Though he hasn’t made an “official” announcement, it would probably come as no surprise that former state Rep. Gregg Reep will be a candidate to replace term-limited state Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett.
Several names — all Democrats — are being bandied about as potential candidates for the District 26 state Senate seat, but Seark Today, so far, has confirmed only one: Reep, a 57-year-old Democrat from Warren who served 18 years as that city’s mayor before serving six years in the state House, where he was chairman of the Public Health Committee.
While the district boundaries are still subject to a little tinkering, it’s likely to include Ashley, Bradley, Chicot and Drew counties as well as half of Cleveland and Lincoln counties and all of Desha County, except Dumas.
“I am running,” Reep said. “I started the last month or so, trying to get around to what I knew was going to be in the district.”
Regardless of who enters the race, the issues and talking points will likely be the same: job creation, education, health care, and transportation, specifically highways and rail.
“I think one of the big issues we’re going to have to deal with in Southeast Arkansas is how to keep developing and growing UAM,” Reep said. “I think UAM is crucial to our economic future in Southeast Arkansas because that’s where most of our people will be educated, and the forestry school has such an impact on our forestry industry. It’s going to depend on the state to a large extent and it should get its fair share of (state) resources.”
But, the state can’t solve all of the problems, Reep said, referring to economic development, health care, education, and transportation needs.
“A lot of this is going to have to be done by the local communities — meaning the cities, the counties, and the school districts,” Reep said. “The state can help, and should, as far as providing some resources, but I really think the local communities, collectively, are going to have to decide how they’re going to get some of these things done.”
Ironically, Monticello stepped up to the plate on some of those issues this week. The Monticello City Council, at the request of the Monticello Economic Development Commission, appropriated funds to improve rail service in that community and agreed to take over the maintenance of the sewer lines at UAM.
Issues can, however, change from time to time and a legislator has to be prepared to take whatever comes and deal with it, according to Reep.
“You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got when you get there,” Reep said. “The issue may be a lot different today than it is six months from now and what’s on people’s mind may be somewhat different, so you’ve got to look at each individual matter and issue based upon what you think is needed or what folks are wanting to do at that given time.”
Reep, who considers himself a moderate Democrat and financially conservative, said he once got heckled on the House floor because he said he considers himself a fiscal conservative.
“But I absolutely do consider myself to be financially conservative,” he said. “I don’t like to use the terms liberal and conservative because they can be misused sometimes, but in the general scope of how those terms relate in politics today I certainly consider myself to be conservative financially. You’ve gotta pay your bills and you can’t do stuff you can’t pay for. If you decide something has to be done, you have to provide the revenue for it from somewhere.”
Though he sees some signs of the Legislature getting more partisan, Reep said in Arkansas it has always been more territorial than partisan.
“It’s more about what part of the state you’re from than whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” he said. “But (partisanship) has got so bad on the federal level, it doesn’t make any difference what the issue is, if one says green, the other says purple. I didn’t experience that in the state Legislature. I’m not saying something didn’t crop up from time to time but people usually got over it pretty quick and went on to what they were trying to do and tried to find something everyone could agree on because you’ve got to get a majority of folks to vote for you on whatever it is that you’re proposing, or against whatever you’re against.”
Reep said listening with an open-mind is an important part of public service.
I’ve had a few times in my political career that I’ve listened to folks for awhile and I’ve changed my mind about something,” he said. “They convinced me I wasn’t right but I’ve got a few core principals that I’m probably not going to waver on a whole lot.”
The big one, he said, is balancing the state budget.
Another is the need to balance government regulation and the interests of private enterprise.
“I know there’s got to be a separation between the government and the private sector but we need to promote the private sector, business-wise, as much as we can,” he said. “By the same token, you’ve got to have a little bit of regulation to make sure that things are done right and fair. I’m talking about environmental laws and health care laws. Now, you can go to the extreme on some of that stuff and sometimes government does. It’s a balancing act. I’m a strong supporter of private business but there’s certain things that need to be regulated. I want to try to maintain a clean environment but I don’t want to have crazy stuff on the books that stops people from doing anything.”
Asked the philosophical question, would he, as senator, vote the will of his constituents or vote his convictions if he disagreed with his constituents, Reep said there is no simple answer to the question.
“Here’s the way I look at it,” he said, “first of all, I’m going to listen to the issue, make sure I know all the facts, and I’m probably going to take a position as to what I really think is the best and right thing to do. But, yes, you want to listen to your constituents. You need to listen to what they’ve got to say, and sometimes they will have an impact on what you do. But, just because you get five phone calls, does than mean that all of your constituents think that way? I saw people in the Legislature who would get three phone calls and they’d tell you ‘I can’t vote for that, Gregg, because all of my people are against that.’ They’d get three phone calls out of 18,000 people and say that’s what all of their people thought.
“You tend to hear from people who are paying attention to a given issue because maybe it impacts them more than it does everybody else, or they’ve got some kind of personal, religious or moral beliefs about something,” Reep said. “But that doesn’t mean that everybody else thinks the same thing. So, the first thing you’ve gotta do is make sure what does the majority of your constituents really think, not just the ones you’re hearing from. Then you have to consider: Can the majority even be wrong sometimes?
“I would say that you could probably study Arkansas history and see that Orval Faubus got reelected by a pretty big margin back there in the 1960s over (Little Rock) Central High School,” Reep said. “He probably did what the majority of the people wanted him to do, but was he right?
“There’s a line there and I can’t really tell you where that line is,” he said. “Everybody in office has to decide that at some point. So I think what you do is, you try to educate yourself, really know the facts, and certainly listen to what people who live in your district have to say about it — making sure you get a pretty good feel for it, not just one or two people who may have reasons to feel a certain way — and then, ultimately, you just have to make a decision and do what you think is the right thing to do.”
It’s also important to consider the nature, complexity and seriousness of the issue, he said.
“As a state senator, I think that you have the responsibility, when you do have a pretty good feeling or strong feeling about something that maybe your people don’t agree with, to try to convince them that you are trying to go in the right direction,” he said. “But I still think you’ve got to listen to them too.”
Reep said his biggest problem with some people in elected office is that, in general, they have the tendency to not want to make decisions.
“They want to kick the can further down the road, put it off, stall, and talk about it some more,” he said. “It’s probably the old mayor in me that comes out there because I didn’t have that option. I had to make a decision.”