Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NWA Emerging Leaders Host Political Candidate Training Breakfast

Throughout the summer, the Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders ( have hosted a monthly breakfast focused on teaching political candidates and campaign workers the ins and outs of running for elected office. Breakfast topics have included "what makes a good candidate," "finance and fundraising" and "ethics and lobbying." One more breakfast remains in October that will provide a review and discussion of all aspects of running for elected office. To register visit the Emerging Leaders' website - it is free!

In September the topic of discussion was how to deal with the media and developing an effective marketing strategy for your campaign. Laura Kellams, a former political reporter with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Terry Benham, a consultant with Impact Management Group, sat on a panel moderated by Martine Downs-Pollard where they provided expert advice on being a candidate and running a campaign in today's 24-hour news cycle.

The panelists did a superb job of relating real-life examples of what you can do right and what you can do wrong in your campaign.

The first step in running for office and developing a media strategy is to find out what issues are important to your constituents. The best way to do this is to run a poll. Current poll results are very clear. What matters to voters today are jobs, followed by jobs, and then more jobs - with just a dash of health care. Once you know what is important to voters then you are able to craft your message to address these issues. Another good point is that if you don't have a solution to the issues raised by the polls or disagree with what your constituents are focusing on then maybe you shouldn't run for office that year.

Once you know what is important to voters and have developed your message to respond to these concerns it is critical to prepare short, concise talking points that outline your positions. Often candidates make the mistake of speaking in long, complicated paragraphs when they should be using bullet points.

With talking points in hand the candidate needs to stay focused and disciplined in sticking to these positions and points. Never feel like you have to fill an awkward silence during an interview with impromptu or extraneous information. This may make you a boring candidate, but "interesting" does not always translate into "winning." A master politician is able to redirect or relate any question back to one of their talking points or positions. The old adage of answer the question you wish they had asked applies here.

Utilizing social media is a new phenomenon for candidates that can be one of the most dangerous. Twitter and Facebook are important, relevant parts of a campaign, but they cannot be entered into lightly. Have a strategy and stick with it. If you are using social media solely as a means of publicizing events and links then you can probably get by without expert advice. However, if you plan to fully utilize social media to include policy and position development, expanding your messaging to new groups and managing volunteers then strongly consider working with tech-savvy consultants that can help you maximize your reach and impact.

The panel spent a lot of time discussing the news media and both agreed that candidates have to remember that reporters are people too with deadlines and family obligations and a genuine desire to get the facts right. They recommend engaging the news media assigned to your position outside of work and politics to strengthen your overall relationship. The reporter will never really be your "friend," but if you have a good overall relationship it will be very beneficial to you in the long run.

The news media can really become your best advocate or worst detractor when your campaign is faced with a crisis. Terry said that his best advice when facing a crisis is that it is never as bad as you think it is. With that optimism in mind, the panel agreed that candidates with some distress in the campaign should not hide from the issue or duck reporters' calls. Every candidate should provide their cell and home phone numbers along with email addresses to the media and when they call - even during a campaign crisis - pick up the phone. You give a story more legs by hiding.

If the story is inaccurate you hurt yourself by not being available and correcting the story. Under no circumstances should you be dishonest and if your campaign is facing a crisis and the facts are against you - admit it. Then, work to change the facts of the story so you can move forward. Applying this advice to a purely arbitrary situation might go like this:

Candidate Bill has filed an inaccurate financial/fundraising report and the news media calls him on it. It appears he is acting dishonestly or trying to hide where his donations are coming from. Candidate Bill needs to immediately respond and if his financial report is inaccurate, admit it and file a corrected report (i.e. admit the facts are not in your favor and then change the facts).

The last point is to remember that a reporter is not out to get you (almost assuredly). They are doing their job and you should not take stories personal. They are busy and want to do their jobs and accurately report the facts. Once again, if the facts are against your campaign, you cannot fault them for reporting it.

A successful run for public office requires dealing honestly with the media and implementing your marketing strategy. If you stick to your position statements, stay focused, be responsive to the media and always remember it is not as bad as you think it is you will make it through the election.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Job Seekers' Resource Fair

Are you in the market for a new job? Do you want to break into the vendor community? How could social media impact your search for a job? Learn about these things and more at the RLACC Job Seekers' Resource Fair May 23 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the Center for Nonprofits at St. Mary's in Rogers.

