Price jumps in Secretary of State race
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson weighs in on Covid-19, A disappointing stay at the Capital Hotel, Laurel, Mississippi is America's 'Home Town' plus news and sports headlines
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At a Wednesday morning event in Little Rock, Josh Price, a former Pulaski County Election Commissioner, announced his candidacy for Secretary of State. Price, of Maumelle, is seeking the Democratic nomination for this office.
“I’m running for Secretary of State to protect the voting rights of all Arkansans,” Price said. “Out of touch politicians are making it harder for people to vote. That’s just not right. Rural voters, seniors, single mothers, working-class Arkansans -- they’re all facing new hurdles to exercising their American right to vote."
Price was born in Southwest Arkansas and grew up in Delight.
“I’ve served as a Pulaski County Election Commissioner,” he said. “I know what it takes to run large elections smoothly and fairly. As Secretary of State I will fight to protect the fundamental right of all Arkansans to make their voices heard, whether they live in a big city or a small town like Delight.”
As an Election Commissioner for Pulaski County, Price helped oversee Arkansas’s largest county’s elections. In this role, he expanded voter access by opening additional early voting locations, replaced 20-year-old voting machines, and personally trained hundreds of poll workers during the pandemic. Price was the first Asian-American to serve in this position.
Price is currently a small business consultant and previously worked at the U.S Small Business Administration where he served as the Public Information Officer in Little Rock.
He also worked as the Digital Communications Director and Policy Advisor for the Delta Regional Authority, a federal agency with offices in Little Rock and Clarksdale, Mississippi and does outreach in eight-states in the south and along the Mississippi River.
He’s currently on the boards of the UA-Pulaski Tech Foundation and the Designing Hope Foundation.
The Democratic primary is scheduled for May 2022 and the General Election is in November 2022.
To see a biographical video of Price, click here.
A friend asked the question: If someone is fully vaccinated, why should they wear masks indoors in public? I will tell you why I do and why you should too. Read more from UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson by clicking Covid-19: A word from UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson
BASEBALL ON BROADWAYis the weekly newsletter that spotlights the Arkansas Travelers. It is published on Monday and click the link to give it a read.
Neal Moore is taking the week off.
Arkansas is one of those states that isn’t really close to anywhere.
While we have an abundance of things to do locally and across the state, getting to a “destination” spot is going to be a drive, commonly in the five-to-six-hour range.
Want to watch the Cowboys or Rangers play? It is about five or six hours to get to Arlington.
Want to see the Cardinals and the Clydesdales? It is about five or six hours to get to St. Louis.
Want to experience the sights or sounds of Nashville? It is about five … you get the point.
Hopping in the car and going three hundred or four hundred miles is just something Arkansans do when they want to get away.
Heading to Mississippi is not typically a popular destination, more of a pass-through to the beaches along the Gulf Coast. You might go to Biloxi, maybe because of Keesler Air Force Base, or you might keep motoring down the road to Gulf Shores or past the FloriBama line. All those “Salt Life” or “Seaside” or “30A” stickers didn’t magically attach themselves to the vehicles you see around town.
Mississippi is where we chose to visit, and we didn’t go to the Gulf but to Laurel, a solid 90 minutes from the coast, smack dab in that state’s Pine Belt.
Why? Television, that’s why.
Like most everyone else intent on social distancing, our last 15 months have been spent at home and watching the television as much as possible.
One of the bright spots was “Home Town” on HGTV. Now at five seasons, and filming a sixth, the show set in Laurel has become a hit, and its hosts, the married couple Ben and Erin Napier, have become television stars who adorn magazine covers and get national media coverage for the birth of their second child.
Watching the show wasn’t entirely a happy accident. Before their television show ever aired, the Napiers were well known in the community development world. Lonoke’s current revitalization is based on principles gleaned from Laurel.
Ryan Biles, now a City Council member in Lonoke, wrote about Laurel here and here for the now closed Lonoke Democrat. An architect by trade, Biles is a skilled writer as well, and I was lucky enough to edit those pieces in my then-role as editor of his local paper.
Biles also wrote about his experiences with Judi Holifield, who was then the executive director of Laurel Main Street (more on her in a bit).
Lonoke is quite a bit older than Laurel, which wasn’t founded until 1882, when the railroad came through and it became a stop on the New Orleans and Northeastern line. It is still a railroad stop on Amtrak’s Crescent line. While agriculture is important to both towns, the row crops in Lonoke County don’t look anything like the vast pine forests of southern Mississippi.
