On Abortion

It’s time to have a frank conversation about abortion.  In the South, abortion continues to be the single issue that drives our people to the polls to vote for one candidate or the other. On the far left, some advocate for a “litmus” test on abortion.  On the far right, some push for overturning Roe. vs. Wade completely.  Sadly, because of the deeply personal and intimate nature of this issue, often our rhetoric is reduced to sheer hyperbole on both sides of the political aisle.  We resort to such language as “women-haters” or “baby-killers,” only furthering the political divide that plagues this nation.

The reality is this: No woman WANTS to be in the painful position of deciding whether to have an abortion.  Show me a woman who wants to be put in that awful and heartbreaking situation, and I’ll show you an anomaly – like easily finding a four-leaf clover in a one-acre field in the South.  And by focusing on the result instead of the cause, we are alienating ourselves from one another and doing more harm than we are good.  What we need to be focused on is how to reduce the number of abortions by putting our attention in the two places we can do the most good: Education and prevention.

Arkansas remains as one of the highest in the nation for teen pregnancy rates; in fact, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, in 2014 we were ranked #1 in the country for teen pregnancy rates among females aged 18-19 and 15-19.  Even more alarming is that 84.5 percent of those teen births were to unmarried teens.  And teen pregnancy comes with a hefty price tag to taxpayers; according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an analysis in 2010 found the cost to the public due to teen childbearing comes to a whopping $9.4 billion per year.

This doesn’t factor in the enormous emotional and economic toll teen childbirth has on the immediate family.  Young women who become teen moms are overwhelmingly more likely to live in poverty, according to NCSL.  Only half of teen moms are ever able to finish school, and most end up depending on welfare programs in order to support themselves and their family.  In the South, many young children end up in the care of their grandparents, as teen mothers are too often unprepared to cope with the financial and emotional challenges that come with raising a child.

Whatever your personal position on abortion, it’s time for us to come together on an issue where we should all agree: Reducing teen pregnancy.  Whether you advocate for abstinence based programs or comprehensive sexual education, the end goal is the same.  We all want fewer of our young women to ever be put in a situation where they might have to contemplate an abortion.  How do we do that? We implement a dually structured curriculum choice for families in our public schools to be taken by teens during the fall semester of their sophomore year of high school.  Parents can elect whether an abstinence only or comprehensive sexual education program is the right choice for their child, but both programs should include the enormous economic and emotional implications of becoming pregnant when you aren’t ready.  We cannot continue to ignore a problem that isn’t going away.

This isn’t rocket science.  If you want to solve a problem, you start with the cause of that problem – not with the result.  Of course, I know that there will still be those who will demand a black and white answer to my position on the issue of abortion, as I’m running for office in a state where this single issue can determine the candidate that a voter chooses.  But abortion, like so many other complex and complicated moral issues, is far too often not black and white for the women who are put in that heartbreaking position for whatever reasons.  And I refuse to presume that I could ever make a choice for another family about an issue that is so deeply intimate and personal.  So my answer is this:  I won’t answer for someone else.

I know that my stance on this issue is not a popular one.  I also don’t doubt that before the election is over, I will face appalling commentary and perhaps even outrageously be painted as a “baby-killer” for refusing to make a moral choice on behalf of someone else.  But you know what?  I’ve got broad shoulders.  I can take it.  And I dare those that might attempt to use hyper-partisan language (on both sides) to look into the eyes of my husband and precious three-year-old little girl before they ever presume to attack me or my moral values. In Arkansas, we value faith, family, and a better tomorrow for the future of our children.  I’m running for office to protect those values, regardless of what direction of the political aisle you might lean.

Now is not the time for more partisan infighting in this country.  Now is the time for us to come together to find bipartisan common-sense solutions on the tough issues, and that includes reducing the number of abortions and lowering the teen pregnancy rate in Arkansas. We cannot shy away from the tough issues. Our young men and women deserve leaders who are brave, bold, and driven to make real change for the country they will inherit from us.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

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On 2017

Last weekend, Vanity Fair released a video suggesting a new hobby for the first female to be nominated for president by a major political party: Take up knitting. Vanity Fair’s message isn’t new; in fact, many of us know it quite well.  Perhaps that’s why personally addressing it to the one person who came closest to shattering the glass ceiling is so audacious.  Yes, Vanity Fair.  Yes, America. We hear you.  We’ve always heard you. Sit down.  Be quiet.  Bake cookies.  Make tea.  Go knit.  Look pretty.  Smile.

