A political newcomer said unanswered phone calls inspired him to run against the incumbent for House District 44.
Rodney Govens, a Democrat from Cabot, is vying against Rep. Cameron Cooper, a Republican from Romance.
“This is my first foray into politics. I’ve never held an elected position,” Govens said. “In 2018, I was having a hard time figuring out Ward Water’s billing cycle. I called all of my representation – every single one of them. Nobody answered the phone. Nobody returned a single phone call.”
Govens, 37, said Cooper doesn’t represent the “working-class Arkansan.”
Cooper, 43, said he’s not a politician, but a public servant who is “very accessible to, and transparent with, the people” he represents.
“I believe in a smaller, less bureaucratic state government, one that is tailored to meet the needs of the people without being overbearing or overburdensome,” Cooper said. ” I have an open ear and will gladly visit with anyone and will openly consider their ideas and address their concerns. I have and will continue to work across the aisle to provide excellent representation to all constituents.”
Govens – who has been married to his wife, Stacy, for 16 years and has 4-year-old twins, a boy and girl — was born in Mainz, Germany, “the product of an Army dad,” he said. He moved to Arkansas from Alabama three years ago, when Earthlink was acquired by Windstream. He’s now an operations manager for Swyft Connect, a Tennessee internet company.
He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a communications specialist for the Army, setting up remote access units.
Cooper — who has been married to his wife, Melissa, for 14 years and has two daughters, 8 and 13 — is a seventh-generation Arkansan who was born in Searcy and has lived in Romance his entire life. He is a residential manager for Pathfinder Inc., where he has worked for the past 19 years. He is also a farm owner.
Before being elected nearly two years ago to his first term in the House, Cooper served as a justice of the peace on the White County Quorum Court for 14 years. His previous political experience was “great preparation” for a new state legislator, he said.
“I already understood and had taken part in the legislative process at the county level. I understood the committee process, had experience working with fellow elected officials, and was able to hit the ground running on Day 1,” Cooper said. “My 19 years of service working with individuals with developmental disabilities has taught me to be an advocate and a voice for the needs and rights of individuals who often have difficulty speaking out and standing up for themselves.”
House District 44 serves portions of White, Lonoke and Faulkner counties.
The candidates both oppose Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s general ballot that would make permanent the temporary 0.5% sales tax to provide funding for highways and roads.
“I have serious concerns with passing a permanent sales tax and making it part of our state constitution,” Cooper said. “There are other avenues available to fund roads, and the Legislature needs to go to the table with the Department of Transportation and the executive branch to explore those options, instead of burdening the people of Arkansas with a permanent tax increase.”
Cooper said discussions should include ways to provide assistance to counties and cities with funding for their streets and roads.
“A permanent tax increase at this time is not beneficial to the people, especially as we continue to address the problems that have been caused as a result of covid-19 in the months ahead,” Cooper said.
Govens said Issue 1 is a “hard no” for him.
“We pay enough in taxes. What we need is leadership that will pressure the administration and budget into reappropriating what we already have,” he said. “What we need to do is to ensure we close tax loopholes so that the wealthiest Arkansans aren’t paying less in taxes than our working-class and poor residents. Reappropriate without hiking taxes.”
Govens said the abortion topic can be “complicated,” so he tries to stay out of the discussion because “as a man,” he doesn’t feel like he has “much of an argument to bring to the table.”
“Abortion is a tough subject, and if legal scholars and biblical scholars cannot agree, I doubt that I’ll bring much value. My concerns around abortion bans is, a CASA volunteer, I work cases of all natures,” Govens said.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer advocates for foster children in the courtroom and other settings.
“I may have to work a case, as my colleagues do sometimes, involving incest. A 13-year-old child being raped by her father and then becoming pregnant is not a hypothetical; this is a real situation that happens more often than people know,” Govens said. “In that case, do we force a teenage child to have a baby brought by incest? What about the sexual assault victims that have to deal with the physical and mental trauma that discover they are pregnant after 14 weeks? Do we look at someone’s daughter who was violated and tell her that she must give birth to her assaulter’s child?”
Cooper, a Republican, is “proudly pro-life,” he said.
“I disagree with the Roe v. Wade decision,” he said, citing the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights.
Cooper supports school choice initiatives like charter schools, voucher programs and partial vouchers such as Arkansas’ Succeed Scholarship Program.
“Education should be focused on the needs of the individual student. For some students, that may be public school; for some, that may be a charter school; for others, it may be home school or private school,” Cooper said. “Families should be empowered to direct the education of their children by choosing the best educational environment available.”
Govens said he looks at school choice as an “indictment on the entire public education system.”
As a parent, Govens said, he should not have to worry about which school his child attends as each school “should be fit with the same, plentiful resources.”
“Pine Bluff High School has notoriously lagged behind other schools while Cabot High School has thrived,” Govens said. “We should be focusing efforts to bring Pine Bluff High School up to the same level as Cabot, not focusing on allowing parents to abandon Pine Bluff High School and take their children elsewhere.”
Govens said the coronavirus pandemic has presented a challenge with “results that I never believed could happen here.” He understands the economic impact the virus has wreaked and the “tough situation” it brings, but “we have to follow the science,” he said.
“While the scientific community may disagree at times regarding the virus and its treatments, we can all agree that sneezing and coughing on people will spread it,” Govens said. “Masks help stop that, so I’m in favor of wearing masks as much as possible during this pandemic.”
Cooper said ways to continue forward that are not detrimental to people’s jobs, livelihoods, and mental and physical health need to be developed.
“We individually should follow universal precautions to reduce the spread of infection. However, I do not support state government mandating the wearing of masks,” he said. “I encourage people to use masks if they choose to do so, but it should be by their individual choice. However, private businesses do have the right to require masks for anyone entering their premises, as that is their right to control their property as they see fit.”
When he was 11, Govens was placed in the foster care system two days before Christmas and remained there until his late teens. That experience led to his dedication to and passion for the foster care system and “how to fix it.”
“With the deficit of foster homes, the Department of Human Services has adjusted to opening protective services cases for situations that would normally deem a child be removed. We’re leaving children in unsafe environments and asking a case manager to monitor the situation and teach the parents a different approach,” Govens said. ” How many abuse cases continue with the child stuck in that home? We have to do better. We can do better.”
Premium education opportunities for children and adults, opportunities for small businesses to flourish in local communities, and access to good internet and medical services are issues Cooper said are priorities for him.
“Let’s support our senior citizens, veterans, firefighters, police and first responders,” Cooper said. “We must protect every individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s work together and get the community involved so we can ensure that Arkansas remains the Land of Opportunity.”