Retired teacher Alisa Blaize Dixon of North Little Rock vows to provide a more independent voice for her state Senate district in her bid to defeat Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jane English of North Little Rock in the Nov. 3 general election.
In her reelection campaign, English touts her legislative experience and work aimed at improving education and workforce training in the state.
Dixon, 65, described herself as a moderate, sensible Democrat.
English, 79, is a Republican who described herself as "probably not a far right person."
English represents Senate District 34, which generally includes North Little Rock, eastern Maumelle, and the Jacksonville area, north of Interstate 40 and west of U.S. 67/167. She has served in the Senate since 2013 and was in the House of Representatives from 2009-13.
They are vying for a state senator's job with a salary of $42,428 a year, plus per diem, mileage and travel expense reimbursement.
The Arkansas Senate is made up of 26 Republicans and nine Democrats.
Dixon was a teacher for 35 years before retiring three years ago as a music teacher specialist at Jefferson Elementary School in the Little Rock School District. She received a bachelor's degree in music education from Louisiana State University, a master's degree in education from there as well, and a master's degree in music from the University of Central Arkansas. She is divorced with four children.
English was a senior project manager for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission from 1984-99 and director of the state Workforce Development Board from 2001-04. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and finance from Arkansas Tech University. She is married with two children.
Dixon, who is making her first bid for elected office, said she decided to run for the Senate seat because the district needs "a more independent voice," and she has the courage to speak out and do what is right.
She said her priorities would include supporting teachers and ensuring each child receives a quality education; providing affordable health care; and helping small businesses recover from the devastating losses of the pandemic.
Dixon said voters should cast their votes for her because she has a lot of first-hand experience in the classroom, and she won't be a rubber stamp for special interests like she said English has been.
She said more than 80% of English's campaign contributions are from political action committees and special interest groups, and Dixon has a difficult time believing the committees and groups are working for the best interest of her constituents and Arkansans.
But English said lobbyists know that she votes for or against legislation based on what she believes is in the best interest of her constituents and Arkansans.
"I have never been influenced by anybody's money," she said.
English said voters should cast their ballots for her based on her experience and work to improve education and career education.
She said her focus in the Legislature has been on educational programs, and making sure that the state's education programs are well run and students end up with skills for their employment.
As of Aug. 31, English reported raising $118,700.87 in contributions, and spending $25,125.14, leaving a balance of $93,575.73.
English's top contributors include $5,500 from Jim Walton of Bentonville, $3,000 from Warren Stephens of Little Rock and $2,800 each from former Gov. Mike Huckabee's Huck PAC, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin's Jobs and Growth PAC, the Arkansas Conservative Legislative PAC and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce PAC based on a review of English's campaign finance reports for the primary and general elections. Contributors are limited to a $2,800 contribution to a candidate in the primary and $2,800 in the general election.
In contrast, Dixon reported raising $23,638.96 in contributions, loaning her campaign $16,296 and spending $13,275.51 as of Aug. 31, leaving a balance of $26,659.45.
Dixon's top contributors include $2,000 from Bob Quimby of Heath, Texas, and $1,000 apiece from Edwin Murray of New Orleans, Bruce Holsted of North Little Rock, Leo Blaize III of Baton Rouge and Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde of North Little Rock, based of a review of Dixon's campaign finance reports. Hyde, a Democrat, lost to English in the 2012 general election.
VIEWS ON EDUCATION
Dixon said English consistently votes against funding public education and favors vouchers that take money away from the public schools. She said she also worries about the accountability and transparency of charter schools.
Dixon noted English voted for legislation in 2019 that would have created a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for those who want to contribute to a program to help low-income students attend private schools instead of public schools. The bill would have created roughly 400 public school "scholarships" for eligible students across the state, using $3 million in donated funds each year.
But English said it's ridiculous to suggest that she consistently votes against funding public education.
"I have never voted against public school funding in Arkansas," she said.
English said she voted for the bill that Dixon criticized her for supporting because she supports the opportunity for parents to make a choice in the education of their children. She said she supports public schools, private schools and home schools as well as charter schools.
She noted that she also supports the Succeed Scholarship program that provides scholarships for students with disabilities to attend private schools. In fiscal 2021, the scholarship is $7,018 per student and the Department of Education awarded 485 scholarships available based on $3 million in state funds for the fiscal year and carryover funds from the past fiscal year, according to the Department of Education.
Dixon said English voted for 2019 legislation that will phase in a reduction in the state's top individual income rate from 6.9% to 5.9% over a two-year period, and that the measure benefited the most wealthy Arkansans.
State officials projected the measure ultimately will reduce state tax revenue by about $97 million a year after it is completely phased in. The law cut the top individual income rate from 6.9% to 6.6% on Jan. 1 of this year and will cut the rate to 5.9% on Jan. 1, 2021.
Dixon said she would have probably voted against the measure because the state's sales tax is high and considered to be a regressive form of taxation and the state's tax sources need a balance.
English said, "It wasn't just the people who make the most money" who got a tax break under the measure.
"Everybody got something out of that," she said.
State finance department officials projected about 579,000 taxpayers would receive a tax cut under the measure. About 1.38 million individual income tax returns were filed with the finance department in 2019, according to a spokesman for the finance department.
Reducing the state's top individual income tax rate didn't mean that any state agency lost money or services weren't provided, English said.
Dixon said she supports the state's Medicaid expansion program that provides health insurance coverage to about 280,000 low-income Arkansans because she wants health care coverage to be accessible to Arkansans.
The federal government pays for 90% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion program called Arkansas Works, while the state covers the other 10%.
She said English voted for legislation that made it more difficult for low-income people to get health insurance by attaching a work requirement to many participants of the Medicaid expansion program. She said the work requirement was poorly implemented by the state and the federal courts ruled it was illegal.
A federal appeals court, in affirming a lower court order, has ruled that the Trump administration unlawfully allowed Arkansas to impose a work requirement on recipients of coverage under the Medicaid expansion program. That ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
English said, "I am fine" with the state's Medicaid expansion program.
"I would like to have the work requirement, but we haven't been able to do that," she said.
"I just think it is important for people to be working. Everybody needs to have that opportunity. The best welfare program is a job. It's important for people to have a job and health insurance," English said.
Dixon criticized English for voting in 2017 to refer to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overhauled the state's tort laws. The state Supreme Court ruled tossed the proposal off the 2018 general election ballot. The proposal would have limited certain damage awards in civil suits and allowed the Legislature to rewrite the state Supreme Court's rules.
Dixon said she would have voted against the proposal because "it took away our right to have a trial by a jury and put a cap on a person's life of how much a person's life is worth."
English said "I never believed that [accusation] about putting a cap on people's lives."
She said she she voted to refer the proposed constitutional amendment to voters because "we need fewer class-action lawsuits and less money going out the door."
Dixon said she would rather advocate for programs that lower the rate of unplanned pregnancy through education, health care access and birth control, rather than focus on imposing more restrictions on abortions.
English said she opposes abortion except to save the life of a mother.
Dixon said she favors hate crimes legislation, noting Arkansas is one of the few states without such a law.
English said she wants to see proposed hate crimes legislation before casting judgment on it, adding that she is not leaning toward supporting such a proposal.
Print Headline: Schools key to District 34 race