There’s no doubt that women got the message. If the data bears any indication, 2018 will be a year of reckoning in this country.  369 women are planning to run for Congress next year, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.  Over 22,000 women have reached out to Emily’s List about running for various offices.  And if the nastiness of the 2016 election and the resounding defeat taught us anything, it was how to knit pretty pink hats to decorate the heads of some three million women who participated in marches all over the country last January and who will be the first in line at the polls next November.

You see, we can’t keep quiet, and we won’t stay seated.  The legacy of the United States of America demands that its citizens not sit idly by when our country is headed down the wrong path. Our democracy gives us both the right and the duty to do more than just complain about inequality and injustice – it compels us to take action. We know without a doubt that our tomorrow can bring affordable healthcare, superior education, and a vibrant economy for all of our people, not just those at the top. We care deeply about this country and our institutions, and we will fight to protect this democracy for the future of our children.

As I write this, a bouncy, vibrant three-year-old girl is running across our living room, yelling, “I’m brave, fast, and strong.”  It’s one of her favorite phrases.  And it’s one of mine too, along with a few others:  Stand up.  Be proud.  Dream big.  Make change. Don’t quit. Believe.

There are many lessons my daughter will learn over the years, but there is none I’m prouder to teach her than that she’s worth fighting for.

The countdown to 2018 is on.  I can’t wait to see what it brings.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden

 

On Addiction in Arkansas

We have a drug problem in southern Arkansas, and we can’t afford to ignore it any longer.  For years, methamphetamine use has plagued our rural counties, sinking its claws into our communities and turning residents into addicts.  A November 2017 issue of Rolling Stone magazine described the problems currently facing the state of Arkansas this way: “There are no jobs here, especially since Walmart moved on, and residents seem chained to a life of poverty, addiction, and dealing to support their habits.”  While this description at first may seem harsh, the reality is that it is an accurate portrayal of the problems facing our rural residents. For many, drug use is an escape from the reality of life in south Arkansas, where our citizens are frustrated by a severe lack of jobs and educational opportunities in the towns where they live.   And if we don’t take immediate action to address the root of the problem and help our people, the issues of poverty and addiction will only get worse.

Last month’s heartbreaking HBO documentary “Meth Storm” highlighted the deeply devastating effects meth use has had on rural Arkansas communities and the people who live here.  In the film, Veronica Converse, a resident and addict from Clinton, Arkansas, explains how many people in her community turn to dealing drugs because it is often the only opportunity they feel they have.  At one point she pointedly remarks, “Nine out of 10 people here are meth heads.” The documentary closely follows Veronica and her son, Teddy, who is jailed repeatedly for drug charges only to be released and return to the same habits that put him there.  Sadly, the story of the Converse family is not unique to communities in southwest and central Arkansas.  The film exposes the harsh realities of depressed communities and poor economic conditions in our state, where people often feel ignored, trapped, and hopeless.

And now our state’s residents are grappling with yet another addiction that is growing at an alarming rate:  Opioids.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of prescriptions written in this state far outnumber the people who live here; in fact, for every 100 residents living in Arkansas, there are now 116 prescriptions.  And those most at risk are our low-income rural residents – the same people who have been struggling with meth use for decades.  What’s even more concerning is the effect this is having on our young people.  According to the Arkansas State Crime Lab, Arkansas now ranks first in the nation for nonmedical teen prescription drug abuse, and two thirds of those drugs are obtained by teens in the homes of their friends and family members.  Overdoses are also on the rise. Data from the Arkansas Department of Health Emergency Management System reveals that the number of emergency medical calls made in 2016 that required the administration of Naloxone – the medication administered to combat opioid overdose – almost doubled from that of the previous year.  In 2016 alone, over 2,456 calls were made due to Arkansas residents who had overdosed.

What’s interesting to note is how many opioid addiction cases in this state begin with what seems relatively harmless.  If someone suffers a fall or is injured as the result of a car accident, they do what anyone would: Seek pain relief from their doctor.  But opioid addiction often develops as the undesired result of what was originally a legitimate prescription yet eventually led to a dangerous drug dependency.  And it’s affecting all of us.  Almost everyone knows someone who is affected – from the veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome to the mother who started taking painkillers as a result of an injury – opioid addiction does not discriminate.  So how do we approach a problem that is growing more and more prevalent with every passing day?

