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Jared Henderson says he'll probably make a "soft launch" today of his Democratic candidacy for governor.

He means something via the Internet, a video or a social media announcement, probably. It will get him going but amount to less than the formal announcement to come later.

I'd like to take this opportunity, then, to make a "hard launch" of the vital new era of the Arkansas Democratic Party that I believe Henderson's candidacy will represent.

Arkansas Democrats have needed in recent years a second sentence, one to come after this venerable one: "Boy, weren't the '70s and '80s great?"

Henderson offers that second sentence: "But now let's make the 2020s and the 2030s great, too."

Several weeks ago, the young state Democratic chairman, Michael John Gray, wondered if I'd have time to meet at a coffee shop downtown with a prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidate. I ventured into the River Market establishment, looked around, saw that this prospective candidate had not yet arrived, and ordered coffee.

But he had arrived. The casually dressed young man with the laptop whom I'd taken for a generic coffee shop Web surfer ... he spoke up, and introduced himself.

Jared Henderson? How did I know that name?

Maybe, he suggested, it was through the Teach for America program, the initiative of bright young service-minded persons who in a previous generation might have chosen the law, maybe after a stint in the Peace Corps. But nowadays they plunge into what they see as the greatest adventure, greatest challenge and greatest need--teaching in schools in the toughest American places.

For several years until a few months ago, Henderson was executive director of Teach for America in Arkansas, overseeing the assignment of scores of young people branching out mostly in the Delta.

Or perhaps, he said, I'd heard his name in connection to ForwARd Arkansas, a public-private working group of education, business, government and civic leaders seeking to improve public education in the state, and for which he's been project manager and co-chairman.

Henderson proceeded that morning to inundate me with ideas.

He began with the notion of a program in colleges of education that he likened to an ROTC of teaching. It would recruit willing students from the brightest and best to venture into special instruction and training for special assignment, and higher pay, to teach amid the special challenges of urban schools and Delta schools.

He said a good way to attack economic decline in rural Arkansas would be to offer new community training to introduce entrepreneurship to able and smart people who know nothing about how to incorporate a business. They need to know how to do a business plan. They need to know that the bank down the street has money for their small-engine repair shop or seamstress service that could well thrive behind those boarded-up storefronts on Main Street.

Henderson said we must get beyond the divisive socio-religious fights about sexuality to get on a bully pulpit against the scourge of teen pregnancy, which causes us to lose two generations at a time when a child gives birth to a child, and then again, and again.

He said he knew that campaigns need simply expressed themes. He said he kind of liked something along the order of "expect more."

Weeks later I was giving a talk to a small group at the Conway library and wandered into a discussion of the need for a new Democratic generation. Without calling Henderson's name, I described him in general terms and shared some of his ideas.

I gazed on a man in the audience who was smiling and nodding. It was Ray Simon, state education director in the Huckabee administration.

Simon told me afterward that he knew of whom I was speaking and that the young man was the real deal and that his ideas weren't merely thoughtful, but essential.

It may not be enough for Republicans to oppose him simply by mouthing their victorious refrain of Pelosi, Obama, Clinton. What do those people have to do with a special teaching corps for the Delta or entrepreneurship training camps in rural Arkansas?

It may be that, on a few things, Henderson will strain traditional alliances. Teach for America sometimes gets resented by traditional public-school teachers, whose organizations lean strongly Democratic.

A fifth-generation Arkansan, age 39, Henderson comes from working-class parents in Springdale. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with degrees in physics and computer science, then from Harvard with masters in both business administration and, as a Dean's Fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, public administration.

He worked for a while for Mc-Kinsey and Co., the international consultant firm that tends to lap up the smartest ones after college.

He is married to Dr. Melanie Prince and helps run the business side of her medical practice. They have one young son.

He'll force Asa Hutchinson to study for debates. He'll invite Arkansas to think anew.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/12/2017

Print Headline: The moment has come

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