After serving in the Arkansas legislature for 16 years – four in the House of Representatives and 12 in the Senate – this will be the last column I send out to my constituents and the media of my district.

It has been an honor representing the people of southeast Arkansas. I have endeavored to serve effectively and fairly, so that even those who don’t share my political beliefs would at least recognize that I listened to their concerns and took into account their opinions.

Improving public schools has always been at the top of my legislative agenda. I am grateful to my colleagues who shared my strongly held conviction that education is the key to prosperity and economic security.

Among my proudest accomplishments as a legislator is helping formulate policy that got Arkansas schools out of the Lake View school funding case. Lake View was costly and drawn out, but the end result was the establishment of ambitious school standards that broadened curriculum offerings and enabled teachers to receive continuing professional training that had been unavailable. School administrators are more accountable for how revenue is spent, and students are required to perform at higher standards than ever.

The benefits are numerous. Arkansas is no longer at the bottom of the list when standardized test scores are released. Our best and brightest teachers no longer move to better paying positions in neighboring states. Historically high percentages of high school graduates are going on to college.

Education is not limited to K-12. I’ve had the pleasure of working with administrators from four-year universities, vocational-technical colleges, adult education centers, alternative learning centers and pre-kindergarten programs. Arkansas is poised for a breakout.  It’s my firm belief that within a few years we will enjoy the benefits of our investment in the future of our children.

It was my privilege to serve during the administrations of two governors. My election to the House of Representatives coincided with the election of former Governor Mike Huckabee. Those with long memories probably remember that we had our differences, and neither of us was bashful about going public with our political jabs. However, vigorous debate is part of the democratic process. It is one way that citizens become informed and get engaged in the operations of government. Looking back on those years, I hope Governor Huckabee remembers them as fondly as I do. We share the same heartfelt goal – to improve the lives of the people of Arkansas.

Working with Governor Mike Beebe will always hold a special place for me. First, we served together in the Senate. I respected him and admired his abilities from the first day I arrived at the state Capitol, and it seems hard to believe but my respect and admiration has grown steadily over the 16 years we’ve worked together. I’m proud to call him a friend and ally.

I will miss the long hours and long days working at the Capitol, but I look forward to taking it easy for the first time in my career. It’s a comfort to know that after I leave office, the next generation of leaders from southeast Arkansas are people of the highest caliber.

I want to thank the voters of Senate District 24 for their confidence in me. Serving you has been a true blessing. God bless you all.