First, we must recognize the mistakes of our past.  This is not the first opioid epidemic we’ve encountered, although it is the first to come in the form of legal prescriptions.  In the early 80s and 90s, the heroin epidemic was widespread and predominantly affected communities of color throughout this nation.  Large numbers of people were addicted, and our initial response was to criminalize the behavior of addicts, resulting in a massive increase in the number of incarcerations. It is imperative that we act upon a sincere desire to treat the cause rather than condemn the results. We also must take responsibility for the mistakes of our past and do all we can to help those who are reentering society from prison as a result of heroin related convictions in the 80s and 90s.  Going forward, our actions must be guided by both empathy and compassion for those suffering from addiction rather than the judgment and condemnation we showed in the past.

We also must recognize the importance of keeping families together while treating the problem of addiction.  According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, “There are more than 5,000 children and youth in foster care in Arkansas, but only about 1,600 foster family homes.”  And research shows a link between substance abuse and the growing number of children in foster care. In fact, more than half of the children who are removed from their homes in Arkansas are taken because of parental drug abuse. The current opioid crisis is forcing more and more children into state custody. Parental substance abuse is one of the primary causes of the rapid increase of children in the foster care system.  Rural areas with a higher propensity for substance abuse also have a higher number of drug related foster care cases. In Arkansas, our system is overloaded, and we do not have enough resources or trained caseworkers to handle the growing crisis. By taking a proactive stance to address addiction, we have the capacity to keep families together and to give our state’s children the best chance at a promising future.

What that means is that legislators must take a two-pronged approach to solving the problem, expanding our state’s services through a whole patient approach to treat addiction while at the same time keeping families intact.  Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is one approach that balances medications with a proven history of success at treating opioid addiction with behavioral counseling.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “MAT increases social functioning and retention in treatment,” while decreasing “opioid use and opioid-related overdose deaths.”   But as we seek out the programs like MAT that will do the most good for those suffering from addiction, our primary goal must be to ensure that working parents have access to the treatment they need and that they can care for their children while accessing outpatient services.

Finally, we cannot ignore the hopeless economic conditions that are the reality in rural Arkansas. We must make it a priority to create meaningful job opportunities for our residents in depressed rural areas and to raise wages for hourly employees so that they earn a livable wage. Too often our attention is focused on expanding economic growth in our more populated areas, while people in small communities all over our state are hurting – and hurting badly.  The reality is that our legislators have failed to provide solutions and practical pathways for our rural residents to get ahead, and with no other viable option before them, many have turned to drugs for temporary relief from the hopelessness of their situation. It is our responsibility to provide practical pathways to affordable vocational and educational training for our people so that they have the means to climb up and out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

The people of Arkansas are facing real problems, and we need legislators who are focused on finding real solutions. The time is now to elect leaders who will take action to address the very real issues of poverty and addiction that are plaguing our state.  We can’t afford to wait.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden

On Sex and Society

Yesterday, the women of the #MeToo movement were named people of the year by Time Magazine for breaking their silence and bravely speaking up about sexual harassment.  During the course of the past few weeks, we have witnessed an onslaught of women coming forward to share their experiences with men who have engaged in inappropriate behavior. Just today, Senator Al Franken announced his intention to resign from his position in the U.S. Senate as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct.  The problem itself isn’t new.  In fact, the male-female power dynamic is as old as time itself.  What is new, however, is an overwhelming number of women in the workforce and a society that is ill prepared for how to deal with the rapidly changing face of the world. And while exposing the problem by speaking up is a step in the right direction, unless we take active measures to address the root of the problem, our daughters and granddaughters will continue to struggle with the problems of sexual harassment, gender disparity, poverty, and income inequality that plague this nation.

The solution to this problem lies, as it often does, in education – but perhaps not where you might think. The initial response to the public outcry has been calls for resignations and an increased implementation of sexual harassment training in the workplace. Companies are providing comprehensive training for their adult workforce, and even the federal government is now requiring members of Congress and their staff to attend mandatory sexual harassment training.  And while that is a valuable and worthwhile investment, the reality is that waiting until men and women are fully grown is much too late to address a problem that begins far earlier and the effects of which encompass much more than instances of sexual harassment. We must do a better job at educating our youth about the boundaries of healthy relationships, and that education must begin in the formative years of early adolescence, when young men and women are just learning about one another and how to interact.

