State Rep. Reginald Murdock and Nancy Blount, both of Marianna, will face off in the Democratic primary for House District 48 this spring, making it the second time the two have vied for the same seat.
Murdock, 52, lost to Blount, 69, in the 2004 Democratic primary after then-Rep. John Eason decided against seeking re-election.
Under the laws at the time, Blount was term-limited after 2010. Murdock won that year's primary against another candidate and was unopposed in the general election. He is in his fourth two-year term.
There is no Republican challenger in the race for District 48 -- which includes parts of Lee and St. Francis counties -- so the nominee elected in the May 22 primary will fill the spot.
Blount, a retired teacher and the owner of Marianna Funeral Home, said it's time for a change. Amendment 94, approved by voters in 2014, extended to 16 the total years that could be served in the Legislature, giving Blount an opening to reclaim the seat.
Several of her constituents implored her to run, she said.
"We can't go through another session without somebody who is well-versed in education and small-town rural areas," Blount said.
If elected, Blount -- who earned a bachelor's of art degree in foreign languages and English at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and a master's in French from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville -- said she will fight for adequate financing for public schools, accessible health care and creating a trained workforce.
"What happened in public education with funds being diverted from public education to other things could ruin small, rural community schools," Blount said. "I just cannot sit by and let that happen."
As a legislator, Blount was a strong supporter of ARKids First, the state-funded health insurance program for children whose families made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance. She sponsored the legislation that became Arkansas Code Annotated 6-10-118 that established a program to inform students in local school districts about the ARKids First initiative.
An educated, healthy workforce will save the Delta, Blount said. She is a strong supporter of career technical training at the high school level and said she will seek increases of that funding if elected.
The state's career-center allotment of $20.1 million annually is distributed to the school districts at $3,250 per full-time vocational student and is based on the previous year's enrollment in those courses.
That rate has remained unchanged since it was established in 2003.
"There's no use in having industry here if we don't have anyone who can work the jobs," Blount said.
Murdock -- who earned an industrial engineering degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and is the owner of a construction company -- said he's seeking re-election because he's "not done yet."
He said he will continue his work for the depressed Delta that he has called home since middle school to address needs in education, health care, jobs, housing and highways.
"We have various challenges that we face in general in the Delta," Murdock said. "We're still trying to fight to make sure that our constituency, the people of the Delta, have the fair chance at life that they deserve as much as everyone else in Arkansas and the United States of America."
It's the relationships that stretch across the aisle that Murdock has established in his four terms that give him an advantage in bringing change to his district, he said.
He recounted a time when he and his Republican counterparts disagreed over legislation affecting education in the Delta. He invited the legislators to go see the depressed region of the state firsthand.
Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, and Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, took him up on the offer, visiting with administrators, school board members and students.
"They were able to see through it all, through all the disparities, through all challenges, that we were still fighting hard in the Delta for survival," Murdock said.
Since then, the legislators have worked together on many issues around the state.
"Irregardless of party lines, irregardless of challenges that you face, you have to be a person that can develop relationships that will lean towards survival and successful outcomes for those that you represent," Murdock said.
Both Murdock and Blount said they support the state's version of Medicaid expansion as a way to provide health care access to people unable to afford it on their own.
Then-Gov. Mike Beebe authorized the expansion in 2013 to use Medicaid dollars to provide private health insurance for low-income Arkansans who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
This year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request was approved by President Donald Trump for a waiver to impose a work requirement on some of the 280,000 people enrolled in the program, now called Arkansas Works.
Doing away with it would send those who can't independently afford health care back to the hospital emergency rooms for their primary-care needs, Murdock said.
"Which then would return us to more uncompensated care occurrences, which would further put our rural hospitals in peril," Murdock said.
Blount said it's vital that the state continue the ARKids First program, the state's Medicaid program for children younger than 19.
"We don't need for our children and the underprivileged not to be able to have access to Medicaid because, again, a lot can't afford the health care, the prescriptions and all that and this would allow that," Blount said.
Abortion should only be used when medically necessary, Murdock said.
"The mother should make the decision," he added.
For Blount, the issue is clear.
"I don't think the government should have any interference or regulation to do with what a woman does with her body. I think that choice ought to be between that woman, her physician and the good Lord," Blount said. "And if they're satisfied with it, I think we have enough issues to deal with in this state without regulating people's personal affairs."
Blount has mixed feelings about the state's new legalization of medical marijuana.
"I'm not sure about whether I think it should even be allowed as an option," she said. "But research says it's supposed to be able to help people with cancer and other diseases. If the experts say it could be a way of helping these folks, then I'd have to support that."
The state's Medical Marijuana Commission has met with legal challenges in its attempt to issue the state's first licenses to grow medical cannabis. Blount and Murdock say the process has some flaws.
"There needs to be a careful look in the mirror as to the best way to correct any acknowledged issues that the state agencies that were charged to lead us through this have encountered," Murdock said. "We have lawsuits and challenges, which was expected to some degree. I think what we now have the chance to do is properly reflect upon what has happened, correct any mistakes and proceed to do what the people voted for in a fair manner."
Blount said the process lacks transparency and is not fair to Delta communities, like Marianna. The licensing fee is $100,000 with a required $500,000 performance bond per cultivation facility.
"You'd have to be rich to be able to have one of the facilities," Blount said. "That discriminates against our rural and small areas and poor folks."
As a retired public school teacher, Blount is passionately opposed to guns on school or college campuses.
Act 562 of 2017 allows people to take concealed weapons onto public university campuses and other public places if they take an extra eight hours of training.
Blount, who carries a concealed gun, said eight hours just isn't enough.
"The training is not anything like actually being involved in the situation when you'd have to use a weapon," she said. "And that's the reason I have a problem with it in schools. Period."
Murdock said that while he believes in the Second Amendment, guns have no place on college campuses.
"I agree with the leadership of the institutions in our state that overwhelmingly cautioned against the allowance of this for varying reasons," Murdock said. "They testified in committee meetings when this was debated in the Legislature, and they provided very relevant testimony that further convinced me of the dangers this may cause."
Metro on 04/29/2018
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