Favorite

Primed for reform 

Arkansas is an incredible state for a lot of reasons, but few of us think of our political system as uniquely effective. But the fact is that Arkansas has made remarkable progress on a range of issues in the past 15 years — under Republican and Democratic leadership — while much of the nation has been embroiled in gridlock that has more to do with mud wrestling than good governance.

You know the list of our problems: inadequate educational opportunities, poor health, widespread poverty, racial divisions, etc. But we aren't at the bottom of every category anymore. Today we're leaping past other states in several important categories like children's health and education. We're moving up while others are stagnating or even moving backwards because of their budget shortfalls and polarized politics.

We've transformed our education system — raising standards, boosting teacher pay, renovating facilities and more. We've provided free and high quality preschool to most of the state's low-income children. We've kept a balanced budget and raised the tax revenue necessary to avoid the painful cuts in the social safety net that have crippled other states. We've eliminated income taxes for families in poverty and cut the sales tax on food. We've provided quality health care to most of the state's children. We've expanded economic opportunities. We've made progress on climate change, water quality and conservation. And, with a few notable exceptions, we've avoided passing laws on issues that drive us apart like immigration, abortion and sexual orientation.

Arkansas's ability to take on and solve big problems is a huge strategic advantage — an advantage that is in jeopardy as the divisive national political culture seeps into our state.

Dr. Jay Barth, political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, wrote a compelling new report, commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, that helps explain why Arkansas has been able to advance while others have stagnated and retreated.

"Ripe for Reform: Arkansas as a Model for Social Change" examines Arkansas's unique history of tension between progressive reformers and traditionalists who protect the status quo. It's not a partisan history; there are examples of reformers and traditionalists from both parties.

Barth identifies five structural advantages for reform that are uniquely Arkansan: our culture, our small size, our strong nonprofit community, our history of reform and our ability to impact our region and nation.

Among those, Arkansas's unique culture is our most important advantage. We have a long history of caring for those in need while being leery of the reach of government into our private lives on social issues. We are a small state where most of us really do know one another and relationships still drive our politics (as well as everything else), and we believe in compromise and maintaining friendships even when we disagree.

That and the other advantages Barth identifies add up to a culture of progress where we have an opportunity to continue solving the big issues holding us back. More progress on education, poverty, racial disparities, prison reform, public health, economic development and the environment will be good for all of us.

What is holding us back if Arkansas is so primed for reform? Barth explains that despite recent progress, Arkansas has decades of history electing leaders more entrenched in the status quo. And now we are in danger of returning to the bad old days of stagnation. This past legislative session was the most partisan and polarized in modern Arkansas history. And "we the people" are not actively engaged enough to insist on pragmatic, effective representation.

Barth's paper is not meant to whitewash our problems. We know that we have challenges ahead, but we do need to celebrate the progress we've made and hold on to our ability to tackle the hard issues together.

Bill Kopsky is executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. Barth will present "Ripe for Reform" at 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Bill Kopsky

  • Selling kids short

    young professional family told me this week they are thinking of leaving Arkansas because the state isn't committed to education and opportunities for their kids. Another parent of a child with special needs told me she's frustrated her school can't afford the help her child needs to get her reading up to grade level. Another parent's child isn't allowed to bring textbooks home because the school doesn't have enough of them, and can't afford more.
    • Nov 10, 2016
  • The politics of opportunity

    Are you sick of the election yet? One thing that seems certain is that our politics remain as hyperpartisan and dysfunctional as ever. I may be naive, but I think Arkansas has an opportunity to help lead the country back toward pragmatic progress on the issues that will make our families and communities stronger.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas condones child abuse?

    If Harrises and Duggars go unpunished, yes.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Must address racial inequities

    We mourn for the families of the dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As we grieve it's time to rekindle a conversation about race in America and press for the changes that the Emanuel congregation championed for centuries — changes that also made it a target.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Racism is systemic

    In a speech on Sunday at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gov. Asa Hutchinson played directly into the narrative of respectability politics, where white people tell people of color how they should respond to a situation and condemn responses from others in the community experiencing anger, rage and other expressions of grief.
    • Jun 25, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Guest Writer

  • A better now

    The Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST), an initiative led by a coalition of local stakeholders that includes the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, city of Little Rock, Arkansas Baptist College, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pulaski Technical College and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, is determined to show you that what you see and hear about black and brown boys and men isn't the whole story.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Intro to ANNN

    The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network is an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • Help all veterans

    Veteran-specific bills often miss the mark on helping the most sympathetic military families by focusing on retirement income.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Not angry at all. Just stating the obvious. And you owe Nanc a huge apology…

    • on January 17, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Why Mr. G - harsh words - oh, how I do love to get you…

    • on January 17, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Yes, Nanc, it makes her feel good. She's a petty, mean, vindictive, one-issue crazy woman…

    • on January 17, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation