Tuesday, October 18, 2016

TOP STORY >> NLR Democrat challenges Sen. English

Leader senior staff writer

Democrat Joe Woodson, 49, is challenging Republican Sen. Jane English, 75, for her state Senate Dist. 34 seat, which represents North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville.

Woodson wants to expand pre-kindergarten in the state and favors a middle-class trickle-up economic theory that flies in the face of Act 1173, which he says is a regressive, top-down income- tax policy.

“I want to tip the scales in favor of the middle class and education,” he said. He supports Obamacare and the private option. “As a practical matter, and as a humanitarian, I don’t think we have any choice.” He said there are now about 300,000 more Arkansans receiving health care insurance, many for the first time.

It’s a first step, he said. “Health care and insurance reform will go on for the next 20 or 30 years.”

It was Sen. English who cast the deciding vote in the Senate in 2014 to make the private option law in Arkansas. A Republican, she crossed party lines, trading her vote on that issue for a significant realignment of workforce education and a seat at the table.

Her deal was with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, but current Gov. Asa Hutchinson has depended on English to help consolidate and promote workforce education efforts and to prepare Arkansans for the workplace.

English is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the Academic Facilities Oversight subcommittee, and is co-chair of a legislative task force to study the realignment of higher education and vice chair of joint performance review.

English said workforce education has always been her top priority, and she doesn’t expect that to change going forward, if elected.

Woodson has 22 years experience as a lawyer in his own firm and as legal council to then Secretary of State Charlie Daniels. He also served as chairman of the Arkansas Board of Apportionment.


English has a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Arkansas Tech.

Her husband, Don, retired as an Army colonel after 20 years in the service.

She was state chairman of the Department of Defense Employers in Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Among the issues most important to English is continuing to do workforce education, kindergarten through career training.

“Over the past three years, a lot of good things have happened,” she said. “We’re working on better coordination of all state and federal programs, working with higher education (so it) has a new plan to increase the numbers of graduates.

“There are lots of good (jobs available) if employers can find people with the education,” she said.

“More and more people are working on career and technical education,” she said.

English was asked if she regrets trading her deciding Senate vote on private option for the authority to remake career education.

“Absolutely not,” she said. Good career education is “something the state needs so badly. We’re funding Obamacare and moving forward,” she said.

As for any particular legislation or policy changes she would introduce in the future, English, who sponsored 18 bills that became law in her first term, said she had sponsored 27 in her first term, so probably not.

English was primary sponsor in the Senate of 27 bills, 18 of which became law.

Among them was Act 892, which created a comprehensive statewide workforce development system, to coordinate workforce development programs and to create an office of skills development.

She said it’s not necessary to balance the needs between her district and the state because they are one and the same. “In the legislature, when you pass a law it affects everyone,” she said.

Her top priorities will be to create a better education system and to get people educated, employable and off social welfare programs.

As for economic development, she said big industries with big groundbreakings are wonderful, “but you have to have people with the skills and education to take those jobs.”

“Get people off these programs, give them enough skills and education to be able to go get a job that takes care of themselves and their families. It’s easy to say everybody ought to go get a job. But if you were in this category, where a lot of those folks are, they don’t have the skills to get a job where somebody’s going to pay their insurance,” said English.

English was among the sponsors of a law that lowered the minimum number of students necessary to detach a new district from an existing one, such as the detachment of Jacksonville from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The number was lowered from 4,000 students, which enabled the Jacksonville-North Pulaski District, to 2,500, which would qualify Sherwood to detach in the future if all other conditions are met.

English said she wants to make sure the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is successful. That will make all the difference in the world,” she said. “It’s a defining thing for Jacksonville and its future.

The senator and her husband have two adult children and three grandchildren and attend the Little Rock Air Force Base chapel.


“My No. 1 goal is to act consistently with things I believe in,” including “economic policy that tips the scales in favor of the middle class,” and improving education, Woodson said.

Education: “I’m a strong supporter of expanding pre-kindergarten,” he said. It would be “money well spent.”

He believes in “strong, accountable public schools and local control of school districts.”

“Education, much like flying a plane, is a never-ending process of refinement and adjustment. I do not have any ‘sacred cows’ with respect to education or education models. Those parents/children who do not have the ability or resources to engage in alternate methods of education should not and cannot receive an inferior education.

He says he believes charter schools have an important role to play, but “I also believe traditional public schools must be allowed to succeed.”

“I want to find a way to reduce the cost of higher education, so that students can obtain training or a degree without crippling debt when they leave school. Of course, we need to continue to ‘build-out’ robust adult education and vocational training opportunities for non-traditional students through trade schools and two-year colleges,” Woodson said.

He also supports state Rep. Bob Johnson’s legislation to eliminate state income tax on veteran’s retirement benefits. Noting that Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Republican, supports that as well.

He’s running because “a great many voters believe similarly to what I believe.” He said he and English have fundamentally different belief systems. He pointed to Act 1173 — the capital gains tax cut that wealthy Arkansans may qualify for.

Woodson says he believes in Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works expanded health-care coverage, that life begins at conception, providing resources for veterans, the Second Amendment and common sense solutions to hinder criminals and terrorists without sacrificing Second Amendment rights.

“I believe in equal pay for women, that the Bible is the word of God and that Jesus’ example is to practice love toward all.

“I also believe the first amendment protects every person’s right to practice their faith.

“I believe in punishing criminals, and I believe in ongoing criminal justice reform. I believe if we help our at-risk young people now, we help ourselves in the future.

“I believe the road towards widespread, sustainable economic prosperity is through consistently choosing a ‘bottom-up’ not ‘top-down’ economic approach. That means always erring on the side of the middle class and working poor,” he said.

“For example: progressive, not regressive, tax policy and increased minimum wage,” Woodson explained.

He said he supports legislation to improve gender pay equality.


Woodson was raised in North Little Rock, where he lives with his wife, Laura and their three children.

He graduated from Central Arkansas Christian High School and earned his finance and law degrees from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

He serves as a deacon for his church, is board member and treasurer of the Park Hill Business and Merchants Association and a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.