Heading into the May primaries, AMP continues its monthly look at the candidates in Arkansas’ main statewide and federal races.
This month, we feature Democratic candidates for governor, Dr. Anthony Bland and James “Rus” Russell, as well as independent gubernatorial-hopeful Bill Gates (not that Bill Gates). Other candidates who have not yet responded to our requests will be featured in future issues.
Dr. Anthony Bland (D)
Anthony Bland of Little Rock is an ordained Baptist minister who serves as CEO of the Dr. ADB Foundation, a nonprofit working in the areas of education, performing arts, cancer research and literacy. Bland also is active in community affairs and has worked with the Arkansas Food Bank, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. Bland also is a business teacher in the Little Rock School District and the chief martial arts instructor at Diamond Cut Martial Arts Center with the American Taekwondo Association.
AMP: Why are you running for governor?
Bland: My story is grounded in the set of values I was raised on. The American dream for too many Arkansans right now is too far out of reach. Opportunities are hard to come by no matter how hard you work. For too long, our leaders have been putting politics over people and have been putting dollars over democracy.
I am running for the Democratic nomination for governor because I believe, as a Democrat, that our communities need a voice that will represent unity, equality and justice. What we need are policies that make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and we need to create jobs right here in Arkansas, from the Ozarks to the Delta. We need to create opportunities in our state that will keep families here. We need real investment in education. We need real investment in infrastructure. We need to make sure that health care is not just accessible but affordable for everyone, not taken away.
I was raised to believe that you’re supposed to love your neighbor. You know, my pastor preached that every Sunday. Now, the democracy that our ancestors fought so hard to make a reality is on a destructive path. Our state government has lost sight of the public good. We owe it to ourselves; we owe it to our communities; we owe it to our state to do our part to restore and make the American dream a reality for all Arkansans.
So, who am I? I am Anthony Bland, and I am running to be Arkansas governor because I believe it’s time for “Putting Change to Action” in our great state. The vision I have for the state of Arkansas is one of boldness, strength and action to help Arkansans get ahead and stay ahead.
AMP: What experiences and skills do you bring to the field?
Bland: I bring lifelong experience as an Arkansan, professional experience in various industries, experience as an educator and education with a bachelor of business administration, a master of business administration, a doctorate of business administration, a master of theological studies, and I’m a licensed educator.
AMP: What’s the biggest issue right now pertaining to the office of governor?
Bland: I believe there are several issues. However, I believe the four that I strongly want to support and change are education, health care, livable wages and criminal justice reform with an emphasis on recidivism. Yet, if I have to pick one of these, it would be education. Our children are the future of our society. Without adequate education, that future is destined to fail. Being that I have served as an educator in the public school system for 23 years, I know how vital quality education is in the lives of our children, which is why, as governor, I will ensure our state government will make the future of our children a priority. Our educational system shapes the next generation of Arkansas children, so shouldn’t it be the best system in the country? Or are we going to continue to settle for No. 41 in the nation? I will not.
James “Rus” Russell III (D)
James Russell of Little Rock co-owns New Dawn Counseling, which provides counseling, life coaching and psychological evaluation services. He has extensive experience in the health-care industry, having previously worked as a physician credentialing specialist for the Arkansas State Medical Board and a medical staff coordinator for Arkansas Children’s.
AMP: This is your first foray into politics. Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Russell: I grew up in Lewisville, where my grandparents lived. I went to college at SAU, then UCA. I was into music but found my other passion working for the Arkansas State Medical Board. I went on to work at Arkansas Children’s Hospital as the medical staff coordinator. This exposed me to executive committees and hospital organizations. One such committee was the bioethics committee. On this committee, the lawyers didn’t have an understanding of the medical principles at play, while physicians didn’t have the legal understanding. It was a niche that needed to be filled, and I’m usually able to understand both sides and help bring people to the table.
I double majored in biology and went into philosophy and religious studies. I studied a lot of legal, political and ethical theory. My wife and I opened up a business — a clinical private practice. The last eight years have been spent as a businessman growing our mental health business. That’s what got me here, wanting to help people.
AMP: Why are you running for governor? What are some of your goals?
Russell: One of the biggest goals for me is bringing some sense of reason back into our government function. In our legislature, we’ve seen a lot of hatred and vitriol, and divisiveness across the country has spread into our politics here. I’d considered running for office previously, and our business was at a point where I could manage it as well as my family. We have politicians who get out there and paint a rosy picture. I don’t have a brand or ties. If you want to improve something, you have to be candid about what’s going on.
