FAYETTEVILLE -- Four Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives said they want to ensure access to voting in fair elections, reduce homelessness and jail overcrowding and serve people of different social and economic backgrounds.
Five Republican candidates and one Libertarian did not attend a Tuesday forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Washington County at the Fayetteville Public Library.
The league, a nonpartisan organization, invited all 10 candidates for five House districts to the forum to introduce themselves to voters and answer questions. The goal of the forum was to inform voters on the choices before them, said Michelle Wolchok, league vice president.
Attending the forum were Rey Hernandez, Monique Jones, state Rep. David Whitaker and Caitlin Oxford, all Democrats. Republican candidates who did not attend were Rebecca Burkes, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Brian Hester. Libertarian candidate Ryan Hanson also did not attend.
The invited candidates were from districts 11, 18, 22, 23 and 25.
Hernandez, 72, said residents need to be able to earn a living wage. The state should make access to services easier for residents, particularly veterans, he said. Hernandez is a Marine Corps veteran.
One political party embraces voting and the other wants to restrict voting, he said.
"There is a squeeze to make life difficult for people who are poor, people who are of color, people who are older -- like myself. I think part of it is politically driven," Hernandez said. "I think we have opponents in the Legislature who would like to control who has a voice in Arkansas."
Jones, 52, said her experience running a food pantry in Fayetteville has informed her approach to public service. She said she has a personal saying, "Don't have a conversation about us without us."
Every constituent, including those experiencing homelessness, should have a say in shaping their government, Jones said. She advocated for measures other than jail time such as more crisis stabilization units and drug recovery programs to help people get out of poverty.
"It's been enlightening for me to go knock on every door, meet every constituent and advocate for any questions or needs that they have." Jones said. "That's what we should be doing anyway. That's what I'm going to be doing when I go to the House."
Whitaker, 61, has served as state representative since 2013 and said the 800-pound elephant in the room was the state's abortion trigger law that went into effect upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Women in the state should make their own pregnancy choices among the people they choose, not politicians, he said.
"At the very minimum, we have to push forward with repealing those sections that provide no exemption for rape or incest or the health of the mother," Whitaker said. "I would like to see the whole thing repealed."
Whitaker also criticized a proposal to eliminate state income tax. He said he supports targeted tax cuts, but eliminating the revenue source entirely would only mean the money would have to come from somewhere else.
Oxford, 41, said she's experienced the same hardships that many rural Arkansans have and knows farmers in the state especially have been hit hard financially. Oxford owns Caitlin's Cleaning Service and two farms in Elkins and Goshen.
Oxford, a mother of five, said the state's educational system needs help. Teachers need raises and students are going hungry, she said.
"There are so many kids who cannot pay for their meals right now, even on free and reduced lunches," Oxford said.
Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives serve two-year terms with term limits of no more than 12 consecutive years. They can return after a four-year break.
State representatives receive a base salary of $44,357. The House of Representatives has 100 members.
• District 11
Rebecca Burkes (R-Springdale), Rey Hernandez (D-Rogers)
District 11 takes in a portion of downtown Springdale, but most of the district lies north of the Washington County line in Benton County.
• District 18
Monique Jones (D-Fayetteville), State Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs)
District 18 consists largely of northern Washington County west of both Springdale and Fayetteville.
• District 22
Brian Hester (R-Fayetteville), State Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville)
District 22 includes Farmington along with parts of Prairie Grove and southwestern Fayetteville.
• District 23
Ryan Hanson (L-Lincoln), Kendra Moore (R-Lincoln)
District 23 extends from the state line with Oklahoma and includes Greenland, West Fork, Lincoln and Prairie Grove.
• District 25
Caitlin Oxford (D-Elkins), Chad Puryear (R-Hindsville)
District 25 includes parts of Franklin, Crawford and Washington counties.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette