take on our toughest challenges with every community in mind, and not be afraid to call out when our leadership doesn’t. Let’s prioritize opportunity for every Arkansan.

(Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics will feature exclusive op-eds provided by members of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. For the latest, click here, only on AMP.)

 

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