FORT SMITH -- The question of who will represent a majority of the north side of the River Valley's largest city in the state House is a choice between a sitting official and a political newcomer.
Jay Richardson, a Democrat, and Max Avery, a Republican, are contending for the House District 49 seat in the Nov. 8 general election. Both candidates were unopposed in the May 24 primary election.
District 49 encompasses most of Fort Smith north of Garrison and Park avenues, as well as Midland Boulevard, according to a map on the Arkansas Board of Apportionment website. It also includes a portion east of North 49th Street and south of North O Street that includes the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and extends to Interstate 540.
State representatives serve two-year terms and receive a base salary of $44,357. There are 100 members of the state House. Early voting begins Oct. 24.
Richardson is in his second term in the House of Representatives.
Richardson believes growing up in north Fort Smith and having his family rooted there gives him a more comprehensive understanding of District 49 and its people than Avery.
Richardson said he would work to address food insecurity in Fort Smith and Arkansas, or a lack of reliable access to sufficient, affordable and nutritious food, if elected. He would also continue to support law enforcement.
Richardson was a lead sponsor for House Bill 1680, which passed as Arkansas Act 747 of 2021, according to the Legislature website. This requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a policy that facilitates help for officers who have been involved in mentally overwhelming incidents.
"Up until this point, mental health has always had a stigma to it, and there is a lot of officers who have gone through things and seen things and been scared to seek the help," he said.
Richardson said he believed more could be done to attract mental health professionals to school districts to help students. He also said he would work toward improving teacher pay and noted the economic importance of making it easier for small businesses to compete and grow.
Avery is the founder of CDL Academy in Fort Smith, which offers professional truck driver training, and provides it marketing and business development.
Avery said he believes the Republican Party will retain a supermajority in the Arkansas House, with his status as a Republican allowing him to more effectively represent District 49 than Richardson in that context.
Avery said if he wins, he would work to continue reducing the state's tax burden, particularly in regards to taxes that disproportionally affect low-income residents. He believes the Legislature should look at how state agencies and bureaus use taxpayer money and find ways to reduce expenditures, which would enable it to find ways to lower taxes.
Avery said he's also a proponent of school choice as opposed to limiting children to attend a district public school or engaging in private education at the cost of their parents. He said he feels many parents want to have more input in where and how their children are educated.
"There's a lot of different ways to structure it, but I feel that a true school choice system will fund the student, and that family will be able to use those funds to take that money to whatever school fits their child's needs the best and let them receive the education that they're ultimately paying for with their tax dollars right now," Avery said.
House of Representatives
Residence: Fort Smith; lived in District 49 since 2014
Employment: Mergers and acquisitions partner, Resolution Equity Partners, Fort Smith
Education: Bachelor of science degree, John Brown University; associate of arts degree, Westark College (now University of Arkansas at Fort Smith)
Political experience: State representative since 2019; appointed to the Future School of Fort Smith Board, 2016 - 2018
Residence: Fort Smith; lived in District 49 since 2017
Employment: Founder, marketing and business development, CDL Academy, Fort Smith
Education: Graduated from Alma High School; attended University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
Political experience: Appointed to the Arkansas District Export Council in 2018