It was the railroad and the pine trees that attracted timber barons from up north in 1891. The sawmills quickly boomed. At their peak in the 1920s, Laurel mills produced one million board feet of yellow pine lumber a day.
Those timber barons moved to town, building grand mansions. Other homes and buildings sprang up. Along the way, William Mason, who lived in Laurel, invented Masonite, and while the sawmills didn’t survive the Depression, Masonite became even more important, especially in the 1940s war effort.
One of the things you notice when you get to Laurel is that back in the day, they did the little and big things right.
Sidewalks. Curbs. Public parks and tree-lined avenues.
That’s largely because of the timber barons. Or at least the wife of one of the lumber company presidents, who decided if she had to live in Laurel, she was going to shape it the way she wanted. And what she wanted was a big-city experience in a small town.
So Gardiner Park, named after the Gardiner family of timber fame, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City.
Near there was the intended home of timber heir Lauren Rogers, who died during its construction, so it was converted into the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art after his death.
Those grand mansions, homes and buildings became the city’s historic district, the site of several houses that have been renovated as projects for television.
The historic district is also where the Napiers live and also where we stayed, in Allen’s Bungalow. Owned and operated as an Airbnb by the previously mentioned Judi Holifield, the bungalow sits behind Holifield’s current home, which was among those renovated for the show. The house next door to hers was also a “Home Town” renovation. It was a fascinating experience to be walking and driving around a neighborhood where you think, “I know what the bathroom looks like in that house.”
It was also quite something to see Erin Napier pushing a baby stroller on a morning walk, while we were out gawking, living the tourist life.
If you go
Driving from central Arkansas? Plan on about six hours to get to Laurel. Highway 65 is entirely four-lane to the Mississippi River, then skirt around Greenville to get to Hwy. 49, and that will take you through Jackson (and some rather unfortunate construction south of town), then to Collins, where you take Hwy. 84 to Laurel.
Headed to the beach? Laurel makes for a great stop for the night going or coming back. It is about 30 minutes north and east of Hattiesburg on I-59.
Where to eat? Pearl’s Diner, whose owner, Ms. Pearl, was another who had her home renovated on the show. Her food is very north of delicious. Lunch is a must and also the only time they are open. Sweet Somethings Bakery makes some pretty fine cinnamon rolls and sticky buns, while the Bird Dog Cafe has strong coffee. The Bird Dog was another of the show’s renovation projects and will be a familiar spot for those who have seen that episode.
What to see? Truthfully, everything you should see can be done in a couple of days. The murals are fun photo ops, the Lauren Rogers Museum is a good place to cool off while enjoying the small but impressive collection, and walking around the historic district or the city’s numerous parks is a good way to stretch the legs after a long drive. The downtown area is compact, with nifty retail like Guild and Gentry, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, but that shop’s owners also had their home renovated as a show project.
Where to stay? Laurel has plenty of chain hotels near the interstate, but go for an Airbnb. The show’s appeal to tourists has made plenty of opportunities for Airbnbs to take hold in Laurel. The Bird Dog Cafe apartment that was renovated for the show is available for rental. Allen’s Bungalow is new construction but feels straight out of “Home Town.” A search of the Airbnb site will show cottages and bungalows and rooms for rent. Most have a connection to the show, either through the home being renovated or being owned by “Home Town” regulars who are the Napiers’ cousins, best friends, or some such.
What follows is a photo essay capturing some essential sights of Laurel, Mississippi.
Photos and words by Gwen Green
So much of 2020 was lost due to the ongoing pandemic.
You still had your birthday, but you didn’t have a party. You still had the holidays, but you didn’t go anywhere, trading family time together for Zoom sessions to dye Easter eggs or unwrap Christmas presents.
You still had your wedding anniversary, but whatever traditions you associate with that were largely left by the wayside.
My wife and I always celebrated our anniversary with a night at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock and then a nice meal out -- sometimes at the hotel, sometimes elsewhere.
That wasn’t the case last year, as the Capital Hotel was closed for 419 days and only re-opened on May 17.
So now, vaccinated and ready to go, we eagerly looked forward to a return to our anniversary tradition at the hotel where we spent our wedding night and return year after year.
Even last year, we still made the trip to downtown Little Rock to get a picture in front of the building, masks on.
So in 2021, we were ready for the five-star treatment that the Capital Hotel has deservedly earned.
