The race for Senate District 35

Hendrix resides in Senate District 35. Vying for that State Senate seat in November are current Senator Jason Rapert and Conway resident Maureen Skinner. Rapert has served as senator since 2011 and is well known in the Conway area. As a Republican, Rapert is endorsed by well-known Arkansas conservatives like Senator John Boozman (R), Governor Asa Hutchinson (R), Lt. Governor Tim Griffin (R), and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R). Arkansas Right to Life, an anti-abortion non-profit organization that has endorsed dozens of Arkansas Republicans, currently backs Rapert as well. The National Rifle Association gave Rapert an A+ rating. He’s known for his sponsorship of the Arkansas Ten Commandments Monument Act, which created the Ten Commandments monument currently in front of the state capitol building, and the controversial Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act, a measure that proposed prohibiting an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy

Rapert Commandments
Senator Rapert alongside the Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the Arkansas State Capitol.

Rapert attended the University of Central Arkansas, where he studied Political Science and Sociology. After graduating from UCA, he became a financial advisor and investment representative and eventually co-founded an investments and wealth management firm in Conway. Rapert founded his own Christian ministry, Holy Ghost Ministries, of which he is President. He is also a member of countless organizations including Rotary International and Gideons International.

Rapert said that helping individuals financially made him realize that the public in general was at risk, causing him concern. “That began to work on me, and I thought, my goodness, some of us are going to have to leave private practice here and go help,” he said. “It’s not glamorous in some people’s eyes, but the bottom line is that economics [is] fundamental to the economy.”

Rapert said he sees that the country is divided and struggling, and that worries him. “You may sit down [with someone] and disagree on an issue,” he said, “but I don’t have to say that Vickie is a terrible person because she disagrees on an issue.” Rapert thinks this kind of political atmosphere didn’t always exist, but he could see it happening when he was first elected. Talking about the missionary work he has done—building churches and schoolhouses, particularly in Ghana—he said, “I think there would be less conflict in our nation if all of us had to spend a little time overseas to see what the rest of the world was really like.”

The race for district 35 has been fairly controversial so far, consisting of name-calling, the threatening of lawsuits, and the filing of a lawsuit against Rapert by the American Atheists, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for atheists and ensuring the separation of church and state. The lawsuit alleges that Rapert’s use of social media—particularly his habit of blocking users from seeing his content—violates users’ first and fourth amendment rights. Rapert sees this atmosphere as indicative of elections happening around the country. He points to the political action organization Our Revolution’s endorsement of his opponent, Maureen Skinner, as adding a new degree of discourse.

Social media has been where most of the contention manifests. Rapert said that Skinner’s behavior online is “inappropriate,” but “it’s up to the voters to decide if this is the kind of person [they] want representing [them] in the Arkansas Senate.” Rapert’s online behavior has been equally, if not more heavily, criticized. The lawsuit against him begs the question: what does social media mean for free speech in modern politics? Rapert has labeled the lawsuit as frivolous and said that he has rules for “blocking” users from his content. If intimidation, vulgar language, or bullying exists, a user is blocked. “First of all, that’s not acceptable anywhere,” he said, “so we’re not going to let people do that on my pages.” Critics, however, say that anyone who frequently disagrees with Rapert online eventually gets blocked, regardless of whether or not they were bullying.

2018 Senate 35 Poll
A poll taken of the Hendrix student body shows Maureen Skinner leading with almost 60 percent of the vote.

Critics also point to Senator Rapert’s remarks about the LGBTQ+ community, specifically the Conway Pride Parade, which he has attempted to stop all together. His inflammatory comments about Islam also frequent his social media. When asked about his views of Islam and the LGBTQ+ community, Rapert said, “Let me tell you this: on September 11, 2001, it wasn’t a bunch of Baptists who flew planes into the world trade center. It was radical Islamic Muslims. If I were an LGBT person, if I were a homosexual, I think I would think twice about the Muslims because guess what, they throw them off of buildings in their countries over there…If I were a homosexual, I think I’d be a little concerned about the Islamic faith as well.” Rapert went on to say that a leader would be an idiot to ignore threats of violence from people who say they’re going to kill. “And I completely support Donald Trump and the Republican administration and the safety and security that we’ve seen restored in the country,” he said.

Rapert went on to further address his views on LGBTQ+ constituents. “I don’t hate anyone,” he said. “Before I became a politician or an elected official, I actually am a Christian…I am not going to deny my faith on anything…I believe that any number of things that are sin are wrong, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. In terms of those, I definitely am going to maintain my Christian world view.”

On the Democratic side of the ballot is a licensed psychological examiner who practices independently in Conway. Maureen Skinner said the transition from her job to that of State Senator would be easy. “Listening and problem solving is what I do.”  When asked what drove her to run for District 35, she said it goes back to the 2016 Presidential Election and what she sees happening in this district. Without naming individuals, Skinner said we see similar political styles from certain elected officials in our area. When she saw that someone was needed to run against “that guy,” she said yes.

Skinner
Skinner marching in Little Rock, AR in the Women’s March.

Skinner is endorsed by the Progressive Arkansas Women PAC, and she does not have a rating with the National Rifle Association because she refused to fill out the questionnaire, saying it was “bullying” in nature. Skinner recognizes that this race has been contentious so far, but it’s the campaign that keeps her going. “The whole concept of a campaign is working together with people and that’s what I’ve gotten to do,” she said. “I’ve gotten to meet all of these incredible people in my community.” She also said that the way in which they are campaigning is unorthodox; they’re running with other candidates in the area, which they were told not to do. “And now it’s happening all over the state,” she said, “Democrats are all doing it together.” Addressing the tension between she and Rapert, Skinner said that there have been barbs back and forth, but the campaign itself has been positive.

Skinner denied Senator Rapert’s allegations that she provoked her supporters to vandalize yard signs. “None of my supporters nor myself would condone that sort of behavior,” she said. “My campaign is definitely not working in any kind of unethical fashion. If I was able to incite or encourage or make people do anything, it would be to make them vote.”

Senator Rapert has repeatedly labeled Skinner as an atheist, and her faith has been a major point of criticism from Rapert himself. When asked about her faith, Skinner was very private. She theorized that Rapert labels her an atheist because the Constitution of Arkansas technically says no atheist may hold civil office. But she is not an atheist, and those kinds of restrictions were ignored after a Supreme Court case in the 1960s.

“I do have my own spiritual practice,” she said, “but I don’t feel like this arena is an appropriate place to put that out there. I’m going to be representing more than just people who believe and worship like I do. I feel like it’s a really important thing to not put that out there so people worry that they may be discriminated against based on my personal beliefs.”

When Rapert hears “Medicare-for-All,” he disparagingly labels it “socialism.” When Skinner hears this, she asks, “Who paves his roads? Where does he get his electricity? We already have socialistic type things in place that we all benefit from and we like. Public schools are along those lines as well.” She went on to explain that we have enough resources to support a decent life for everyone.

When talking about the campaign, Skinner says there is a lot of positivity and a lot of young people. “Which is maybe my favorite part, because you’re all so much smarter than me,” she said. “You guys have everything we need.” Most members of Skinner’s campaign team are in their 20s. As unorthodox as her campaign can be, she said that “campaigning is not the job.”

To find out more about each campaign, visit Sen. Jason Rapert and Maureen Skinner’s campaign websites. Early voting starts on October 22 and Election Day is November 6.

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