Any experienced educator will tell you that the only way to achieve the results you seek is to teach the outcomes you desire.  But all too often our schools focus strictly on academic content while ignoring one of the most critical components of a holistic education: Life skills.  And one of the most important life skills young men and women must learn is how to interact with one another appropriately and how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. We might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but we can certainly teach our youth the boundaries of appropriate behavior, and in doing so, we can train a new generation of young people to enter a workforce that looks vastly different than it did fifty years ago.

By teaching our young people to interact with one another appropriately and to develop and maintain healthy relationships, we will do much more than reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment in the workplace – we will improve the overall state of our economy by addressing other problems that stem from a lack of education, like teen pregnancy and poverty. Research shows that there is an inarguable link between poverty and family planning choices.  According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of teen pregnancy and childbearing.”  Having a child is one of the costliest undertakings of an individual’s life, and when teenagers become pregnant, they often become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, depending on public assistance for support. The truth is that poverty is cyclical, and the only way we can break this vicious cycle is to equip our young people with the life skills they need to make wise decisions in relationships with the opposite sex.

The United States ranks as one of the highest in the industrialized world for teen pregnancy and birth rates, and here in Arkansas, the numbers are even more alarming. Arkansas is ranked 44th in the nation for poverty rates, according to U.S. News and World Report.  We are 49th in the nation in terms of wages, and 1 out of every 4 of our children live at or below the poverty line.  It should be no surprise, then, that our teen pregnancy and birth rate is also one of the highest in the nation, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. In 2014, more than 4 out of every 100 teenage girls gave birth, 85% of whom were single and without adequate resources.  Teen pregnancy is the number one reason young women drop out of school, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and this directly affects their career goals and economic future. “Only about half of teen mothers earn a high school diploma by age 22, compared to 90 percent of women without a teen birth,” the National Conference of State Legislators reports.  And the children they have are much more likely “to have lower school achievement, enter the child welfare and correctional systems, drop out of high school, and become teen parents themselves.”  Thus the cycle continues.

Some might argue that teaching our young people to make wise and healthy relationship choices is best left to parents in the comfort of their own home. I wholeheartedly agree. There is nobody better equipped to teach my daughter to look out for her health and financial well-being than I am.  But the reality is that my daughter does not face the same challenges as the majority of the youth in this state.  She was born into a two-parent household where both individuals hold graduate level degrees. In a state where almost 190,000 low income children live with only a single parent, we cannot expect the overwhelming majority of our young people to receive this education at home, where too often a full time working mother is struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table, and pay for prescription medications her children need. And if we don’t intervene – if we don’t come together and demand a better tomorrow for the future of our children – the cycle will only continue, and the income gap between the rich and the poor will continue to widen.  And our daughters and granddaughters will continue to face the same problems that plagued our mothers and grandmothers.

Now is the time for all good women to come to the aid of their country. Now is the time to lift our voices in unison to say that enough is enough – and to demand better for our children. Education is the answer.  It always is.  And we have the power to bring about the change we seek.  It’s our time.  We are called to lead the charge.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden

On the Tax Bill

Last week, the entire Arkansas congressional delegation voted for a tax bill that rewards corporations on the backs of working class families.  They voted for a bill that will explode the federal deficit in order to give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest of the wealthy.  They voted for a bill that according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center will cause over a quarter of American households to see their taxes go up by 2027. They voted for a bill that will hurt Arkansas families.

The mega-rich in this state aren’t hurting.  Our state’s working class families are hurting, and it’s time we sit up and pay attention. History shows that the only way to effectively grow the economy is from the middle out and bottom up – yet our legislators voted for a plan that adds trillions to the national debt just to give tax breaks to the donor class. Arkansas needs meaningful legislation that benefits real people and not corporations and multi-millionaires.  We deserve representatives who care about people, not profits.

Research shows that trickle down economics does not improve the lives of working class families.  One thing it does do effectively, however, is continue the vicious cycle of income inequality and cyclical poverty that plagues our state and states all over the country. The only way to grow the economy and make a real difference in people’s lives is by helping the people who need it – like the single mom working two jobs and taking night classes at the local community college who dreams that one day she’ll be able to afford a home with a backyard and a dog for her two kids.  Yet instead our legislators slash taxes for the wealthiest of the wealthy while our state’s residents struggle to put food on the table and pay for the prescription medications their kids need.

