Leader Blues

Friday, April 09, 2010

TOP STORY >> Elliott cites her record in race for 2nd District

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Joyce Elliott, 59, one of five central Arkansas Democrats vying for the Second Congressional District seat held by Vic Snyder, says she knew she wanted a career in politics from the time she was 10.

That’s when she first saw her family members excited about politics and a young senator running for president, John F. Kennedy.

“Older blacks had hope they hadn’t had before,” she said in an interview last week.

Now her family and friends are “absolutely excited” that she’s running for Congress. “I think this is a right next and natural step for me,” Elliott said.

Elliott, a black woman, faces three white lawyers and a law student, all men, in the race for the Democratic nomination. She’s hoping they will split the white male lawyer vote, boosting her into a runoff following the May 18 primary, she said.

She said Arkansans have moved beyond campaigning on race, but that race is still a factor in the way some people vote.

“We’ve never elected an African American or a woman” to the seat she’s running for, she said.

Nonetheless, she said her support is widespread, including white males.

Elliott said she had intended all along to run for Snyder’s seat once he retired, but she, like others, was surprised by the timing of his decision not to run again.

“I was prepared mentally, but I wasn’t prepared economically,” she said. “Whatever my sacrifice, I can do it.”

Elliott, a career educator, was elected state representative in November 2000 and served three successive terms through

December 2006, when she was retired by term limits.

She was elected state senator in 2008, where she is currently majority leader.

She has chaired the House Education Committee and the subcommittee on higher education.

LABOR ENDORSEMENT

Her endorsements so far include the AFL-CIO and the Little Rock Firefighters Union.

She said she has huge support from women and a great deal of support from veterans and teachers as well.

“The big issues in the House were education and health and several others including housing,” she said.

One of her goals is to move more Arkansans into the middle class and help them maintain that standard of living, Elliott said.

“I haven’t had the privilege of entitlement,” she said.

“I want to take my patience and my ability to work with people and carry them to Washington D.C.,” she said. “I think we can regain the goodness of politics, even in D.C.,” she said.

Elliott said she’s a Democrat because the people she grew up with were Democrats and because she thinks Democrats care for humanity across the spectrum.

“As an African-American wo-man, I’ve had to figure out how to work across lines,” she said. We can collaborate and treat each other with respect,” she added.

“With all the rancor, it doesn’t help, but I can do better than what we’ve seen. I’m not a person who shouts. We’re going to have to talk to each other and work together.”

BEING RIGHT IS NOT ENOUGH

“Being right is not enough,” she said. She knows she’s right when her “analytical side and her feeling side coincide,” she said.

Then, “we find our way forward.”

“I’ve had some real disappointments with Democrats, but they put in policies designed to help the everyday working people.”

She said she would have supported the healthcare bill signed into law in March, even with all its imperfections.

“The bill that passed was thoughtful, but we should look for ways to make it better,” she said. “A half a loaf is better than none, but it needs to be recalibrated and made better.”

She would ease the burden on small business not only by the incentives included in the health care bill, but she would not pass any more taxes.

RECONSIDER TAXES

“The biggest thing we need to do is reconsider tax codes,” she said. “Are they fair and proportionate?”

“Are we asking individuals and business to pay taxes consistently?” Elliott added. “The tax code needs to be advantageous not just to those making the top 10 percent of incomes.

“We went to war (in Iraq) and didn’t pay for it,” she said. “We had the big Bush tax cut and didn’t pay for it.

“We have to sacrifice,” Elliott continued. “We want to be energy independent, but we want three cars in the driveway.

“To restart the economy, we should rebuild the infrastructure,” she said. “That was a missed opportunity (in the stimulus packages).

BLINDING DEBT

“I do believe we need more fiscal responsibility from government. We owe our kids a future without blinding debt,” Elliott said.

The nation also needs to train workers for the transition to a green economy.

“We don’t do enough to help people with startups, particularly in the rural areas,” she insisted.

Elliott would like to see the government initiate talent audits in the small rural areas to match up skills with jobs and programs.

She wants to rebuild rural Arkansas and help create a world-class education for all children, she said.

“I want to put this district on the map as a place of innovation,” she said. “It already has a stellar research hospital at UAMS and cutting-edge research in nanotechnology at UALR.”

She said her 10 years in the legislature, plus decades of teaching and having to overcome adversity — she desegregated her high school as a sophomore — gives her the necessary experience to succeed as a member of Congress.

EXPERIENCES PREPARE ME

“My life experiences prepare me,” Elliott said.

Elliott was born in Willisville (Nevada County), where shegraduated from high school. She is a 1973 graduate in English and speech from Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia, and in 1981 she earned a master’s degree in English from Ouachita
Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

She taught high school for 31 years, including 14 years at Robinson High School and four years at McClellan High School, leaving in 2004 to work for the Arkansas College Board, where she focused on expanding access to advanced-placement curriculum for students who were underrepresented.

AWARDS AND HONORS

Among her awards and honors, Elliott was named one of the 10 most influential Arkansas Legislators in 2009 by Talk Business and one of the 10 best legislators of the 2003 and 2005 legislative session by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

She was awarded the Legislative Friend of Children Award in 2006 by the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and received the Gressie Carnes Democratic Woman of the Year Award in 2006.

She was one of four individuals named to Gov. Mike Beebe’s transition team and received the Arkansas Spirit Award from the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2004.