Favorite

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.

Arkansas politics, not long ago, had a rare pragmatism and civility that served our state well. Gov. Mike Huckabee pushed through tax increases that radically improved our public education system. Gov. Mike Beebe worked with Republican lawmakers to expand Medicaid. Governor Hutchinson continued that effort in passings Arkansas Works, which now provides life-saving access to quality health care to more than 300,000 Arkansans.

We need pragmatic solutions to expand opportunity because Arkansas can't afford to move backward. We already rank near to last in most indicators of quality of life from income to life expectancy.

And there are numerous issues our leaders should be able to come together on.

On economic development, we need to radically improve our infrastructure and workforce development. We have to find the revenue to pay for the roads we need, but that's not all. Arkansas got a D+ on our infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers. We can create jobs, improve our access to clean drinking water, make our bridges safer, build world class schools, protect our communities from floods and build a strong green energy economy at the same time.

Arkansas retains one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, taxing poor and middle-income families at over twice the tax rate that our wealthiest people pay. The disparity only got worse with the high-end tax relief passed in the last two legislative sessions. Maybe this will be the session to finally offer working families an earned income tax credit to help lift working people out of poverty.

On civil rights, it should not be a partisan issue to say that the gender pay gap is a problem that needs to be addressed. It should not be a partisan issue to look at the gaps between races on income, housing, health, education, policing, incarceration and more and say that we need to tackle racial inequity head on. Sexual assault became an issue in this presidential election, and Arkansas has an opportunity to reduce both sexual assault and our highest-in-the-nation teen pregnancy rates with common sense reforms to the way we teach children about healthy relationships.

A strong public education system is a universal pillar of economic prosperity. We have a set of proven, near-consensus reforms recommended by groups like Forward Arkansas and the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign. They include improving and expanding pre-K, improving teacher quality, providing more after-school and summer learning opportunities, reforming discipline policies, improving community engagement and doing more to help children in poverty. Yet state policy debates in recent years have been consumed by attempts to gut standards and retreat from adequate funding while embracing radical and controversial theories of privatizing schools. Why are we arguing over the most contentious and speculative elements of education when we have a whole set of proven reforms that already enjoy public support at our disposal?

Arkansas's prison system is among the fastest growing in the country and we know that it has several fundamental flaws. It's unfairly utilized, targeting low-income and people of color at disproportionate rates. It costs too much. It doesn't treat mental illness well. It becomes a trap. It's choked with nonviolent drug offenders. Again, we have proven, nonpartisan reforms at our disposal: diversion programs for nonviolent offenders. Treating mental illness and drug addiction as public health issues instead of crimes. Improving our over-burdened parole and re-entry systems. These will all take short-term investments to yield long-term gain.

We can improve opportunities for Arkansans while protecting our natural resources as well. We can invest in the critical functions farmers can serve to protect and conserve water quality. We can improve our drinking water. We can expand our parks and tourism industries to share our natural heritage with more visitors. We can transition our energy sector to shift away from dirty coal sources of power and create economic incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy production.

Maybe we are too far down the road of partisanship and big-money political influence, but I hope Arkansas can focus on the politics of opportunity after this election. It would be good for our citizens, and it would be nice to see Arkansas leading, for a change.

Bill Kopsky is the executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel

Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

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
  • 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

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Watch the trailer for 'Shelter,' the Renaud Bros. new doc on homeless kids in New Orleans

    Check out the trailer for "Shelter," the Renaud Bros. new feature-length documentary about homeless teens navigating life on the streets of New Orleans with the help of Covenant House, the longstanding French Quarter shelter for homeless kids.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

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

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

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 Viewed

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Mr. G., I know you try - and I have commended you for it -…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • The funniest thing about all this is that Lyons never said that Russia invaded anyone…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Really? That's your argument? The Russians and the Soviets are two different things? That's pretty…

    • on January 22, 2017
 

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