Gibson resident Kwami Abdul-Bey announced this week he was going to challenge state Rep. David Ray in House District 69, that covers a small portion of Maumelle as well as Pulaski and Faulkner counties.
Abdul-Bey, above, a Clinton School graduate, is running as a Democrat and filing for office started on Monday and will continue through the rest of this week and conclude on Thursday, Nov. 14 at the state capital in Little Rock.
With his announcement, Abdul-Bey took some time and answered an email questionnaire from ArkansasNewsroom.com.
His responses have been lightly edited and formatted for publication below.
>> Have you run for public office before, and, if not, what inspired you to run this campaign cycle?
This will be my first "official" foray into candidacy for elected office here in Arkansas. I say "official" because I was elected Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas Boys State decades ago when I went to Little Rock Central High School. But that was not real, per se. However, it did give me my first taste of actually campaigning for office. In my adult life, I have held a few volunteer municipal board and commission positions over the last couple of decades in the City of Little Rock: the Task Force for the Prevention of Youth Violence, the City Beautiful Commission, and the Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission.
Over the last three legislative sessions, I have witnessed, firsthand, the intentional harm that the legislature has caused members of vulnerable communities for the sole purpose of fulfilling the mandates of out-of-state special interest groups and to get a good grade on their scorecards. This most recent session was particularly brutal in how legislators showed complete indifference and disregard to hundreds of citizens who traveled hours to only be allowed five minutes or less to express their views on how legislation would affect their day-to-day lives. I do not believe that this is how a representative democracy is supposed to work.
>> How long have you lived in the district?
In 2011, I moved back home from living in Philadelphia and Brooklyn simultaneously. I bought my current home in the unincorporated town of Gibson in 2012 and have lived there ever since.
I am a trained redistricting demographer / cartographer. And, looking at the map for District 69, I can tell you that it is a heavily gerrymandered district that seems to benefit only one person because there are no real communities of interest that have been kept whole. Between Highway 67 in Jacksonville to Highway 365 in Mayflower, there are really no whole cities or whole towns, and just a small handful of whole communities in District 69. The only part of the City of Maumelle that is in District 69 is the neighborhood where Rep. David Ray lives. Things that make you go HHMMM!
>> Given your education and experience, what would you bring to the office if elected?
I recently earned my Master of Public Service from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service where I studied and researched participatory democracy and public deliberation. And, I learned how citizens all over the United States and the world are making constructive efforts to take back their governments from politicians who have not shown themselves to be responsible stewards of the public trust and power that they have been loaned. So, I have a lot of ideas on how we Arkansans can follow that same path and really take hold of this constitutional direct democracy that we have. We recently saw the beginnings of this process with the work of CAPES and are seeing it now with the very impressive series of town hall meetings going on in response to the attack on Arkansas' FOIA law led by Representative David Ray to cover up Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders' misdeeds.
I also have a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies from Liberty University School of Law and a Professional Graduate Certificate in Restorative Justice from Vermont Law School. When I am elected, I will lead the way to helping Arkansas to redefine public safety in a way that allows public safety to be "reunited" with public health and public welfare. Because, from a strictly historical constitutional framework, health, safety, and welfare are supposed to be seen as a whole, not three separate disconnected things.
Also, I currently work as the Elections Coordinator/Organizer at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel where my main responsibilities are to promote and defend direct democracy here in Arkansas, which is one of only fifteen states in America that enjoy such fundamental rights. In that position, I led the statewide team that defeated Representative David Ray's Issue 2 in the last election cycle. When I am elected, I will work to ensure that election integrity is married to electoral accessibility. Yes, we must protect the ballot. No, we do not need to hide it.
Finally, as a former United States Air Force Academy cadet, I possess a unique leadership quality that I have found to be very useful throughout my own life and I even teach it to my children: I will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate anyone else who does.
>> What are some areas that are of particular focus for you as you look at this race?
While I do have a foundational platform that includes advancing government transparency and accountability, repairing the long-term damage that the LEARNS Act has done in its few short months of existence, particularly to rural school districts, and redefining public safety where all Arkansans' humanity is of utmost importance, I am also very interested in participatory democracy. So, my campaign is in the process of planning monthly town hall meetings throughout District 69 so that we can sit and converse with constituents to learn from them what they see are their most relevant concerns in their own daily existence that the legislature can assist them with addressing. Then, I will add what I learn to my platform to make it people-centered. I have already reached out to Representative David Ray with an invitation to join me in these town hall meetings. I have not yet gotten a response.
>> What is the biggest difference between you and David Ray, the incumbent?
I can think of two big differences between Rep. David Ray and I right off the top:
First, I believe that I truly understand that a public official works for the public, and for no one else. His legislative record tells me that he has difficulty with understanding that. The only scorecard that I am interested in being graded on is when the people of District 69, and the citizens of Arkansas, have told me that I have successfully done the job that they sent me to the State Capitol to do. My interest is in human-centered, community-driven, data-informed, and solution-oriented public policy that is tailored specifically to fit the wants and needs of everyday Arkansans. I am not interested in carrying water for out-of-state special interest groups and in-state corporate interests that have agendas that conflict with the wants and needs of those everyday Arkansans.
Second, in the first class that I took at Liberty University, I learned about and had to write a paper on President George Washington's Farewell Address. In it, he warned America about the evils of partisanship and how the two-party system will destroy America if we allow it to do so. These words were quite prophetic. I am non-partisan and have been so my entire life because that is how I was raised. So, I have the ability to speak with all Arkansans and listen to their concerns without worrying about their political party. I am not a liberal. I am not a conservative. I am an Arkansan in the Land of Opportunity, in the Natural State. So, I have the frame of reference to truly become a statesman for the benefit of all Arkansans. Ray's public communication, and the types of bills that he chooses to sponsor, send a crystal-clear message to me that he is the type of politician that President Washington warned us about.
>> Anything else you'd like to add?
I am also interested in giving a platform to the high school students from the Pulaski County Special School District, the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, the North Little Rock School District, the Vilonia School District, and the Mayflower School District who live in District 69. In January, I will begin working on assembling a District 69 Student Congress that will have representatives from all of the included high schools. And, when I am elected, I will have that Student Congress act as my advisor in the House of Representatives so that the youth of Arkansas can finally have a real voice in their government. I also will train them to become candidates themselves in municipal, county, and school board offices, as well as volunteer for boards and commissions. There is a non-profit in Ontario, Canada, that currently does this, and I want to implement this here in Arkansas.
An inspiring article. I don’t live in District 69, but will certainly watch this race. Arkansas needs new ideas and people dedicated to building communities that benefit its people.