MOUNT IDA – Michael John Gray believes that the answers to many of the problems Arkansans are facing today can be found by simply sitting down and having some conversations with one another.
That is exactly what Gray, the Chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, did last week when he stopped by the office of the Montgomery County News. He was in town for a meeting of the local branch of his party where they discussed the current direction of their party and how it can grow within the state of Arkansas.
Gray was very candid about the state of the Democratic Party in Arkansas. He pointed out that while word of the demise of the party are wide spread about 60 percent of elected officials in the state are Democrats. Most of which serve in local offices.
When speaking of the increase in the people voting Republican he stated that many of those who have voted Republican in the past two elections have been Democrat their whole life. Gray explained this switch by admitting the Democratic Party has done a bad job getting their message out.
He shared that it was time to remind the people of Arkansas that although there have been some social issues that have divided people, the Democratic Party is the party that has always stood up for the working person.
Gray understands that Washington’s problems have found their way into the small towns of Arkansas and people are talking about those “5:30 news issues” at the coffee shop, but what matters is what happens when families sit down at their kitchen table to figure their budget every week.
He feels Arkansas is tired of politicians going to Washington and getting nothing done while blaming it on the other guy just as much as they are tired of politicians going to Little Rock and being told how to vote by party officials.
Gray argued that historically Democrats haven’t bragged about what they have done. He then asserted that Medicare and Social Security are a product of the work of the Democratic Party.
Gray stated that the Democratic Party needs to do a better job letting people know that they are the party that wants to provide situations that allow people to see a better day where there kids can have a better life than they have.
He then turned his attention to education, citing a child’s need for access to post secondary education that will prepare them for jobs at home. Gray argued that this means more trade schools.
Gray was adamant that the Democratic Party is aware of the sensitive social issues that divide communities, churches and even homes are important. He feels his party is willing to fight for what matters in small towns like Mount Ida because the people living there matter just as much as people living in Fayetteville.
When discussing statewide politics Gray admitted that with the current economy Governor Asa Hutchinson is formidable, but feels he is wrong on some issues.
He feels the Governor is wrong on the issue of school vouchers and highway projects. Gray pointed to the freeway expansion to six lanes in Little Rock while many small communities have roads in need of work. He also mentioned the need for adequate cell service in rural areas.
“Why are we arguing about Washington politics when there is stuff that matters right here.” Gray stated.
When asked about the plight of small school districts Gray pointed out that he is from Augusta. He understands that if a school closes it affects small communities.
“We have to remember that many times when a school closes the town is right behind it.” Gray pointed out.
He believes that we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect it to get better.
The key to solving the problem is to find a balance for small schools. He cited a need for equitable pay for teachers and equitable funding for the classrooms.
“In many schools if teachers want supplies for their classrooms half the time their pulling money out of their own pocket to pay for it and that shouldn’t happen.” He said.
He also stated that we need to do what’s best for the kids. This can be done by providing equitable facilities. While he doesn’t want to overburden the taxpayer to provide these opportunities he does feel that a child shouldn’t be punished because of where their parents choose to live.
He also stated that he feels Pre-K and after school programs should be available to everyone who wants their children involved in such programs.
Gray stated that community development is essential to the survival of small towns. Without industry communities can’t survive, but the businesses also need people to work in their facilities. The closure of small schools hinder a communities ability to attract businesses.
Gray feels that a big part of the current problems being felt is because politics in Little Rock is beginning to reflect Washington politics.
“Washington ain’t Mount Ida, Arkansas and we need to spend more time worrying about what’s going on here.” Gray quipped.
When asked about PILT funding Gray acknowledged that while National Forests and other wildlife areas are important to our country we can’t forget the people who live in the areas where they are.
“We have to realize that when you have a county like you described, the federal government has to act as a constituent of that county or region.” He stated.
He went on to say that the people who represent areas dependent on PILT funding should be fighting for this. He added that we don’t need to forget that when we want to protect these forests and rivers that it affects the people who live around them.
Discussion shifted back to those social issues Gray acknowledged have separated so many people in recent years.
When asked how the Democratic Party plans to get around those who see their party as the party of abortion and Obamacare, Gray stated that the answer is as simple as a conversation. He believes that the solution to this divide is simply sitting down and having conversations with one another.
“This thing didn’t change overnight and I don’t expect it to change back.” He stated.
However, he knows he can’t just say, “Your wrong” and keep on driving. Being able to sit down and have conversations about differing opinions is what makes communities thrive.
As far as the issue of abortion goes, he stated he understands there are those who want no abortions. He stated he would tell that person, “Guess what, I want fewer so lets find some common ground.”
He added that any legislator who says they are going to go to Little Rock and outlaw abortion is lying because it is the law of the land. He argued that history has proven that even if it is illegal people will still find a way to have them performed.
He doesn’t see how we can get to zero, but believes we can get to fewer. Some of the ways to do this is a focus on women’s access to healthcare and strengthening the adoption system so women feel they have a choice. Providing educational opportunities that better equip parents to not only provide for their children.
He believes a focus on these kinds of policies will have a greater impact on reducing the number of abortions, while passing laws outlawing them will only be overturned in court.
Gray stated that the Democratic Party has done a poor job of reaching people who disagree with them on a handful of social issues. He argues that Washington politics has taken these issues and scared the people of faith with them.
He added that he refuses to believe that people of faith want their neighbors to suffer, regardless of whether they disagree on these issues or not. He admits that this might make people uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable and watching someone suffer is two different things.
I think it’s about decency.” He said.
He finished by reiterating the need to sit down and talk through the issues. He knows that we may not all agree on every issue, but he feels confident we can agree we need solutions to these issues.