Following Little Rock multi-billionaire Warren Stephens’ purchase of the landmark, the hotel underwent a massive renovation and reopened in 2007 and has hosted such luminaries as actor Morgan Freeman to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the last few years. More famously and much, much earlier, former President Ulysses S. Grant stayed there in 1880 on a visit to Little Rock.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is still a stunner inside and out, with polished marble and beautiful furniture and decor, but the experience wasn’t what it was on previous stays.
Remember, a proper review takes multiple visits to get a picture of the service and amenities. So what follows is only a snapshot of one couple’s experience on a recent overnight stay.
To get a sense of what the Capital Hotel was, AAA gave it a four-diamond rating, the only one in the state to get that recognition, and AAA noted that it had “upscale style and amenities enhanced with the right touch of service.”
But that was pre-Covid and what was once a world-class experience could be summed up best in one word: disappointing.
That’s a real shame, for two reasons. One, our expectations would have been tempered if the booking system noted that some services and amenities weren’t available as the hotel worked back to its four-diamond state. Two, at $250 for a night in a standard room, it was a premium price for a stay that while nice didn’t earn that kind of price tag.
On our drive to the hotel, we talked about what feature we’d be most disappointed by if it weren’t available.
I said I would miss the chocolate-covered toffee made by Lambrecht Gourmet in Heber Springs. That Southern Pecan Toffee, plus the always excellent Leiva’s Coffee, powered me through my wedding day, and I’ll always have a fondness for both.
On a hot day, my wife said she was looking forward to the small bottled Cokes. The lobby traditionally had a table with chilled water, lemonade and those Cokes for guests to get a drink and cool off before going to their rooms.
The lobby also would have various newspapers, fresh-cut flowers and a big welcome, by name, from the valet and concierge desk.
None of that was true on a recent Friday.
No special touches. No welcome. Just a hotel lobby, an exceptionally nice hotel lobby, but nothing special.
Our valet did note the hotel was working with a smaller staff than previously and hiring was underway.
One Eleven, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant was closed, so unlike previous trips, we did not book a package including a meal with a night’s stay. The hotel’s website noted the restaurant was closed and would re-open later this summer. It didn’t say that the other amenities and services the hotel offers weren’t available. If it had, that might have helped with expectations and lowered that bar.
The lack of a package stay may have contributed to a smaller room and none of the usual welcome amenities, such as spiced pecans and bottled Mountain Valley Spring Water. Of course, previous stays also got chocolate covered strawberries, champagne and wine.
The bathroom was still well-stocked with the very good Molton Brown products though not the traveler boxed kits with an emery board, small sewing kit and Q-tips, among other helpful items. While the hotel’s famous bathrobes were still hanging in the closet, the embroidered slippers had been replaced by plain, white terry cloth slides. I realize these are all very much first world problems.
With One Eleven being closed, we left the hotel for dinner elsewhere and on our return, it was more disappointment.
The hotel’s famous turndown service wasn’t done. That’s when the staff would place that delicious toffee on the pillow while also replacing towels and generally straightening the room.
When we couldn’t find the room service breakfast menu, the front desk explained that the hotel didn’t have the staff to accomplish either turndown or room service, and that those services would return later this summer. Again, it would have been nice if the hotel’s website had said that, instead of talking up the amenities. Also, again, the cost is a splurge, and the extras are what make it worth it. And they aren’t there, the Capital Hotel is just another nice hotel. If you hadn’t been pre-Covid, it would be jaw-dropping, now it is just a shrug.
On the plus side, the Capital Bar & Grill is still a terrific place to get a drink. We also enjoyed dessert there as well, but even there the attention to detail was lacking. After the strawberry shortcake was delivered, I had to fetch napkins and silverware, then later a pen to sign the check.
The second floor porch, billed as “Little Rock’s Front Porch,” is also still great, and it was a lively scene as the newly hired investment bankers for Stephens, Inc., were enjoying themselves at an orientation dinner with a well-stocked bar.
The next morning, the Leiva’s Coffee urn was out, and the baby bankers were preparing themselves for a Saturday of skeet shooting, so the lobby was hopping.
In fairness, the front desk clerks at checkout wanted to know about our stay, took notes and profusely apologized for the shortcomings. A gift bag of toffee was secured, and both clerks, who remembered me from previous stays, said a manager would follow up with a phone call.
For now, if looking for a night’s accommodations, I’d wait on staying at the Capital Hotel while offering my sincere hope that it returns to what it once was.