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Arkansas House District 62 race pits 4-term Kelso incumbent against first-time Helena-West Helena candidate

Kelso lawmaker faces 1st-time hopeful by Neal Earley | September 26, 2022 at 4:33 a.m.
State Rep. Mark McElroy (left), R-Tillar, is facing Democratic challenger Dexter Miller for the Arkansas House District 62 race in the Nov. 8 general election. McElroy represents a new district which stretches along the state’s eastern border on the Mississippi River and includes parts of Lee, St. Francis, Phillips, Monroe and Desha counties.

The Arkansas House District 62 race will pit a longtime Republican lawmaker vying to keep his job in a new district against a Democratic challenger trying to keep the Delta blue.

State Rep. Mark McElroy, 66, is seeking his fifth term in the House as he faces off against Dexter Miller, 53, in the Nov. 8 general election.

House District 62 stretches along the state's eastern border on the Mississippi River and includes parts of Lee, St. Francis, Phillips, Monroe and Desha counties. The district is rural, with a high-poverty rate and declining population, and it is one of only 11 House districts with a majority Black population.

Democratic voters also appear to outnumber Republicans in the district with 3,139 Democratic voters casting ballots in the seat's May primary election, compared to 916 for GOP candidates.

McElroy, of Kelso, previously served as the Desha County judge for 20 years and on the county's quorum court for 16 years. He also serves as the vice chair of the House Revenue and Tax Committee.

McElory said his main pitch to voters will be about his decades of experience in Delta politics.

"If you are looking at having heart surgery, you don't go say, 'Hey give me a guy fresh out of med school,'" McElroy said.

McElroy currently represents District 11, but because of redistricting he is running in a new district. He faced fellow Republican incumbent David Tollett of Marvell in the Republican primary.

Miller, of Helena-West Helena, is a digital learning specialist at Great Rivers Education Cooperative and a first-time candidate for the state House. He has a bachelor's degree from Ashford University, now called the University of Arizona Global Campus.

Miller previously ran and lost a race for city council in Helena-West Helena in 2014. He defeated Kellee Mitchell Farris in May's Democratic primary.

"My primary goal is to make sure I get there and fight and let them know where we stand as counties, as low counties, as high-poverty counties in need of assistance," Miller said.

EDUCATION

Both candidates agreed education may be the biggest issue facing the district as students struggle in the classroom. The statewide teacher shortage has hit the lower Delta particularly hard with most districts having to utilize waivers to fill the gaps.

McElroy and Miller said a lack of economic opportunity has made it hard for school districts to recruit and retain teachers. To help with the teacher shortage, Miller and McElroy said they support increasing teacher pay, something that will likely be an issue in the next legislative session in January.

"Right now we are struggling with a teacher shortage," Miller said. "I really would be an advocate for higher teacher pay."

During the August special session, McElroy was one of 14 House Republicans to vote against adjourning so the Legislature could consider a bill to raise teacher pay.

McElroy said if elected he would serve as an advocate for struggling school districts in the General Assembly and with the Arkansas Department of Education.

"I will try to be a kind of go-between, between the school districts and the state, and try to get them back on the right track and work with the Department of Education," McElroy said.

Miller said he would push for more funding for after-school programs and mentors.

"Some of the crime that's in neighborhoods, I think it's related to students," Miller said. "I mean kids, after school, during the summer time, they don't have anything to do."

McElroy said he supports "a little bit of everything" when it comes to school choice, saying he supports both more funding for public education and voucher programs.

"I think it should be the parents' choice of where their kids go," he said.

Miller is against vouchers, saying they divert funds away from public schools.

"I am not a proponent for taking one dollar from a public school to give it to a private school or voucher," he said.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & TAXES

The lower Delta is the poorest region of the state with Lee, Phillips and Desha counties having some of the highest poverty rates in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Both candidates acknowledge changing demographic and economic trends won't be easy as the Delta's population continues to decline. Miller cited expanded broadband as a key factor that could provide an economic boost to the district.

Federal and state lawmakers have pushed for expanding broadband access in rural communities in Arkansas, and both Miller and McElroy say there needs to be more investment in the Delta's broadband internet.

"They are leaving their communities to seek work elsewhere," Miller said. "If communities were thriving and they had a job, they wouldn't be leaving."

McElroy also backed increased investment in broadband for the district, saying people often don't want to leave their communities in the Delta but ultimately have to because the internet infrastructure is not there.

"We found out during covid, you know, you can work from home if you got the Wi-Fi and high-speed internet," McElroy said. "A lot of people really wanted to continue to work from home because they can be more productive."

McElroy said District 62 also needs more investment in infrastructure, saying roads and bridges in disrepair hurt the district's economy. McElroy specifically mentioned he would push for state funding for the Helena Bridge.

McElroy said he supports phasing out the state's income tax to make it more competitive with other states. He also said he'd support lowering Arkansas' taxes on gas and food to help consumers.

Miller said he is against eliminating the state's income tax, and when it comes to other tax issues he will take them up on a case-by-case basis.

ABORTION

With Arkansas' trigger law outlawing abortion taking effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion has become a more salient issue in the state. Currently, Arkansas' abortion ban has exceptions only in cases where the mother is in a medical emergency.

McElroy said he supports expanding exemptions in the state's abortion law to include cases of rape and incest, but said that in general "I'm pro-life 100%."

Miller, like most Democrats, supports legal abortion in Arkansas, saying "I do believe in women's freedoms to make their own choice."

MARIJUANA

Arkansas voters also will get a chance this November to decide if they want to legalize recreational marijuana through a constitutional amendment. The question put to voters will allow for the legalization of recreational cannabis for adults and state regulation of the drug.

Miller said he is in favor of a constitutional amendment saying state regulation of marijuana would prevent people from buying it on the street where it could be laced with fentanyl.

McElroy is against legalized recreational cannabis, saying he believes marijuana to be a gateway drug.

"It's kind of painful to say I've had some issue in my family dealing with addiction, and it started with marijuana," McElroy said.

Print Headline: Redrawn map shakes House District 62 race

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