The fair will offer job seekers five different seminars to help them put their best foot forward.

Topics include:

10 – 11 a.m. – “Keeping Your Head Together in this Job Market”

11 – 12 p.m. – Panel Discussion: Human Resource Professionals

12 – 1 p.m. – “Breaking into the Supplier Community” with Cameron Smith

1 – 2 p.m. – “Clean Up Your Social Media to Get Ready for a Job Interview” with Tiffany Hellerstedt

2 – 3 p.m. – “How to Dress for Success”

We'll also be holding a Resume CPR Workshop for those in need of a little help freshening up their resume. Area Human Resource and Recruiting Professionals will be on-hand to review and critique your resume and offer tips for improvement. If you bring your resume on a flash drive, you can make changes on the spot. Registration is requested for the Resume CPR Workshop.

This event is free and open to the public!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Congressional Redistricting Review and Analysis

Every ten years states must realign internal political boundaries based on the recently completed census results. Last week, the United States Census Bureau released the results of the 2010 census for the state of Arkansas. This new data has brought redistricting to the forefront of political discussion as pundits and politicians alike begin analyzing the data and drawing lines on a map to see whom will have the advantage in the next general election in 2012.
There are two types of redistricting that will occur in 2011 - congressional and state legislative. Congressional redistricting relates to the four seats in the United States House of Representatives and state legislative refers to the 100 state representative and 35 state senator seats that make up the Arkansas General Assembly.

Congressional redistricting is the responsibility of the General Assembly where the State Agencies Committee of the House and Senate draft new boundaries for the four congressional seats and submit it to the General Assembly for consideration. Based on the 2010 Census each congressional district should have around 729,000. Since the General Assembly decides Congressional redistricting, the new boundaries must be drawn fairly quickly and approved before the General Assembly adjourns - probably in April.

State legislative redistricting is the responsibility of the Board of Apportionment, which consists of Governor Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and Secretary of State Mark Martin. I will provide additional insight on state legislative redistricting later in the week. This blog post will focus on the congressional redistricting.

The 2nd (Central) and 3rd (Northwest) Congressional Districts gained residents over the last ten years and will need to shrink geographically to fit under the approximate 729,000 population limit. The 3rd District must shed more than 93,000 people while the 2nd must move more than 22,000 into another district. The 4th (south) and 1st (east) require an additional 74,000 and 41,000, respectively.

So how does the General Assembly decide which voters move to a new district? This is the $64,000 question. The State Agencies Committee in the Senate is equally split between Democrats and Republicans while Democrats control the House State Agencies Committee. Whatever plan gets referred from the State Agencies Committee will have to be approved by the entire General Assembly, which is controlled by the Democrats so one would assume that they will be the ultimate arbitrators of final congressional lines. If this assumption is correct then the Democrats are facing some difficult decisions because all of the border counties that are likely to be moved to the 1st and 4th are pretty solid Republican territory.

So, let us start with the 4th Congressional District, which is the sole remaining Congressional seat held by a Democrat. Representative Mike Ross defeated his Republican opponent in 2010 by more than 30,000 votes. This healthy margin of victory provides a cushion for the Democrats to shift some of the stronger Republican counties from the 2nd and 3rd District and keep them out of 1st District, which is still a competitive district. Below is a list of the counties that seem likely candidates to shift from either the 2nd or 3rd District to the 4th District. The table also provides data on each county's 2010 population, 2008 registered voters and the difference between votes for John McCain and Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential election.

3rd District Border Counties possibly to 4th District

2nd District Counties possibly to 4th District

The 4th District needs to add around 74,000 people, so what counties might be shifted? Yell County jumps out as a safe move for the Democrats. It allows the 1st District to completely satisfy their required reduction in population and it only adds a net of 1,800 Republican votes to Mike Ross's district. It also follows that shifting Johnson and Franklin counties to the 4th District from the 3rd would offer the best hope to Democrats of maintaining a majority in the 4th District by transferring 43,665 people out of the 3rd District, but adding a net of just 4,430 Republican votes to the 4th District. In total, moving these three counties to the 4th District almost satisfies the population shift required to equalize the 4th District while maintaining - on paper anyway - a Democratic Congressional seat and satisfying the 2nd District's required population reduction.

