Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Joe Jett, R-Success, announced Monday he isn't seeking re-election this year to spend more time with his family.
"To borrow a sports analogy, I feel like I've left it all on the field and gave it my all," he said in a text message to this newspaper. "It's time for me to recharge my batteries and go onto the next adventure in life."
Jett, 62, has served in the House of Representatives since 2013 and chaired the House Revenue and Taxation Committee since 2015.
He switched from Democrat to Republican in December 2016.
Jett resides in what will be House District 1, which covers all of Clay and parts of Randolph and Green counties, under the legislative redistricting plan approved by the state Board of Apportionment in late November. The new district takes effect in 2023.
He said that, after he announced his plans Monday, two people contacted him about possibly running for the seat.
The party primary is May 24 and the general election is Nov. 8.
HOUSE DISTRICT 81
Walter Burgess, a small business owner from Bryant, became the second Republican to publicly join the race for House District 81, which will cover a portion of eastern Saline County.
Bryant City Council member and local radio personality R.J. Hawk announced his candidacy for the seat in November.
Burgess is the co-owner and vice president of sales and engineering at Power Technology Inc. in Alexander and the vice chairman of the Bryant Planning Commission.
In a news release issued Thursday, he said he "is committed to protecting our shared values and the rights and freedoms we hold dear."
"Residents of District 81 have a voice when it comes to who represents them in the House of Representatives, and I can assure you that I will be the strong, conservative voice you need at the State Capitol," Burgess said. He added that he opposes abortion, is a defender of the Second Amendment, and will fight to lower taxes and create jobs.
Burgess said that as a small business owner, he knows the difficulties local entrepreneurs face and will always support policies to help small businesses.
"Together, we can make District 81 the best place in Arkansas to call home," he said.
Reached by phone Monday, Hawk said he welcomes Burgess to the race and that he looked forward to running a clean campaign.
"I always believe that if you feel called to serve then you should take on that opportunity," he said.
But Hawk added, "There's nobody that knows Bryant better than I do" and pointed to his voting record as a City Council member.
"Rather than just a bunch of talking points that he may have, I've actually got a track record of doing things through our local government," he said.
JETT: NEW PRIORITY
In his statement posted Monday morning on Twitter, Jett said, "I never set out to make a career in politics and only wanted to stay as long as I had the desire and could be effective.
"It has occurred to me that the sound of my grandsons calling me Pa on a daily basis has become a priority to me," he wrote in his tweet.
"My plans are to come home and be in the way of the farm with both my sons and wrestle with my four little grandsons whenever I feel like it, then teach them to fly an airplane as they get older -- if their mamas can stand it," he said.
Jett said in an interview that he has been weighing whether to seek re-election since the regular session recessed in April.
"I haven't had time to come back home and relax," he said, noting he worked for three months on the income tax cut law that the Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson enacted during the Dec. 7-9 special session. State officials project the income tax cut law eventually will reduce state general revenue by nearly $500 million a year and say it's the largest tax cut measure in the state's history.
Last year, the Legislature met for 117 days in regular session, and were called by the governor into three-day special sessions in August and December.
"It is definitely a full-time Legislature," Jett said. "In my mind, we need to be a citizen Legislature. ... I love the policy-making. [But] the politics has absolutely worn me out."
House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, who appointed Jett as revenue and taxation chairman in 2019 and 2021, said Monday that, in that role, Jett has been instrumental in providing millions of dollars in tax relief to Arkansas taxpayers.
"His service to our state will have an impact for decides to come," Shepherd said in a written statement.
"While I understand and respect his desire to spend more time with his family, his presence in the House will be dearly missed. I am glad I will always be able to call him a friend," Shepherd said.
Rep. Denise Garner, D-Fayetteville, who serves on Jett's committee, said Monday in an interview that she is devastated that Jett is departing the House.
"I think he's one of the few consummate statesmen and willing to work across the aisle," she said, adding he is a great mentor.
Shortly after the 2016 general election, when Jett switched parties, Democrats had worked together to take control of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on the basis of seniority. Jett's decision left the committee with 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
"This is not a decision I made lightly," Jett said at that time. "I have given this a considerable amount of time, thought and prayer. I was encouraged to move forward after meeting with constituents throughout District 56," the current district.
At that time, his decision drew sharp criticism from then-state Democratic Party spokesman H.L. Moody, who said, "Rep. Jett disappeared from Democratic politics after 2014, and lacked the courage to change political parties before the November 2016 election."
After then-House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, reappointed Jett as revenue and taxation chairman in January 2017, Jett said he was "absolutely not" asked to switch parties to retain his chairmanship. Gillam said Jett would have been considered had he stayed with the minority party.
In 2018, Jett and Gillam said Jett loaned $16,000 to Gillam in the fall of 2016 to help Gillam's then-financially struggling berry farm. They said the loan had nothing to do with Jett's reappointment as committee chairman. Gillam, who resigned from the House in June 2018 to become the University of Central Arkansas' director of governmental affairs, has said he repaid the loan by the end of 2018.