Republican Tommy Land believes his experience as Arkansas' Commissioner of State Lands will help him defeat Democratic challenger Darlene Goldi Gaines in the Nov. 8 general election.
Gaines, 46, said she wants to raise awareness of the office and that she can relate to those who have experienced the fear of losing real estate.
The Commissioner of State Lands office is tasked primarily with the disposition of tax delinquent property within the state, among other duties provided in the Arkansas Constitution. Land, of Heber Springs, said the office includes duties such as researching who a property belongs to after the owner passes away, conducting auctions and the handling of the deed process.
"We also deal with some riverbed issues in Arkansas' navigable streams and rivers," said Land, 67. "We handle mineral rights that belong to the state of Arkansas."
The office is also responsible for preserving historical documents related to real estate.
"We have all the original flat maps of the cities in the state and we have survey notes from the Louisiana Purchase survey, so we have a lot of interesting documents we maintain and keep," he said.
Gaines said one of the most important aspects of the office is that it oversees programs such as urban development, homestead, and land donation programs.
"In short, I have to define it as a Mother Nature position," Gaines said.
Land said his experience goes beyond just the office as he bought his first home at 19 years old.
"I have bought and sold real estate as an individual all my adult life," he said. "It has always been a very interesting part of my life. So I think over time, having that lifetime of experience with owning real estate and understanding what a good investment it can be, I feel like that gave me an edge there when I ran the first time."
Gaines, of North Little Rock, isn't short on experience either. She has worked with Arkansas Department of Veteran Affairs and is CEO of the Anti-Poverty Group which was founded in 2014. She said she has found herself in the same shoes as many Arkansans when it comes to the fear of losing real estate and the loss of real estate.
"As a mother under economic distress crippled by land loss, I know the outcome of my real estate ownership experience would have been different had someone shared with me the facts about land ownership," she said. "Promoting information that matters is essential to the quality of life of all Arkansans.
"Whether you need information about how to redeem the property or are just starting out and looking to build a land legacy for you and your family, I will work hard for you to deliver customer service that produces a strong land legacy for all Arkansans," said Gaines.
MOTIVATION FOR RUNNING
Gaines said she decided to run for the office because she wants it to focus on educating Arkansans on vital information related to real estate and innovation regarding green spaces and renewable energy.
"I will fight for a safer, fairer, healthier and brighter Arkansas, while keeping an eye on stewardship and preserving our beloved Arkansas lands to ensure they are healthy and productive for today and future generations," she said.
Gaines said she is prepared to lead the state on the first day and will work to educate all Arkansas on pre- and post-land ownership.
"We will support efforts to create green spaces and eliminate food deserts," she said. "We will champion land legacy retention for all Arkansans. I am not leading for myself, yet I am leading to ensure a fairer, healthier and brighter Arkansas for all."
Land said he is running again because he wants to build on what he has already accomplished in his first term.
"I would like to see, as much as possible, the updating of the office and bringing it back to the 21st Century," he said. "I would like to see that continue into my next term."
Land said one of the things he is most proud of is getting online redemptions out to the public.
"We started that in January of 2020," he said. "We had to get some bills passed in the legislature to allow us to do it and get rid of some of the red tape. ... So we got that done, and I think that has done a lot of good for Arkansas taxpayers because when you consider a trip from Bentonville to Little Rock and back, that is an all-day trip."
"Now they can take their tablet, sit down on the couch, pay for it with a card and redeem their property."
Land said the office also digitized a lot of the files that were being kept in storage units outside the building.
"We want the office to be up-to-date and user-friendly," he said. "That is a struggle because -- it doesn't matter what job you are in -- if you have been at it for a while, it's the way we have always done it. Moving out of that mind-set to what is a better way to do it is something that has been a big challenge."
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Land said if reelected he wants to move the office to regional sales.
"Normally we have an auction in every county in the state," he said. "For example, we will have a place in Washington County, then we will have a Benton County auction in the morning, and then we will have Carroll County's auction in the afternoon.
"Moving to regional sales will save money because we won't be out as much, and it will make it easier on the bidders because they can bid on something in Benton County and bid on something in Washington County and bid on something in Carroll County and they only have one sale to go to, where right now they have three sales to go to," said the incumbent.
Gaines said the one thing she would change if elected is communication from the office.
"I seek to change the level of transparency and information that is shared from the office," she said. "As I travel the state, Arkansans in both rural and urban locations share their land ownership experiences that often result in dismantling homestead stability."
"Sharing information is how we as a people gain strength and momentum as a state," Gaines said.
She plans to accomplish that by launching a land legacy retention campaign that consists of a strategic marketing plan.
"We will focus on education pertaining to details of the [Commissioner of State Lands] Constitution and innovation as it relates to programs such as Urban Development, Homestead and land donation," she said. "The land and housing crisis Arkansas currently faces can turn around for the better."
Land said one of the main concerns he has heard from voters during his campaign is outside investment.
"People are really concerned about foreign investment in the state of Arkansas," he said. The main concern is China buying up farmland."
Land said people have expressed concerns about the effect that will have on the state's agricultural future.
"There is actually not much this office can do from that perspective, but what I tell people is rather than the government regulating this, our citizens can regulate it by saying no," he said. "... I know that is a tough decision to make if you are sitting there and they are offering you 30% more than what you can get on the market. But at the same time, when you are talking about farmland you are talking about something that concerns a lot of different people, because Arkansas feeds the world."
Gaines said the biggest concern she has heard is the lack of knowledge about the office.
"The vast majority of Arkansans have never heard of the Commissioner of State Lands, let alone its services and opportunities," she said. "This reality alone solidifies the urgency for education. I believe practicing the act of inclusion will assist in elevating our 18.1% poverty rate and homelessness in Arkansas."