Address to the Political Animals Club of Little Rock
May, 11th 2015
It’s exciting to be governor. It’s especially exciting on a day like today. I started the day at Conway High School as part of my computer science tour through the high schools of Arkansas. We’ve already hit six high schools. We’ll be hitting more than 10 before it’s over with.
I was in Conway, then Mayflower. I’ll be going to Arkadelphia later today, Jonesboro and Paragould tomorrow. I’ve already been up in Northwest Arkansas. So, we’re really hitting a lot of schools.
The reason for this is that, as I tell the students, we’re providing a new option that’s not available to everybody in America. You will have the option of taking computer science in every high school in Arkansas next [school] year. It’s only offered in one high school in 10 in America. That’s why I was interviewed by Wired magazine, and the question was asked of me: “Governor, why is Arkansas leading the nation with a comprehensive computer science plan?” Who cares what my answer was. The point is, I got asked the question. And the fact is we are leading the nation. It’s offered in every high school, we have real money behind it, and we’re promoting it. We’ve got a task force of industry leaders and educators to push that effort.
So we are leading in this effort, but I tell the students that it is a choice, and we cannot be successful unless a number of them make the choice that, yes, we want to take that.
It’s fun going out and promoting that, and it reflects back to a previous occasion when I spoke to the Political Animals Club and launched this campaign for governor. I announced that I wanted to champion the cause of computer coding, and I was greeted with an enormous amount of skepticism. But we won the campaign on that, we implemented that, and I want to compliment the legislators on the great work they did during the session.
We accomplished a great deal in a very short amount of time, and really every objective and desire I had for the session was fulfilled. Except for one. And that was that I wanted to get through the session without any drama whatsoever — and I almost made it. But we survived that. I think we handled it the right way, and I compliment the legislature.
But it’s important to note Promises Kept. It’s important for our young people to see that a candidate running for office, one, has ideas; secondly, has a vision for this state; and, finally, once elected, actually does what he talked about doing.
In the session, we passed the middle-class tax cut; the largest income tax rate reduction in the history of this state. Computer science in every high school. We reformed our workforce delivery system. We created a jobs agenda. We provided even a small thing — if you’re a small school and you are performing academically and you’re financially sound, you ought to have an appeals process before you’re automatically closed down.
We promised a review of our Common Core curriculum; not to end it, but to review it, and we have that process in place. We took on another incredible challenge for our state, which was the advocacy for a $100 million prison. We looked at that and said we can do something different. We ultimately decided on a $50 million prison expansion, to relieve the overcrowding, to increase safety on our streets, combined with $12 million to $14 million for alternative sentencing on the front end and a more effective parole system on the tail end.
The Private Option extension. Through 2016 with a task force to review the future of healthcare services and Medicaid reform. It was promised and it was done.
We balanced the budget and there was no reduction in education spending.
Those are just 10 items that we accomplished during the legislative session.
As governor, I only offered one veto, and it was sustained.
So I like the record that we were able to achieve, but you look back and way, well, that’s great. Now what? There is much more to do. And I was clear in my focus, and sometimes people say, “Do you really need that many task forces?”
I could say, “how many people in this audience are on a task force?” Everybody who’s not on a task force gets to put on a new task force, which is to review how many task forces we have in Arkansas.
But, seriously, when it comes to my major initiatives, I’m clear. We wanted to have a more competitive tax rate in Arkansas. We wanted to upgrade STEM education in this state, computer science in every high school. We needed to reform our workforce education. Clear on all of these points. We accomplished them and we did it in an 81-day session.
There are other issues that we have not reached consensus on in this state. And I believe that one of the responsibilities of the governor is to bring people together of different viewpoints to ask how we can arrive at a consensus so that we can move the state forward.
I believe that is the right approach.
There are a couple of things that are popping up, and I wanted to make an announcement today after speaking with Speaker Gillam and President Dismang. By the way, Speaker Gillam, you and your White County Mafia have done a great job. I once bragged on President Dismang and Speaker Gillam as the White County Boys and the great job they’re doing, and the chief justice came up to me and asked, “How about me? I’m from White County.” I said, “Well, I have a problem calling you ‘boy’ and I have a problem calling you part of the ‘mafia.’”
But I have spoken with both of them about the need for a special session. Today, I’m announcing that we will call, at my call, a special session of the General Assembly for May 26. It’ll hopefully be a short session, but it is to help us be in position to create hundreds of jobs in south Arkansas with the leadership of Lockheed Martin, one of our defense contractors, in Calhoun County. So the purpose of this session will be to consider an Amendment 82 super project.
Now, we’ve known about this project for some time, but because of the sensitivity of the contracting system, we were not able to do this during the regular session. So we had to wait until the bids were in. Now that the bids are in, we need to approve the Amendment 82 funding for the project in Highland Industrial Park. What’s exciting is two things: One, it will create over 500 jobs, good paying jobs in South Arkansas; secondly, it will be the first time in Arkansas that we will have a vehicle-assembly point. And the vehicle that will be assembled will be of military significance — the Joint [Light Tactical] Vehicle. It’s anticipated that over 55,000 of those vehicles will be manufactured. If Lockheed Martin wins the contract, then this mission of national security will take place in the state of Arkansas.
