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OPINION | REX NELSON: Great expectations for 2022

by Rex Nelson | January 2, 2022 at 1:44 a.m.

Here are some of the things I would like to see happen in our state in 2022: I would like to see Gov. Asa Hutchinson devote his final year in office to economic development. On his first day as governor, Hutchinson spent several hours calling business executives to ask them to consider investing in Arkansas.

During this eighth year in office, Hutchinson thankfully has only a budget session of the Legislature with which to deal, not the free-for-all general session of last year, a session that spun madly out of control and became the worst of my lifetime. Arkansas is positioned to make serious economic gains in 2022, and the governor’s focus should be on closing deals.  

I would like to see Arkansas voters say they’ve had enough of the Know Nothings in the Legislature, those loudmouthed members who play to the social media mob rather than doing the hard work of crafting an efficient state budget. Fortunately, a few of the worst offenders are running for statewide office and are sure to lose.

Meanwhile, business leaders are raising money to knock off additional Know Nothings in their party primaries. An encouraging sign came during last month’s special session when their colleagues showed far more courage than they had earlier in the year. They refused to let the Know Nothings steer the ship of state in the wrong direction.

I would like to see Sarah Huckabee Sanders have the maturity to realize that her cynical appeals for out-of-state money from always gullible Trumpians worked and that she no longer needs to fight those silly social wars on Twitter. She has more than enough funds to be our next governor and can now focus on how best to unite Arkansans and increase the state’s per capita income after taking office in 2023.

If Sanders is as smart as I think she is, she will treat 2022 as a graduate seminar, learning as much about Arkansas, its history and its people as she can. That will show she truly wants to be a great governor. If the social media culture wars continue, however, it will prove that her interest is in making money and playing the national political game after leaving office. What a wasted opportunity that would be.

I would like to see Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott realize that he can’t just listen to three or four people. Scott has the talent to steer the state’s largest city in the right direction. It’s time for him to convene a summit of the city’s private-sector leaders and listen to their suggestions.

Booming northwest Arkansas is an example of the fact that places aren’t built solely by government. The private sector must be involved. It takes cooperation. Scott must ask these people the best ways to get them to invest additional capital in the capital city and then remove government roadblocks to private-sector growth.

I would like to see more landowners become partners in the quail habitat restoration efforts being undertaken by Quail Forever and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Quail hunting was once an integral part of the state’s culture. Current efforts, which are starting to show results, will lead not only to the return of the bobwhite but also will help songbirds and pollinators.

We’re either intent on this being the Natural State, or it’s simply an advertising slogan. God has blessed us with tremendous natural resources. It’s time to protect and restore them.

Iwould like to see members of the boards of trustees for the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University systems realize that an annual Razorback-Red Wolf football game at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium can be the centerpiece of a weekend festival featuring all things Arkansas.

There can be an associated food and wine festival, concerts by Arkansas musicians, and more. It will provide Arkansans something to look forward to each year and also help the university systems promote their various institutions—both four-year and two-year schools—at a time when we need more people getting degrees.

I selfishly would like to see more Arkansans get subscriptions to this newspaper. We’re about the last man standing when it comes to newspapers that attempt to cover news, business and sports in every county in a state. A strong statewide newspaper can serve as a unifying force and a needed government watchdog, but we must have your subscriptions to do it.

Please consider giving subscriptions as gifts to friends and family members. Arkansas government has never needed reporters nosing around more than it does now.

I would like to see us stop trashing this state. Let’s create dozens of new Keep Arkansas Beautiful affiliates with thousands of volunteers who pick up trash, plant wildflowers and do other things that improve our quality of life. Outside of the state’s natural beauty, the things that strike me most as I travel Arkansas on a weekly basis are the junk in yards and trash along highways. Some days I want to pull the car over to the side of the road and cry. We can do better.

I also would like to see us do a better job keeping the state’s streams clean. We have an abundance of rivers, creeks and bayous. We’ve polluted and channelized too many of them. Later this year, we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Buffalo River by Congress as the first national river. That anniversary will be a good time to convince groups and individuals across the state to adopt other streams. AGFC has a program called Stream Teams that can facilitate such efforts. If we’re the Natural State, we should have the most robust such program in the country.

Iwould like to see those who make policy stop starving our institutions of higher education. In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, we must have more people with either an associate’s degree from one of the state’s 22 two-year schools or a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate from one of its four-year colleges or universities. We’re not going to increase per capita income until that happens.

I would like to see the remaining small daily and weekly newspapers across this state thrive along with the handful of radio stations that still focus on local news. Democracy in Arkansas suffers without media watchdogs in all 75 counties. These are the people who keep an eye on school boards, city councils and county quorum courts. We here at the Democrat-Gazette can’t cover it all.

I would like to see business and civic leaders in Little Rock come up with a coordinated plan to restore Capitol Avenue. It should be Arkansas’ grandest boulevard—a beautiful, vibrant street leading to the steps of the state Capitol.

Just as was the case when I wrote about it a year ago, it’s instead a route filled with tacky surface parking lots and empty buildings. It’s time to better market those buildings while adding extensive landscaping, lighting, banners and the like.

I would like to see business and civic leaders in Hot Springs put the same type of focus on Central Avenue. There’s still nothing happening where the Majestic Hotel once stood. We’re still waiting on the renovation of the Arlington and other downtown hotels. The former Army and Navy General Hospital, the DeSoto-Howe Building, the Dugan-Stuart Bulding and former Velda Rose Hotel are still empty.

With more people choosing vacation spots that don’t require airline flights, this is Hot Springs’ moment to thrive since it’s within easy driving distance for those living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. But as you can see, Hot Springs has a lot of work to do.

I would like to see the growing number of people with wealth in Benton and Washington counties look east to Eureka Springs in Carroll County and invest money in that unique Arkansas attraction. Eureka Springs has an authenticity that a place like Branson, Mo., can’t touch. It just needs some big capital investments to polish the jewel.

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Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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