With the 2nd District's population reduction satisfied by moving Yell County to the 4th District, it will be up to the 3rd District to supply the required 41,000 people to the 1st District. The 1st Congressional District has historically been a Democrat stronghold until 2010 when Rick Crawford defeated Chad Causey by 15,000 votes. The 1st District appears to be the best hope for Democrats to regain a Congressional seat in 2012. This district also poses the most difficult redistricting challenge.

3rd District Counties Possibly to 1st District

The only scenario that seems to work geographically is to shift Marion and a majority of Boone County to the 1st District, which would add a net of 8,280 Republican votes to the 1st District. Marion fits fairly closely demographically and economically with Baxter County so that move would make sense. Boone County, on the other hand, has a long tradition with the 3rd District since 3rd District legend Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt's hometown is Harrison.

The map below shows a potential new congressional redistricting based on this scenario.

This scenario reflects one approach Democrats in the General Assembly might consider if they want to try and protect the 4th District and keep the 1st District in play for 2012. It approximately satisfies all of the population requirements and keeps strong, heavily populated Republican counties in the 3rd and 2nd. Whether this is even remotely close to what comes out of the General Assembly is any one's guess.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Update from Government Affairs

A report from the January 22, 2011 State Legislative Forum

Every other week during the 88th General Assembly the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce teams with the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce to host public forums for state legislators to provide an update on policy and legislation and answer questions from the audience. This past Saturday, January 22, was the first forum of the current session and around forty people joined State Representatives Tim Summers, Debbie Hobbs, Les Carnine, and Duncan Baird and State Senator Kim Hendren at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Bentonville to hear from their state legislators and ask questions about pending legislation.

The question and answer period kicked off with a discussion of public retirement plans. An audience member questioned whether elected officials should receive two years of credit in the retirement system for each year in office. Representative Carnine noted that a bill has been introduced that would eliminate this provision. Representative Summers informed the audience that many elected officials participate in Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System (APERS) where they can retire with benefits after ten years in office due to the 2-for-1 credit rule. Also, participants in APERS receive a guaranteed three percent (3%) cost of living increase each year. These sorts of rules have forced APERS to increase its employer contributions to almost 14% of each employees salary in order to fully fund the system. Representative Summers also informed the audience that there is no cap to what APERS can charge its members, which is an unsettling proposition for the cities and counties that participate in the retirement system. Representative Summers is a member of the Public Retirement Committee and will one of the legislators tasked with addressing the challenges to the myriad of public retirement systems in the state. One bill he has introduced would extend the service required to qualify for retirement by two years to 30. This two year extension would save APERS more than $20 million per year.

House Bill 1013 generated significant discussion among the audience and legislators. Representative Jim Nickels (D, Sherwood) introduced this bill, which would allow the state contractor's board to impose penalties on any contractor who knowingly uses undocumented workers. The bill would also require contractors to certify that their subcontractors do not use undocumented workers. Senator Hendren said that reason for the bill was to level the playing field between contractors. Some contractors have been accused of utilizing undocumented workers who are willing to work for less pay, which gives this contractor the advantage when submitting a bid for work. Representative Baird said that there are legitimate concerns about the bill and wondered why these rules don't apply to all employers. One contractor in the audience said that he doesn't have the authority to force subcontractors to verify that workers are documented residents and that the state should not require a state contractor's board to enforce immigration laws. Benton County Judge Bob Clinard, a former contractor, said that all contractors can do is accept the citizenship documents as presented. They do not have the ability to determine whose documents are real or fake. Representative Carnine said that the bill in its current form does not have sufficient support so he expected the sponsor to amend the bill to address most of these concerns.

