LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The former head of a nonprofit group that recruits teachers to work in low-income areas said Tuesday he’s running against Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas next year, the first Democrat to announce an uphill bid for the solidly red state’s top office.
Jared Henderson, the former executive director of the Arkansas branch of Teach for America, said he’ll seek the party’s nomination to challenge the first term governor. Hutchinson, who was first elected in 2014, announced in May that he was seeking re-election and has reported having $1.5 million on hand for his bid. Teach for America recruits and trains recent college graduates and professionals to teach at schools.
Henderson, 39, acknowledged the challenges he faces running in a state where Republicans control all statewide and federal offices, as well as majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. But he said he believed he has a chance, noting that Arkansas only turned Republican in recent years.
"This state does have a history, and it’s not a long-gone history, of voting for Democrats," Henderson told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of his official announcement. "The main way I’m going to run this campaign is I’m going to go all over the state, I’m going to meet with everyone I can sit down with over the next 11 months, look them in the eye, do more listening than I do talking. In Arkansas, we have a record that you can win people’s trust if you deserve it."
Henderson offered few direct criticisms of Hutchinson. He said he liked Hutchinson’s initiative requiring public schools to offer computer science classes, but said he wants to see broader changes and efforts to attract more people to the teaching profession.
"I think that is a perfectly wonderful thing for the folks who are going to get that education and who are going to go into an industry, but I think we need to think on a more fundamental level about how to build an education system that will work in a job market we can’t define right now," he said.
Henderson said he supports the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. But he stopped short of saying whether he supports the restrictions Hutchinson has asked the federal government to impose that would move 60,000 people off the program and impose a work requirement on some participants. He also said he supports the low- and middle-income tax cuts Hutchinson advocated for and signed into law, but said he’d be cautious about any further cuts.
Hutchinson also faces a potential primary challenger in next year’s election. Jan Morgan, a gun rights advocate, said in October she was weighing a run for the Republican nomination.
State Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said he doesn’t know of any other Democrats weighing a bid at this point for the gubernatorial nomination.
"We’re going to follow with interest to see if he or others run and we expect a number of folks to run and we’ll follow the Democratic primary with interest," Jon Gilmore, Hutchinson’s chief political strategist, said.