by Jamie Barker
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young 1 Timothy 4:12a
In the state of Arkansas we are all too familiar with the phrase, “it’s a rebuilding season”. Despite our unwavering passion for our Razorback football program, we are often stuck with having to wait in anticipation for future successes that, more often than not, never really seem to come to fruition. This had to be what it was like to be a Republican in the late nineties and early 2000s as states that surround Arkansas moved from solidly blue to red strongholds – all while Arkansas seemed determined to keep its blue tint.
The momentum finally shifted earlier this decade, and Arkansas now sits as deeply Republican as virtually any other southern state. As someone who came onto the political scene right as this was happening, it has been an exciting few years to experience. For the first time, Arkansas Republicans hold all federal offices, constitutional offices and strong majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. There are numerous reasons that account for the massive swing away from the Democrat party and toward Republicanism, but those are likely better left for someone with a lengthier history in Arkansas politics than I. However, future success and the sustainability of the Arkansas GOP’s ascent to power is easily discerned by anyone who looks at the many individuals leading the way in conservative policy making for our state but first, back to football.
NCAA powerhouses like Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State are year in year out virtually unchanged. Yes, many of the players and coaches change, but the overall strength of the team is relatively easy to predict as is their consistent style of play. How do they maintain such dominating status with such consistency? Any armchair quarterback will know recruiting is probably the biggest part of that. Having top-tier talent come in, learn from those who are doing it the best, then take over in a year or two breeds winning seasons but also creates a sustainable model for long term success. Politics is no different.
Arkansas Republicans have done an extraordinary job at engaging and including younger people when they recruit candidates, when they hold events and when they engage in elections at the grassroots level. Arkansas has the youngest sitting US Senator in Sen. Tom Cotton, we have the thirteenth youngest Lt. Governor in Tim Griffin, and we have one of the youngest Attorney Generals in the country. In the state legislature there are twelve members who are younger than forty years old.
If you want a glimpse into where the youth of Arkansas’ conservative party can lead, our Governor is a perfect case study. After being involved with Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, he was appointed by President Reagan to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Western district of Arkansas. He was the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation at only thirty-one years old, launching an impressive career as a Congressman, DEA Director, Undersecretary of Homeland Security, and now as Governor. He also served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas during one the toughest periods for Arkansas Republicans in recent history. An early involvement and investment by the most popular Republican president of modern times paved the way for the conservative policies and leadership that led Arkansas to record low unemployment, reduced government dependency and lowered taxes. Early involvement may not be a guarantee of future success, but it is certainly helpful.
In the Arkansas state capitol there are five members who are under the age of thirty-five. Four of those are twenty-seven years old or younger, the other is thirty-four and is the youngest member of the State senate by half a decade. All of them are members of the Arkansas Republican party. Reps. Grant Hodges, Austin McCollum, Aaron Pilkington and James Sturch, along with Sen. Trent Garner all show the strength of not only the party as a whole, but also its investment in young people with the vision that they will one day lead the party. In the meantime, they are at the forefront of conservative policy making. Rep. McCollum was recognized recently as the Foundation for Government Accountability’s “Legislator of the Year” as a freshman member. Sen. Garner led the push for expanded gun rights in Arkansas through the establishment of the enhanced conceal carry license. Rep. Grant Hodges was instrumental in the renewed efforts to separate Robert E. Lee day from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There are tons of other accomplishments by young legislators, and I would say it would get old to highlight them all – except we’re not tired of winning.
With such a large portion of the Republican Party of Arkansas’s leaders being young, it is not a stretch to think some of these conservatives can continue and even build on the success of the Republican Party over the past three election cycles. I am not sure if the Hogs’ new head football coach, Chad Morris, is a reader of this publication, but I’m sure Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb would happily lend some tips to another red team that experiences overwhelming popularity in the Natural State.
(Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics will feature exclusive op-eds provided by members of the Republican Party of Arkansas. For the party’s latest, click here, only on AMP.)
Jamie Barker is the communications director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s reelection campaign and serves as the Chairman of the Arkansas Federation of Young Republicans. He has worked for Sen. Tom Cotton, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Republican Party of Arkansas. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in Biology. Jamie is was born and raised in Smackover, but he now resides in Little Rock with his wife, Allie, and their three sons: Luke, Tucker and Tripp.