Arkansas is ranked 44th in the nation for poverty rates with more than 17% of our state’s residents living at or below the poverty line, according to U.S. News and World Report. We are 49th in terms of wages with a median household income of only $44,300.  Poverty is particularly prevalent in Garland County, affecting 1 out of every 4 children and seniors. But under the tax plan that our representatives voted for, 11 million American families will see tax increases of up to $1,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.  The stark reality is that Arkansas families can’t afford it.

My husband and I are educators and are not independently wealthy; we’re hardworking Arkansans just like our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  And just like our family and friends across this state, we worry about the increases in cost of living and how we’ll continue to save money for our daughter’s college education.  What it comes down to is that the solution to the problems of poverty, healthcare, and income inequality doesn’t come in the form of cutting taxes for the wealthy.  The only proven solution that works is to make serious investments in working class families – yet our representatives have chosen to reward corporations and ignore the real problems facing our residents.

It’s time to elect legislators who truly care about the people they represent.  We deserve representatives who listen to their constituents and will propose real solutions to the problems facing Arkansas families. We deserve legislators who will make meaningful strides to invest in educational opportunities for our people, drive down the costs of prescription medications, and ensure that our people have jobs they can count on and income they can live on.  And we can’t afford to wait.

Our people are hurting, and we need legislators who are focused on helping Arkansas families achieve more, do more, and be more.  The time is now.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

On Guns in America

This morning, we woke up to the news of one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history.  Sadly, shielding my three-year-old daughter from this and other news is commonplace in my home.  In the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy, we can expect the debate on gun control to rage on social media, and rightfully so.  Now is the time to talk about responsible gun laws. We cannot allow one more innocent person to lose their life when there are steps we can take to help prevent it.

First, let me say that I am a proud gun owner, and I believe strongly in the constitutional right of all Arkansans to protect themselves and their family.  But I also believe in common sense gun laws.  The two do not negate each other. It is possible to take common sense steps to reduce accidents and crime while still protecting our right to bear arms.

The first thing we can and must do is provide better education on gun safety storage to raise awareness about firearm accidents that claim the lives of our children. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, American children “face substantial risk of exposure to firearm injury and death.”  In fact, a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the University of Texas found that more than three children per day die in the United States due to guns.  We must provide stronger education on how to store guns safely in homes with children.

We also need universal background checks to prevent criminals and terrorists from gaining access to deadly weapons.  Currently, private owners are not required to run background checks before selling their firearms, and unlicensed dealers account for a large percentage of overall gun sales. There is no reason that someone with a criminal history should be able to purchase a firearm. According to a 2014 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 92% of gun owners support universal background checks. Americans are united on this; universal background checks just make sense.

What it comes down to is this:  Far, far too many people die from gun violence in America.  It’s time that we stop talking about it and act immediately to take legislative steps to help reduce accidents and crime. Because – after all – it’s our tomorrow.

Let’s Talk Healthcare

With the debate swirling in the midst of the GOP attempt to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill before September 30th, it is time to have a frank discussion about how we got where we are today in the conversation surrounding healthcare. History shows us a hard truth: Healthcare has always been the line that divides the haves from the have-nots in this country.

President Harry Truman was one of the very first to fight for a plan for universal health care coverage back in 1945 as part of his Fair Deal.  Had it passed, his plan would have worked much like Social Security does, but his plan was rejected. Nine years later, after Congress rejected the idea of healthcare for all, employers instead took control.  Employers had the power to give benefits only to a certain group of people, which eventually created a two-tiered system where only privileged individuals had access to quality health care. The next few decades brought many changes to our healthcare system, adding Medicare and Medicaid in the 70s and then a shift to private healthcare insurance in the 80s.

But then came President Obama, who was finally able to pass the Affordable Care Act that gave millions of people coverage who previously didn’t have it. The ACA was an attempt to level the playing field, and its benefits have been numerous. It gave protections to those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.  Over 70% of nursing home residents are now covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid also provides coverage for two out of every five kids in this country. Yet the Republican Party wants to go back to two tiered system that protects only the rich. If we don’t stop them, rural hospitals that have been able to expand services and clinics throughout Arkansas will be the first to close their doors.

