“So today, let us begin a new chapter in the story of Arkansas — to be written by a New Generation of proud Arkansas sons and daughters who are stepping forward to lead.”
— Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her inaugural address on Tuesday.
This is an Opinion
Arkansas’ new Republican governor got to work last week, diving into an agenda that dovetails with a general legislative session centered on fundamental government issues: education, taxes and criminal justice.
On two of these fronts, Sanders proposes revolutionary steps. For education, she’s driving toward a policy of unfettered school choice, giving parents of K-12 students “the right to choose the school that’s best for their child — whether it is public, private or parochial,” with state education dollars following in some fashion. On taxes, she’s calling for another “historic tax cut” in a state that’s already seen a few, and an effort to “phase out the income tax altogether.”
These are complex issues for any governor, and any one of those plans could fill its own special legislative session. Sanders, 40, has never held elected office, and she’s tackling these issues during her first months as governor.
But that’s the ambition of the new generation. Think bigger, act bolder. Move fast and break things. As Sanders said in her inaugural address, she and these new Arkansas leaders are taking over “not to be caretakers of the status quo, but to be changemakers for the people of Arkansas.”
The generational shift in the governor’s office — Sanders’ predecessor is 73 — is representative of what’s going on beyond the state Capitol. During a panel discussion at the Rotary Club of Little Rock two weeks ago, lobbyist Blake Eddins pointed out the generational leadership changes also taking place within foundational Arkansas companies and families. He cited just a few:
► Brothers Tom and Steuart Walton, grandsons of the founder of Walmart Inc., who are using their vast influence to grow northwest Arkansas;
► John R. Tyson, the great-grandson of the founder of Tyson Foods Inc., now CFO of the company;
► Brothers Carl and Charles George, the great-grandsons of the founder of what eventually became George’s Inc., now company co-CEOs;
► Brothers Adam, John and Nathan Rutledge, who are overseeing First Security Bancorp of Searcy, which their father, Chairman and CEO Reynie Rutledge, purchased in 1977 and grew into a major private company;
► And cousins Bill Dillard III and Annemarie Dillard Jazic, two grandchildren of the founder of Dillard’s Inc., who are now prominent, third-generation company leaders.
There are many others, of course, in other key areas of influence. Eliza Hussman Gaines, 35, is now publisher of her family’s statewide Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Business and civic leaders should pay attention, Eddins said. Not every state has the advantage of invested, involved and influential family leaders like Arkansas. How these groups operate — collectively and individually — within their companies and communities, and with this new governor, will shape the next 50 years of our state.
“If they get it right,” Eddins said, “Arkansas has a chance to separate itself from the rest.”