by Stephen Houserman
The 21 Republican women serving in our state legislature were a force of nature in Arkansas’s body politic this year and have proved themselves to be an irreplaceable asset to our state. The work they have accomplished in the last session alone should attract national attention as they have found unique solutions to some of Arkansas’ biggest issues and did so with bipartisan support. They are the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus of Arkansas, and it was my privilege to watch these dynamos work behind the scenes during one of the most transformative sessions in Arkansas history.
On January 23, 2019 the Republican Women’s Caucus launched the Dream BIG Campaign: Bold Initiatives for the Good of Arkansas, the first step in introducing legislation that set five priorities that concern Arkansans: education, juvenile justice reform, economic development, childcare, and healthcare. The tenets of that press conference were the beginning of an exciting process and blueprint for their shared success.
It was obvious from the beginning that this group of women legislators had a passion for Arkansas that fueled their inspiration to solve some of our most daunting problems. That passion demanded they took on issues such as reading deficiencies among our children and the unacceptable reality that 44 Arkansans are diagnosed with cancer every day. The caucus came prepared to challenge the status quo and delivered with bold solutions. That meant restructuring our literacy curricula and implementing cutting edge methods, such as the Science of Reading in our schools. Regarding cancer, Arkansas will soon have a National Cancer Institute Designation at UAMS, which is expected to improve cancer mortality in our state by a significant margin. While 1,500 jobs created in the medical industry through the NCI designation alone will be welcoming news for our economy, the lives that will be saved is an immeasurable benefit for our families.
What I admired most about their work is that they did not have to sacrifice their Republican principles to achieve unanimous support. They identified real issues that affect all Arkansans and maintained solutions that generally resonate with Republicans. Sen. Cecile Bledsoe and Rep. Mary Bentley, for example, sponsored a bill that identified government regulations that were maintaining higher costs for childcare services and limited access for both parents and businesses. Getting these regulations out of the way will create jobs and support working families who need affordable childcare.
Bipartisan support on anything in contemporary American politics is practically impossible. If I could pick the next recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be every member of the caucus. This group of triumphant legislators somehow pulled off 100 percent bipartisan support with their Dream BIG Campaign, earning a unanimous vote in both chambers on all five initiatives. I suppose that is what 144 years of combined public service experience looks like when your constituents are the sole priority of your legislative outcomes.
As they continue to break legislative ground, I believe other states will begin to take notice and replicate what our ladies have done here. The Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus of Arkansas has improved the lives of all Arkansans for decades to come and they made it look easy. That is why we should celebrate their work at home and promote their success, not just here, but across the country.