Republicans want to gut Medicaid, yet many people in this state don’t even realize that ARKidsFirst is Arkansas’ version of Medicaid. In Garland County this is particularly troubling, as one out of every four of our children and elderly live at or below the poverty line, and 14% of our people still don’t have any insurance at all.  We can drive to our health care clinic where we’ll see people standing in long lines waiting to see a doctor because they don’t enjoy the benefit of private healthcare insurance like their white collar counterparts.

My husband and I have a little girl who’s three years old.  She’s beautiful and smart and the very best thing that’s ever happened to me.  When I look in her eyes, I see the childlike innocence and beauty of everything that can be right in this world. Our children are the generation of tomorrow.  And all of our kids – my daughter, your daughter, your neighbor’s daughter – all of them deserve to grow up in a country knowing that whatever healthcare issue may arise, we invest in them and their health and well-being.

I know the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and that people are legitimately frustrated with rising healthcare costs, myself included. We all want lower premiums and more money in our pockets from month to month.  The cost of prescription medications is outrageous.  But the answer doesn’t come in the form of block grants; it comes in the form of people reaching across the political aisle to do what’s best for American families.

I believe in the people of this country and I believe in our capacity for goodness and for doing the right thing. And the right thing is caring about each other, lifting one another up, and coming together to tackle the problems of poverty, healthcare, and income inequality.  But somehow we’ve drifted so far from what’s right that THIS is where we are.  And we have to find our way back.  We have to fight, and we have to make our voices heard. And if they refuse to listen, the only thing we have left is our collective vote.  And that vote can be a very powerful thing. 

2018 is coming, and it’s coming soon.  I’ll see you at the polls. 

Because, after all – it’s our tomorrow. 
Hayden

On the Cost of Child Care

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual cost of child care for a 4-year-old in Arkansas is $4,995, or the equivalent of $416 per month.  For far too many Arkansas families, this cost is an extreme financial burden when coupled with the realities of a mortgage and rising costs of healthcare and prescription medications.  Parents are forced to choose which day care to send their kids to based on cost alone rather than on the quality of the curriculum or staff.  The bottom line is that day care is entirely too expensive for the majority of Arkansas families.

I know.  I have a three-year-old.  My husband and I are educators and the very definition of middle class, yet, like many other families across this country, we struggle with the cost of child care.  In order to make up for the cost of sending our daughter to one of the best facilities in our community, we must make strategic and smart financial decisions. Our day care costs us approximately $550 per month – $6,600 per year – the same cost as average in-state tuition to a four year university.  In short, day care takes a huge chunk out of our budget, and that’s the case for far too many of our friends and family across central and southwest Arkansas.

We also must consider this: Poverty rates in Arkansas are extremely high. 35% of children in Garland County come from homes at or below the poverty line.  Fortunately, many low income families are often eligible for forms of financial assistance for day care and other early childhood education programs.  The problem is that far too many middle class families in Arkansas are ineligible for that same aid because of their income level, yet, just like my family, they too struggle with the astronomical cost of child care programs. Something must be done to level the playing field not just for those kids who come from situations of poverty but also for the many Arkansas families that are ineligible for aid but priced out of private programs.

Nobody debates the fact that early childhood education is a critical factor in predicting future academic success.  The evidence is overwhelming.  The formative years of ages three to five are crucial for setting the stage for how well children will perform in elementary and middle schools.  Moms and dads know that in order for their kids to be successful in life, they must set them up for success from the very beginning.  Yet, sadly, almost half of this country’s three and four year old children are not enrolled in any type of educational program.

The answer is that we must ease the financial burden of childcare for working class families by ensuring that no family pays more than 10% of their annual income for any child care program.  It is critical that we invest in this country’s future and show the American working class that we put families first in the form of child care subsidies and significant tax relief.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that this measure could save the average Arkansas family as much as $1,300 per year – which can make a huge difference in the budget of most families.  But capping childcare costs alone is not enough.  We also must implement a carefully planned and strategic universal preschool program for four-year-old children to ensure that all kids get an equal opportunity to a high quality early childhood education.