The legislators also discussed highway funding. Arkansas Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel attended the forum and discussed some of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Committee on Highways. Representative Carnine thought that the only recommendations that appear to have any support are the ones calling for a statewide vote on a bond issue and a potential sales tax to fund new construction. These two recommendations would allow the state's voters to decide for themselves if they want to pay more for highway construction. Commissioner Trammel said the the state Highway Department only receives $240 million per year to pay for new construction projects. This small amount will not make a dent in the $20 billion in highway construction projects identified by the Highway Department. Commissioner Trammel said that if the voters want to see some of the major highway projects in Northwest Arkansas built in the short term then they should strongly consider a new sales tax to fund it.

Education was also a topic of discussion. The legislators were asked about HB1099 that provides flexibility on start dates and about legislators taking a critical view of public school's fund balances. Representative Hobbs said she supports HB1099,which would allow schools the option to start anytime between August 14 and August 26 instead of mandating an August 19 start. Representative Carnine said that the criticism on fund balances stems from a lack of clarity and uniformity in how schools present their budgets. Senator Hendren related his main criticism of public schools was the high remediation rate for students entering colleges. He said that students that must take remediation courses in college cost the state $74 million per year and that those students are less likely to get a degree. Representative Carnine added that reducing the remediation level also requires a stronger commitment from the students' parents who need to be accountable.

Johnny Haney, a member of the Northwest Arkansas Community College board of trustees, attended the forum and encouraged the legislators to vote against Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would strip the constitutional independence of public universities and community colleges and place them under the authority of the state legislature. Mr. Haney also reminded the legislators that Northwest Arkansas Community College receives significantly less state funding on a per pupil basis than many of their peer institutions and that the College would like to see all community colleges receive a more equitable distribution of state aid.

One final topic of discussion was the growing cost of housing prisoners at the state and local level. Benton County Justice of the Peace Dan Douglas said that it costs $40 per day to house an inmate at the Benton County Jail. However, the state only pays the county $28 per day for any state inmates that are being held in the county jail awaiting bed space at a state facility. Representative Summers said that the legislature is not currently considering a bill to raise the reimbursement rate, but they are looking at prison and sentencing reform that would move non-violent offenders out of prisons and enrolling drug offenders into rehabilitation and treatment centers instead of a jail cell.

The next legislative forum is scheduled for Saturday, February 5 beginning at 7:30 a.m. at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Bentonville.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Government Affairs Update

Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund

Week two of the state legislature has begun and for the most part committees continue to get organized while deferring bills for a few weeks to allow legislators more time to review and form opinions.

With few bills to consider, most of the House committees are taking up the issue of whether to live stream their meetings. I believe that the general consensus will be to approve live streaming although there is some push back from members who believe that this would hinder open discussion of the bills. Also, one House member expressed his frustration that the State spent hundreds of thousands of dollars installing video streaming equipment without first asking the House if they wanted to enable live streaming. The House will be alone in live streaming since the Senate decided not to participate. What seems so odd is that the newly renovated Big Mac building, which the state spent millions to refurbish and equip last year, is not wired for live streaming. So, committee meetings in the Big Mac will not be recorded.

If you are interested in watching either live or archived videos of committee meetings or the house legislative session go to

This week the Arkansas State Chamber kicked off their weekly legislative lunches. Following an address by Speaker of the House Robert Moore, the Chamber provided an update on one of the major issues facing the legislature in 2011 - the unemployment insurance trust fund.

Historically, the State Chamber has taken the lead on working with labor groups in Arkansas to negotiate mutually acceptable legislation on unemployment related issues. In 2011, this issue has proven to be a monumental task. Arkansas is one of more than 40 states that had to borrow money from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to out-of-work Arkansans. To date, Arkansas has borrowed $330 million, which is minor considering the federal government has loaned the states more than $40 BILLION to pay for unemployment benefits. For a state like Arkansas though, $330 million is a major obligation that has serious ramifications for employers within the state.

