Gene Jeffress

State Sen. Gene Jeffress has announced his candidacy for the open Fourth District seat in the U.S. Congress. Jeffress is the fourth candidate and first Democrat to announce his candidacy since U.S. Rep. Mike Ross announced that he would not seek reelection.

Jeffress, a Democrat from Louann (Ouachita County), said he is organizing his campaign, filing all the required paperwork, and will soon begin raising funds for a campaign that some say may cost as much as $4 million.

Jeffress said he has already visited 29 counties on his “retired teacher salary.”

A self-described conservative Democrat, Jeffress said he is “a common man who will try to do uncommon things in Congress.”

“We are a runaway train in our nation,” Jeffress said. “We’re headed down the wrong track and we need some leadership that isn’t afraid to do what’s right and stand up for what we believe in: conservative family values.”

Jeffress said the country is being run by extremists in the Republican and Democratic parties, leaving about 80 percent of Americans unrepresented.

“We’re letting the extreme 10 percent in the Republican Party and extreme 10 percent in Democrat Party run the country,” he said. “I want to run the country for the 80 percent of Americans in the middle who are paying the taxes and getting very little representation.”

Jeffress, a retired high school choir director, is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Monticello where he received a degree in music education. He was the choir director at Camden Fairview for 28 years and has been minister of music at a number of South Arkansas churches.

The term-limited state senator said his proudest accomplishment, as senator, was the passage of the Arkansas Safe Haven Act, a bill he co-sponsored with his brother, State Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett. The act provides anonymity and immunity from prosecution for women who leave their unwanted newborns at a hospital or other public place instead of “dumping” or otherwise harming the child.

But his proudest life-long accomplishment, he says, is his 43-year marriage and his children and grandchildren. Jeffress and his wife have three children and five grandchildren who all live within 100 yards of each other.

While he is the only Democrat to announce his candidacy for the office, three Republicans are seeking the office: Tom Cotton, of Dardanell, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, graduate of Harvard Law School, and most recently was a management consultant with McKinsey and Co; Beth Anne Rankin, of Magnolia, a speaker, teacher, composer, performer and policy advisor to former Gov. Mike Huckabee;  and Marcus Richmond, a businessman and Marine veteran from Scott County.