Voters in state House District 11 will decide a Republican primary between Rebecca Burkes, an attorney and real estate developer, and Robert Fair, who said he represents the working class.
"I'm as blue-collar as they come," Fair said.
The primary's winner will face Rey Hernandez, a Democrat, in November.
District 11 takes in a portion of downtown Springdale, but most of the district lies north of the Washington County line in Benton County. It extends as far north as Stoney Point Road east of Rogers and reaches the shores of Beaver Lake in the east. The district takes in Lowell and reaches Silent Grove Road in Springdale in the west.
The state redraws legislative district lines after each U.S. census so each House member represents a roughly equal number of people. The state also redraws Senate districts with the same goal. The federal government conducts a census every 10 years. There are 100 House districts and 35 Senate districts. The borders drawn for District 11 were the most controversial of any, drawing the most criticism in public comments during the state's redistricting process, records show.
Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, lives in District 11 but didn't seek reelection after legislative boundaries were redrawn. Godfrey's supporters and those objecting to splitting downtown Springdale into two House districts decried the changes as a gerrymander by the all-Republican state Board of Apportionment. Supporters of the change said the split was necessary to create the state's first majority Hispanic district, District 9, which includes the eastern portion of Springdale's downtown.
Burkes cited her experience as an attorney, which includes having once served as the former deputy director and general counsel for the Arkansas Department of Heritage. The department preserves and promotes sites of historic, cultural, artistic and natural significance. Working for the department gave Burkes a thorough knowledge of how state government functions and gave her experience in dealing with the Legislature, she said. Burkes' husband, Aaron, served in the House from 2009 through 2010.
Private practice in law and her experience as a small business owner also gives her a sound working knowledge of what residents of District 11 do and do not want out of their state government, she said.
"It also gave me experience in serving customers, which is what a legislator is supposed to do," she said.
She is a founder of The Burkes Co., a residential and commercial real estate development, construction and brokerage firm. She is also chief operating officer of the Specialized Real Estate Group of Fayetteville.
"Small business and entrepreneurship are the backbone and lifeblood of this region," she said.
"The voters I've talked to so far want less red tape and regulation," Burkes said. "They want to operate their businesses. They chose to live here for a good education and a safe community."
District 11 voters also want a lower tax burden, she said.
Her experience in the Heritage Department showed her state government will always tend to grow and become more invasive in people's lives unless there is strong conservative leadership in the Legislature, Burkes said. She would also be a strong supporter of parents rights to have a greater say in their children's education, she said.
Fair decided to run for the Legislature after some employees lost their jobs for refusing to take covid vaccines. Vaccination mandates were just one of the issues in which workers needed representation in the Legislature, he said. Other vaccines required by schools and employers have been in use for decades and are proven to be safe, he said. In the case of covid, workers were being forced to take a vaccine that had just been developed, he said.
Fair opposed vaccine mandates even though his severe bout of the disease early in 2020 cost him his job at the time, he said. He knows the disease is serious, he said, but people shouldn't be forced to take a vaccine until and unless the vaccine is shown to have no long-term effects.
As a veteran of the Army, "I know people I served with who are in health care professions now who lost their jobs because they wouldn't take the vaccine," Fair said.
On taxes, Fair said the state should legalize recreational marijuana. Tax receipts from sales of marijuana would provide enough revenue to allow the state to eliminate the state income tax and reduce personal property taxes, he said.
Fair said he's learning Spanish to better represent Spanish speakers in the district. The voters of the district are workers like him, he said. They deserve more representation in the Legislature, he said.
"What I'm asking for is a chance, for one term," Fair said. "If you don't like what I do, vote me out in the next election and get someone else. That is the beauty of our system."
Both Burkes and Fair said they oppose abortion and support gun owners' rights.
Fair disclosed he was charged in Springdale on April 15 with one misdemeanor count of shoplifting. The incident was caused by a misunderstanding, he said, in which a coffee maker he purchased failed to scan properly. He expects the matter to be cleared up at a court appearance next month, Fair said.
House members serve two-year terms and receive a base salary of $44,357.
State House District 11
Rebecca Burkes (R)
Residency: Springdale since 2018
Occupation: Attorney and real estate developer
Education: Law degree from Baylor University, Waco, Texas; master’s in operations management from University of Arkansas.
Political experience: none
Robert Fair (R)
Residency: Springdale since 2020
Occupation: Truck driver
Education: Attended, Trident University International, Cypress, Calif.
Political Experience: none