So far, the federal government has loaned this money to the states interest free. However, the zero percent interest policy expires on January 1, 2011. Unless Congress passes legislation in the next year, states will be required to make their first interest payment on the loan by September 2011. As part of the repayment process the federal government is going to increase the effective federal unemployment tax rate from 0.8% to around 1.3%. This tax is charged on the first $7,000 paid to each employee. For example, if a small business employs 10 people it will pay an additional $350 per year in 2011 that will go to the federal government to reduce the borrowed amount. In looking at the entire state, Arkansas has civilian employment of 1,244,400 and applying the additional 0.5% in federal unemployment taxes to each employee would increase the tax burden on employers by more than $43 million in 2011. These additional funds will go toward making interest payments on the loan. If the state does not take action to reduce the outstanding debt the federal government will continue to raise the net federal unemployment tax rate until all of the principal and interest on the loans are repaid.

A few states have opted to issue bonds to repay the federal loans since the interest rates the states can receive on bonds is less than the rate the federal government is charging (3% for state bonds versus 4-5% charged by the government). This option is being discussed in Arkansas, but questions remain whether it would require a vote of the people or if the legislature can make that decision. This decision will ultimately come down to the revenue stream that is pledged for repaying the bonds. If the revenue stream is a tax then it would require a vote of the people. If the revenue stream is considered a "fee" then it might be possible to sell bonds based on legislative action. Bonding is an issue that will require significant research and a lot of political soul searching for legislators.

Raising unemployment taxes is one way to repay the trust fund. Another is to reduce the amount paid out of the trust fund by either reducing benefits or reducing the number of unemployed workers. Everyone agrees that returning Arkansans to work is the best option to begin addressing the unemployment trust fund challenges. Reducing unemployment benefits does not appear to be a possibility because the federal law passed just prior to Christmas last year that extended unemployment benefits for thirteen months included a provision that prevents states from reducing unemployment benefits. When the question was asked if Arkansas had to abide by these federal rules, it was humorously noted that, "This is a federal law, which trumps state law every time. That question was settled in 1865."

In summation, there is no easy solution and fixing the problem will take time and sacrifice from all parties. We will update you as this issue develops.

My Experience in Little Rock - Take #2

Last week started with a nasty snow storm in central and south Arkansas that made traveling around the Capitol city treacherous. Now the weather report is calling for snow and ice on Wednesday/Thursday in Northwest Arkansas. This should make for a fun trip back home on Thursday. Mother Nature has not been kind so far this session.

The TEA Party was in the Capitol today and I am going to post some pictures on Facebook for those that are interested. They probably had 20-30 supporters in the Capitol Rotunda this morning.

I am still holding the line against the "Session 17" although it has to be through dumb luck instead of a calculated attempt to watch what I eat and maintain an exercise regime. For example, at the State Chamber reception tonight one of the items on the buffet was some sort of glazed bacon. I didn't know there was a way to make bacon MORE harmful to your cholesterol level, but the State Chamber found a way. Kudos to them by the way - it was delicious.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Opening Day of the 88th General Assembly

Welcome from Government Affairs!

This is the first in a series of blog posts intended to inform readers about activities of the 88th General Assembly during the 2011 regular session. I will be representing the Chamber and its membership at the Capitol throughout the session where I will advocate for our legislative agenda. I am also going to have a section at the end of each post relating some of the non-legislative experiences I have while I am in Little Rock representing the Rogers-Lowell Chamber. I hope you find the information useful or at least entertaining, please feel free to leave comments!

I will also be sending out several email updates each week providing information on state, local and federal legislation that the Chamber is monitoring. If you would like to receive those emails contact me at

Legislative Review
Today was opening day of the 88th General Assembly and saw the swearing in of 99 State Representatives and 35 State Senators. One State Representative seat remains to be filled (District 24) by a special election in March after the voters elected Republican Keith Crass who passed away shortly before the November 2 election.

One of the gallery's favorites during the the swearing-in ceremony was the planned and impromptu performances by country music singer Billy Joe Shavers. Shavers is good friends with House Speaker Robert Moore (D, Lake Village) who invited him to sing the national anthem. Due to delays in swearing-in the Senate, Shavers graced the Chamber and packed galleries with a-capella versions of a few of his classic songs. To listen to a few of them go here and here!