I would emphasize that this is what we call a “contingent liability” that I’m asking them to approve. Because we need to approve this Amendment 82 project so that Lockheed Martin bid can be properly considered in a competitive environment. There’s not any guarantee that the Department of Defense will award that contract. We are hopeful they will. But it is the right step for Arkansas. It is the right step for our nation, and I hope we win that contract for our state and our nation.
There may be some other items on our agenda; we will announce those at a later time.
But I want to come back to another topic, and that is what I call “efficiency in government.” And I have a belief that, yes, big things matter — and that’s what we did in the legislative session; we accomplished the big objectives, but small things matter in government also.
One of the best things I did as governor-elect was to make a surprise visit to the Alexander Youth facility in Alexander, Arkansas. What that did was tell all of the workers protecting and serving our juveniles that as governor your work was important to me. It also sent a signal to our contractors that the safety and the policies that guard our youth are important to the state of Arkansas, and we’re going to watch you.
Little things matter still. And it’s little things that don’t make the headlines of the papers. Efficiencies. Sending a signal to my agency directors that I’m going to hold you accountable. I’m going to ask you, tell me how you’ve made your agency more efficient. How have you kept up delivering of your services to the taxpayers of this state at the same time doing it more efficiently and saving our tax dollars. We’re going to hold them accountable.
During our last session, maybe it’s a big thing, but I’d put it under the category of a small thing that makes a difference — and that’s moving our Lottery Commission under the Department of Finance and Administration.
It gave us more efficiencies. It gave us more oversight. And I believe it was the right thing to do. It’ll also save us money.
The Department of Rural Services in Arkansas is one of the most important agencies in my judgment. Because it serves rural Arkansas, which I identify with and I come from. But we moved the physical location of the Department of Rural Services into the Arkansas Economic Development offices.
Why? Because space was available, and it saves the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of time.
Now if you save a hundred-thousand dollars in one year, guess what, you’re saving a million dollars in 10 years, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
Whether it’s Sam Walton or anyone in business, you understand that small things matter, and if you pay attention to the small details, you’ll have a more efficient operation.
Whether it’s an extension of broadband to rural schools or whether it is a combination of agencies to be more efficient, we’re going to work with our Legislature to accomplish these things.
Finally … and maybe not quite finally. As one preacher said, finally doesn’t mean that I’m really coming to an end. But the next item. I was making a speech at the manufacturing summit in North Little Rock. I turned it open for questions and someone popped up and the first question was, “Governor, tell me what you’re doing to encourage the hiring of ex-offenders in Arkansas.” I wasn’t expecting that question. But it was a question that was right for the time, and also fits with what we tried to accomplish during the legislative session. And it reflects the compassion of the people of Arkansas that I want to call upon.
It is not all about what government can do. It is about what we in government and the private sector and the faith-based community can do together.
Historically in Arkansas, whether you serve one year, five years, 10 years, 15 years or more in prison, you would leave with two things: a hundred dollars and a bus ticket. Maybe they’d say good luck.
What is the chance of success? What is the chance that you would not return to prison?
So for the first time, we not only expanded the number of prison beds, but we created 500 reentry beds that we’re implementing so that we’re not just giving them a bus ticket and a hundred dollars, but transitional housing, help in getting a driver’s license, or maybe job training, so that the ex-offenders actually have a better chance of getting employed and not returning to prison.
Many of them want to have a normal life and give back to society, and they deserve a second chance.
There are employers in this room and I’ll ask a question. Usually, when you apply for a job, there’s a question on the application form: Did you ever get convicted of a felony? And if somebody honestly checks that box, even though they really want a job, are they then excluded from the interview process? Are they nixed totally before they have an opportunity to make their case and be considered?
Now there are always reasons not to … if you’re a banker, you may not want to hire somebody who has been convicted of embezzlement as a bank teller.
But there are other occupations. They should not be automatically disqualified. The government does not mandate that, but as governor I’m asking the private sector and our faith-based organizations to join us and make sure that our ex-offenders have a fresh start. That, to me, is the compassion of Arkansas.
I do want to get to the finally part of my speech, which is important to our body politic — and that is civility. That is civility. That is one of the things that this body promotes — Republican or Democrat, independent, whatever your background, let’s fight hard in the election, then let’s come together and have civil discourse and work for what’s good for the state of Arkansas.
One of the pleasant surprises of being governor has been the number of people, Republican or Democrat, who, once the campaign was over, they simply wanted the governor of Arkansas to succeed. Now there are going to be differences and we won’t always agree, but in their heart they want the governor to succeed. And that’s not true in Washington, D.C., but it is true in the state of Arkansas.
Fay Vincent, former baseball commissioner, tells this story that illustrates the importance of civility in sports and the uniqueness of baseball. I happen to be a baseball fan. He tells a story — an observation, I should say — that if you watch baseball, day in and day out, you’ll see a pop fly that will be going foul. So if it’s a foul pop fly, what does the catcher do? He flips off his mask, runs to catch the ball, it goes out of bounds. Then he goes back to get his mask. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you’ll see the opposing batter pick up the mask and hand it to the catcher. That is a civility and a tradition of baseball.
No rules. No mandates. But it is a tradition based on civility.
Isn’t that a great story? And isn’t that what we want in our politics, our government and our public service?
Thank you for what you contribute to the state of Arkansas.