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JOHN BRUMMETT: Her turn to speak

by John Brummett | February 13, 2020 at 6:59 a.m.

I'd tell you a little about Gwen Ford Faulkenberry of Ozark, but I fear I'll have to tell you a lot once I get going. There is much to tell.

She is a native of Ozark who lives on a cattle farm with her husband, an assistant football coach for the Ozark Hillbillies, and their four children. The eldest daughter is a National Merit finalist now at the University of Arkansas. Her son just made all-state quarterback for the Hillbillies.

She plays piano at the Baptist church. She teaches English composition and introductory American literature at Arkansas Tech University's Ozark branch.

She has written more books than she can instantly recall, some of which are devotional and others "Christian romance" novels.

Some of her students ran a little scheme to get people to encourage her to run for state representative from her district covering parts of Franklin, Crawford and Madison counties. The Republican in the seat has chosen to seek instead a judgeship.

Faulkenberry thought the idea absurd. She was no politician. She had a full life. She was an independent and these were Democrats who were encouraging her.

Then State Rep. Nicole Clowney of Fayetteville, a bright new Democratic light, drove down to have coffee with her. Faulkenberry told Clowney she was culturally different from Democrats. She opposed abortion. She wasn't with them on guns; her freezer was filled with deer meat.

She might be more Democrat than Republican, she acknowledged, but only in the "old-style rural Arkansas Democrat."

Clowney told her it didn't matter. What Democrats need, she said, are good local candidates able to connect with their neighbors and transcend divisions. Faulkenberry was perfect, Clowney said.

Faulkenberry ran it by her husband, expecting him to say sensibly that the family had plenty already to keep it busy. But he didn't say that. He wasn't against considering the idea.

She ran it by her parents, who were wary of the area's raging Republicanism. Her brother, Jim Ford, the Ozark school superintendent, chimed in to say he wasn't so sure she couldn't win.

Then her four kids told her she'd always told them they needed to serve others and not shy from challenges.

A career rural educator, she looked into the public-education issue and was appalled by Republican initiatives in Little Rock to introduce school-choice vouchers, charter schools and public-school competition with winners and losers.

The very idea of countenancing "losers" in public education was, to her clear mind, outrageous.

"The very basis of our democracy is a fair and equitable educational opportunity for everyone," she told me. "It's the only way. It's the chance for people to escape poverty."

So she filed for a vacant seat against no slouch of a Republican opponent. Mark H. Berry is the recently retired four-year adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard.

This district voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by 82 percent. If Faulkenberry was to compete, she'd have to attract Trump voters.

So she sought permission to speak to Republican groups in her district. Lo and behold, one of them, the Madison County Republican Committee, invited her to come to Huntsville last Thursday. When she got there, she was told she couldn't speak after all but was welcome to attend and visit individually. She was told Berry had objected.

He basically confirmed as much, telling me the Republican Party didn't need to give itself over as a forum for people who "subscribe to the Democratic platform."

Did you get that? "Subscribe to the Democratic platform?" The pro-life and venison-in-the-freezer planks, I guess.

"I had such a cute speech ready," Faulkenberry told me. "I was going to tell them about the elephants in the room, which I guess made me the jackass. I was going to tell them I wasn't their enemy, that I shared their values. But I was going to tell them about my passion on public education and the concerns I had about things that were literally on the table on education in Little Rock.

"These are good people. They went to public schools. Their families did. They needed to know those things."

Faulkenberry read my Sunday column lamenting that principle gets subjugated to party-line imprisonment these days. She got in touch to agree and relate her story.

It's all right, you see, if most Democrats don't agree with Faulkenberry on everything. That doesn't make her a "DINO," meaning "Democrat in name only." It makes her reflective of her community.

It's no "DINO" who gets appalled as Faulkenberry does on conservative Republican public-education ideas that are making their way through the state's Republican state legislative super-majority.

She's running to agree with people in her district on abortion and guns but to tell them that the Republicans have it all wrong on rural public schools that are the very heart and backbone of their community.

If I were her Republican opponent, I wouldn't want to give her a turn at the podium either.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 02/13/2020

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