Snowy weather and dangerous road conditions led to the delayed opening of the Senate as State Senator Steve Harrellson (D, Texarkana) had to be flown into Little Rock this morning to attend the swearing in ceremonies. There were still a few empty seats in the House and Senate as legislators struggled to make it to the Little Rock on Sunday and Monday. Those arriving from south Arkansas had an even more difficult time getting to the Capitol than those from the North as I-30 eastbound was closed for an extended time Sunday.

After a forty-five minute delay, the House members were sworn-in and unanimously elected Speaker Robert Moore. Speaker Moore addressed the Chamber and hearkened back to his grandfather who almost 100 years ago to the date received the gavel as Speaker of the House in the exact same House Chamber. Speaker Moore humorously warned his fellow House members that if they felt a little uneasy in their seat today it was probably the ghost of "Big Daddy" watching over his grandson. In his speech, Speaker Moore encouraged the membership to set aside partisanship and do what is right for all Arkansans arguing that history will judge their efforts. He noted that prison reform, transportation and taxes are a few of the important issues that the legislature will address and cautioned them that there is "no free lunch" when dealing with tax cuts and budget issues. To watch the entire speech go here for part one and here for part two!

After Speaker Moore's welcome, chair and vice chairs were appointed for the House Committees. There were a few Northwest Arkansans appointed to leadership positions. Speaker Moore appointed Representative Jonathan Barnett (R, Siloam Springs) as chair of the Transportation Committee and Representative Mary Lou Slinkard (R, Gravette) as Vice Chair of State Agencies Committee. The Transportation Committee will most likely be tasked with implementing some of the Blue Ribbon Highway Commission's recommendations. The State Agencies Committee is another critical post since these legislators will be in charge of Congressional redistricting. Fort Smith's Stephanie Malone will chair the Aging, Children, and Youth Committee. To review the makeup of each House Committee visit the Chamber's Government Affairs website.

In addition to the A and B Committees, House and Senate members serve on Joint Committees. Representative Uvalde Lindsey (D, Fayetteville) will serve as House Vice Chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee and Chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee.

Representative Tim Summers (R, Bentonville) hosted a lunch reception after the swearing-in ceremony where I ran into Arkansas State Police Majors Les Braunns and JR Hankins. Northwest Arkansans might remember Major Braunns who commanded Troop L in Springdale for a number of years before being promoted to Highway Patrol commander of the western half of the state a few years ago. Major J.R. Hankins commanded the Clarksville Troop before being promoted last year where he currently oversees the eastern half of the state's highway patrol Troops. Major Braunns still lives in Springdale and stays at the State Police barracks during the week.

An interesting side note was the presence of Rodney Slater on the House floor today. Mr. Slater is an Arkansas native and served as U.S. Transportation Secretary under President Bill Clinton and currently works in Washington D.C. as a partner with Patton Boggs and James Lee Witt & Associates. One wonders if there is some future Arkansas political race that Secretary Slater has his eye on.

My Experience in Little Rock - Take #1
I also want to include a bit of the personal side about what life is like in Little Rock during the session. I arrived on Sunday and almost beat the snow, but I had to channel my inner NASCAR driver the last fifteen miles as snow and ice covered the roads. Thank goodness my car has all-wheel drive or I would be writing this from a ditch in North Little Rock.

The weather has put a crimp in the inaugural festivities as most of the receptions and events scheduled for tonight have been cancelled. Governor Mike Beebe's BeebeeQue is still on at Cajuns featuring BBQ and Catfish and a Johnny Cash tribute band. I hope they have the National Championship Game on so I can see Auburn and all of their Arkansas connections keep the BCS trophy in the SEC for another year. One thing is certain, Auburn is getting a great return on their $180,000 investment. The prayers from Old Man Newton's Florida church must carry a lot of weight...

I am staying at the Legacy Hotel, which is close to the Capitol and I learned that it was built in just 18 working days in 1913. Knowing this makes me nervous...

Finally, most legislative sessions run 90 days. That means a lot of my meals for the next three months will be take out and banquet food. I would wager very little will be healthy. I weighed 170 this morning in the Legacy's fitness room. If I can keep my weight under 187 I am going to declare victory. You have heard of the "Freshman 15" this is going to be the "Session 17." We won't even consider cholesterol levels that would just be cruel.