By Blanton Matthews
The Clark County Democratic Committee held their 26th Annual Clinton Day Dinner Saturday evening in the ballroom at Henderson State University’s Garrison Center. Hundreds of Democrats from as far away as Greene County converged on the site to hear party leaders discuss the upcoming election and state policy.
The event, organized by event chair and District 2 Justice of the Peace candidate Michael Ankton, opened with a silent auction before beginning in earnest with remarks by Clark County Democratic Party Chair and District 1 Justice of the Peace candidate Zach Bledsoe. Bledsoe, a Henderson alum, stated the theme for the event: “Vote Blue in 2022”. He also said that while the event is usually held in August, it felt like “déjà vu” to be holding it now when last year COVID concerns delayed the event to October.
Prior to the addresses by headlining speakers state Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Chris Jones, there were awards of recognition as well as door prizes and live, verbal auctioneering for some larger items as opposed to the items on the tables lining the walls up for silent auction from the time doors opened. Bledsoe was given the Bob Riley Democrat of the Year award, which he said was a surprise and made him feel “humbled”.
County assessor Tosha Horton and Senator Bruce Maloch were also recognized for their service to the party. Other Democratic candidates for local, state, and federal offices in attendance included U.S. senate candidate Natalie James and state Attorney General candidate Jesse Gibson.
In lieu of a traditional keynote address, the podium was pushed back in favor of two chairs. Ingram gave his address in the form of a conversation with Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair Grant Tennille. This conversation covered topics from economic development, to how the legislature has changed in Ingram’s 13 years between the House of Representatives and the Senate and his political career before that as mayor of West Memphis. Perhaps the most pressing issue up for discussion was education.
“The issues are with us,” said Ingram, pointing out Republican focus on tax cuts for the wealthiest Arkansas and hesitation to put any of the state’s $1.6 billion surplus toward improvements in education, calling them “snow-blind”. Ingram pointed out that with wealthier northwest Arkansas counties getting school mills that total in the millions, in contrast to places like Clark County making low hundred-thousands, inequity in school funding was stark. “There is a direct link between poverty and educational achievement.”
Ingram echoed the statewide call to increase pay for teachers. He cited Arkansas’ increasing discrepancy between losing over 3,000 teachers a year and only gaining about 1,800 in 2021, even lower than previous years. “We need to pay our teachers,” he said. “We have the money.”
He also praised state senators Joyce Elliot and Bruce Maloch—both in attendance—for their ability to call out hypocrisy from their colleagues across the aisle.
Jones delivered the closing address in the more orthodox manner with the podium returned to the front of the stage. He told a story of meeting then-Governor Bill Clinton as a child before turning to his father to ask what a governor does. From there, he said he went to his incomplete encyclopedia set, which fortunately included “G”, and was instantly hooked on the idea of
becoming a Governor himself to make a difference for the people of the state of Arkansas.
He called on Democrats to be united as the November election approaches, quoting Winston Churchill, “When there is no enemy within, the enemies without cannot hurt you.” The address by the ordained minister then turned biblical, tying campaign slogan “Faith, Hope, and Hard Work” to Isaiah 40:30-31, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
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