I want to bring more people to the table and have difficult discussions. We need to deal in fact, not just rhetoric and pandering. Whether it’s critical race theory or trans-affirming health care or voter suppression, everyone needs to have a voice at the table. I’ve been getting everywhere in the state. I don’t just want to talk at people, I want to listen. A lot of underserved communities haven’t had that.
AMP: What key issues make up your platform?
Russell: My focus is on the broader issues: recognizing human rights and restoring honesty and integrity in the political arena. I’m concerned with the overarching idea of adults being able to come to the table and having reasonable discussions. I’m also concerned with the health-care end of politics, such as women’s reproductive rights. I have a background in law and medicine.
We see clients on a regular basis who have suffered from inequality within all of these different political issues, and their lives aren’t just theoretical. There’s no reason to use them as pawns. I hope to give voice to these people and change the nature of how politics is handled. In order to be representative, you have to be dealing with the truth and you have to stand firm. You have to bring civil dialogue and discourse.
AMP: Aside from winning the election, what would it take for you to consider this campaign a success?
Russell: I don’t tend to think of myself in terms of successes. Getting to this point in the election cycle is one of those successes. From day one, people have told me about who I’m up against. We announced that we were running last January. Once the news cycle caught wind, there was a lot of pushback. But the more I’ve spoken, the more people have realized I’m legitimate.
I’m glad I’ve been able to stand firm and prove that anyone can do this. The political establishment is not some elite club for otherworldly people. It’s for everyone. I’ve had several other candidates who have told me that my launch has inspired them to step up and become active. I have somehow managed to actually instill change in others and inspire them to do likewise.
Bill Gates (I)
William “Bill” E. Gates joined the 2022 governor’s race as an Independent. Gates currently lives in Little Rock, where he has been a senior pastor for the church of Christian Jewish Freedom since 2010. Gates describes himself as the ideal candidate for those who are unhappy with both the Democratic and Republican parties. If elected, Gates would focus on issues such as improving the foster care system, increasing pay for educators and eliminating state taxes.
AMP: Tell us about your background.
Gates: I was born in Wichita, Kansas, and raised in the Arkansas River Valley. I am a proud graduate of Mansfield High School and the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College. I am currently attending Georgetown University online and living in Little Rock, where I have lived since 2009. My experience as a child in the Arkansas foster system was such a nightmare that I plan to do all I can to improve that system, including making the adoption process easier so that children can find the loving home they deserve. I have faced many hardships in my lifetime; I have had to stand in the unemployment line on more than one occasion. Having dealt with this process firsthand, I believe that I am most qualified to know where the systems are broken, and how they can be fixed.
AMP: Why are you running for governor? What are some of your goals?
Gates: I’m running for governor of Arkansas because I believe we have gotten lost in modern politics; too many politicians care more about their party than they do the people of Arkansas or the American people. Yes, my chances of winning are slim, because I’m an independent. And the way the system works, it stacked up against me.
However, we need someone to give Arkansas back to the Arkansans. For far too long, the government has gotten bigger and bigger, and we as a state need to step back and say, “Hey, look; enough is enough.”
One of my goals is to get Arkansas back to work, to get Arkansas off the proverbial tax teat, so to speak. By creating state-owned enterprises, I plan to have the state’s income offset by profits from businesses that we own and get away from taxes that we collect, so eventually, we will no longer collect taxes within the state of Arkansas on a state level. If the program is successful enough, Arkansas would be able to also pay the federal taxes for all its citizens, and we wouldn’t have to collect any taxes in the state of Arkansas for any reason.
AMP: What will you bring to the field that your opponents will not?
Gates: I have experience in education, and I have experience dealing with the legal system in the state of Arkansas. I work alongside police officers every day, so I know how to help law enforcement. I’ve been homeless, so that makes me better qualified to help the homeless. I’ve had to stand in the unemployment line, so that makes me better qualified to help the unemployed. I’ve been in a foster care system as a child. That makes me better qualified to help change the system for the better.
I’ve gone through the application process to adopt out of the foster care system, so I know where the flaws lie and what needs to be changed. There are too many laws in place to tell people what they can’t do versus what they can do. We need to get the state back on track. Arkansas needs to be a steward to the people, not the other way around.
AMP: What does a normal day look like for you?
Gates: I get up at 6:30 in the morning, and I work sometimes until 11:30 at night. I sometimes work three or four shifts in a row. The work I put into my own life is the same work I’m willing to put into this state. Arkansas needs someone willing to be married to the state of Arkansas, in the sense it is their main priority and focus.