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Editor's note: This is a revised and updated version of a column first published online-only on Wednesday.

Jonathan Crossley is a happening thing in Little Rock education and documentary filmdom. And now he conceivably portends a happening thing--a post-Clinton thing--in Arkansas Democratic politics.

He's a 29-year-old South Carolinian who is the first in his mill-working family to finish college. He believed he had an obligation to serve the public need. He thought he'd probably do it as a lawyer. But then it hit him that the most basic need was education, particularly regarding the disadvantaged.

He came to the Delta region of eastern Arkansas under the Teach for America program. For three years, he lived in a house in a soybean field while he taught at the Palestine-Wheatley School District.

In 2014, he was named Teacher of the Year in Arkansas and, as such, became an ex-officio member of the state Board of Education. The next year, then-superintendent Baker Kurrus recruited him hard to become principal of Baseline Elementary School, one of the Little Rock district's academically failing schools, the condition of which precipitated the state government takeover.

Kurrus gave Crossley authority to assemble an all-star faculty for the nearly all-minority enrollment, more than half of which was learning English as a second language. In a year, Baseline tested out of academic failure. It has stayed out since.

In the new Netflix documentary Teach Us All, made to mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Central High crisis, filmmaker Sonia Lowman looked at the tragic re-segregation of public schools nationwide since 1957. Upon asking whether anyone was succeeding in the troubled contemporary environment, the documentary answered by showcasing the success of Crossley and Baseline.

Crossley and the Spanish-speaking children of Baseline were the happy warriors of an otherwise grim film.


"Jonathan Crossley is a big deal," state Rep. Michael John Gray told me Monday.

He did not mean in education, though Crossley is indeed a big deal there.

Gray is chairman of the state Democratic Party. By "big deal," Gray meant Crossley's newly announced decision to run next year for the Democratic nomination for a Republican-occupied state representative seat from northern Pulaski County, where he lives.

My interest is that Crossley represents what I think I sense, which is the seed of a generational change from the exhausted Clinton legacy in state Democratic politics--and, beyond that, the potential launching of a new and reinvigorated Democratic politics in Arkansas, even--dare I suggest?--a movement.

Crossley told me that, yes, several like-minded educators in their 20s, 30s and 40s have been meeting lately to discuss how they might adapt their education mission into a newly focused service in Democratic politics in the state--and whether this new politics is a key element of what they see as their calling.

Crossley said no one else in that conversation has yet pulled the trigger on a political race. But he was aware of something I happen to have heard. It's that a potential candidate with a biography and record of interest and accomplishment much like Crossley's is thinking about flying the likely kamikaze mission of a Democratic gubernatorial candidacy next year.

You must start somewhere. The Democrats will require a candidate for governor next year. And that candidate will warrant a statewide forum for advancing--maybe--a new teaching focus in disadvantaged schools, a new entrepreneurial emphasis, and a bully pulpit for attacking teen pregnancy so that the state's poor areas might erode the long-established pattern of losing two generations at once when children have children.

Crossley represents bright and driven young progressives given to public service who believe Arkansas, to succeed, must declare war on substandard schools in impoverished areas. He and others believe the state must do so with new young teachers specially recruited, specially talented, specially committed, specially trained and higher-salaried for the challenges that make teaching in the Delta and the inner city entirely different from teaching at suburban havens such as Cabot or Conway or Bryant.

That other fellow may or may not decide to run for governor.

Crossley has fully decided to run for the Legislature. He has passion, energy, a strong biography and a compelling message. He talks of a "new wave" in Arkansas politics.

You won't necessarily start a new political movement with all of that. But you can't even contemplate one without it.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/16/2017

Print Headline: Democratic rebirth

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  • mozarky2
    November 16, 2017 at 4:06 a.m.

    You'd think that our state's four Congressional districts would "require a candidate" from the democrat party. However, in 2016, only the 2nd district featured one. There were libertarians running in all four districts.
    That "rebirth" looks more like a stillborn...

  • TimberTopper
    November 16, 2017 at 4:34 a.m.

    moz, and some are still living in 2016. Check a looking glass as they use to say, to see who one of them is.

  • mozarky2
    November 16, 2017 at 7:01 a.m.

    TT, you haven't, and never will, move on from 2016. That election dominates your every thought. So, let's look ahead to 2018, if you're capable of that leap.
    Will the Dems field candidates in ANY of the U.S. Congressional elections?

  • WGT
    November 16, 2017 at 7:10 a.m.

    The pendulum will continue the swing. The cleansing is happening. Garbage politics of diseased Republican creeps, and the warped sense of morality they harbor, will fuel the left to new gains, resulting in stopping this wanton onslaught of depravity by deplorables.

  • skeptic1
    November 16, 2017 at 7:32 a.m.

    Wow, two Democrats win in two blue states, imagine that?

  • RBear
    November 16, 2017 at 7:49 a.m.

    skeptic, two specials. There's about to be a third with the AL senate election unless Republicans can convince the sexual predator to get out of the race. However, it may be too late to get him off the ballot which would lead to a fractured Republican voting base. Some would write in Luther Strange while others would cast the idiot vote for Moore.

  • BoudinMan
    November 16, 2017 at 8:14 a.m.

    skeptic, more than 2. Check out Oklahome. Yes, Oklahoma. So far this year 4 seats in the state house have flipped. It just makes things more interesting for sure.

  • mozarky2
    November 16, 2017 at 8:37 a.m.

    WOW! Dems win back four of the thousand plus state House seats they lost over the Obama years? Yep, that certainly looks like a trend! LOLZ!

  • skeptic1
    November 16, 2017 at 8:53 a.m.

    Wow, a few state Democrat state representatives got elected...woo-hoo. The economy continues to soar, taxes are reduced, illegal immigration is was way down, consumer confidence is the highest in 25 years....yeah I can see why the Dems would think they have it in the bag. Good grief.

  • PopMom
    November 16, 2017 at 9:10 a.m.

    Mozarky,

    You can't judge what is happening in America by what is happening in Arkansas which, outside of Alabama, has become one of the reddest states in the nation. Democrats have been winning special elections across the country. One pollster indicated that they are up about 12 points over where they were on election day 2016, and also predicted that if they are up 15 points on election day 2018, they will retake the House. I hope that the Democrats in Arkansas will focus on education and the environment because these are the two issues where Arkansas needs the most help. While the Democrats may not contest all of the congressional seats in Arkansas in 2018, the Democrats will make strong gains across the country.

    Virginia is in the process of becoming a blue state, but it used to be a purple state. The Virginia House was Republican and now it will be about tied. Virginians care more about good schools and the economy than far right Christian homophobia and discrimination against minorities.

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