There is no greater reward than that of a family, and there is no greater investment than in that of our children. Now is the time to do the right thing by substantially easing the financial burden of child care costs on Arkansas families.  Because, after all – it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden

 

Jobs Matter

Yesterday, Toys R Us announced that it was filing for bankruptcy.  That fact alone might not be cause for alarm, but the United States’ largest toy store is not the only retail chain to be facing difficulties.  Nine other retail chains have also filed for bankruptcy this year, causing almost 90,000 workers to lose their jobs.  Stores like J.C. Penney, Sears, Kmart, and Radio Shack are closing their doors in communities all over the nation.  Malls sit almost completely empty and physical stores are becoming obsolete in an age of online shopping and e-commerce.

America is changing, and it’s changing rapidly.  How we shop, how we drive, how we communicate – all of these things will look vastly different in twenty years than they do today.  Consider the changes that have already taken place just over the past few years.  Now when families head to Walmart for groceries, it is often difficult to find a live cashier at the register.  Restaurants such as Olive Garden and Chili’s now have a “pay at the table” option where you swipe your own credit card. Amazon has unveiled “Go” stores without checkout lines, physical money, or employees to work as cashiers.  Ford and General Motors are moving full steam ahead at developing driverless car technologies.  Machines are now doing the work that once was the responsibility of American workers.

Automation, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce are changing our world so quickly that we hardly have time to adjust to new technology before more changes are upon us.  But these changes don’t come without a price, and that price is steep:  American jobs. In the coming decades, Americans will continue to lose more and more jobs to automated technologies as the industries of yesterday disappear, and if we don’t put plans in place now to replace those jobs with the jobs of tomorrow, the families of this state will be left behind without the means to provide for their kids’ future.

Arkansas has the potential to be on the cutting edge of developing new jobs to meet these challenges.  Our abundant natural resources such as lakes, land, rivers,and streams give us ample opportunity to create tens of thousands of new jobs in solar and wind energy. There is also vast untapped potential in manufacturing the equipment needed in order to power alternative energy sources. Rural communities in central and southwest Arkansas can become leaders in the nation through the development of renewable resources and building and assembling the equipment needed to produce clean energy.

But we also must do a better job at advising students of the jobs of tomorrow.  Our secondary schools, community colleges, trade schools, and institutions of higher education must help our young people make smart decisions that will ensure their future success in a changing job market. Jobs in software, app, and web development, engineering, science and health technology, and solar and wind energy are the wave of the future.  Academic advisers must help students understand the economic implications of their career choices and guide them into career fields with the opportunity for economic growth.

What it comes down to is this:  We must create exciting new job opportunities for Arkansas families or we will be left behind as more and more jobs are displaced over the course of the next few years. Now is the time for bold new ideas. People want money in their pocketbooks, and that should be our number one priority. We must work together to ensure that all of our families have jobs they can count on and an income they can live on.  Because – after all, it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden

The Time is Now

If last night’s second annual Dames, Dems, & Drinks fundraiser in Little Rock is any indication, the future is bright for women in Arkansas politics.  The energy in the room was electric, as individuals from all walks of life came together to celebrate the candidacy of a group of talented, diverse women who are dedicated to bringing about positive change at all levels of government.

And that’s something to truly celebrate – because we need more women in all levels of elected office.  In Arkansas, only 25 of the 135 legislative seats are occupied by females.  Eighteen women serve as state representatives and seven serve as state senators.  That means women make up only 18.5% of the Arkansas General Assembly.  On the federal level, that number is even bleaker.  We have no women who currently represent our state in Washington as members of Congress or as part of the U.S. Senate.

Without a doubt, those numbers will change as more women begin to step up and out of their comfort zones and into the leadership roles they were always meant for. There is a movement happening right now all over the state and across the country that I am convinced will shape the future of politics and the world as we know it for our daughters and granddaughters.

This is a picture of just some of the women who have already announced their candidacy.  They are leaders in their respective communities and include some of the hardest working, smartest, and most compassionate individuals I know.

Progressive Arkansas Women

But let’s be clear – the road to success for women in politics is never easy.  It takes strength and a resiliency that is unparalleled. That’s why it is imperative that all of us – each and every one of us – show an unprecedented level of support for the women who have taken on this challenge.  Your time, your money, and your energy is needed like never before. We need you.  Arkansas needs you.  The country needs you.

So be part of our journey.  Join the movement.  The time is now.

Hayden