House District 38 is one of the more interesting electorates in Arkansas. Best known for encompassing Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood, which is home to many of the state’s richest and most powerful people, the district is actually quite diverse, with low-income urban areas, high-end West Little Rock subdivisions, and everything in between. The result is a complicated political composition, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and further divided among moderates and liberals in both parties.
The only way to survive in such an environment is to avoid any potentially controversial subjects. Enter David Johnson and John Parke, who are running this year for District 38’s open seat in the Arkansas legislature.
Both men cite education as the most critical issue.
"The big issue this year for candidates, voters, and legislators is funding facilities improvements," said Johnson, 36, a Democrat. "We need to find ways to make the legislature more efficient with education dollars, because we can still save more money and provide a quality education."
His Republican opponent agrees, but he prefers to think about education in the context of economic development.
"We need to get more and better jobs in Arkansas," Parke, 43, said. "We need to get people trained to hold down better jobs, and we need to get women coming off welfare trained to hold down more productive jobs."
In terms of how their priorities translate into a legislative agenda, both men have expressed support for public school consolidation. However, while Parke says that consolidation should be reserved for schools where efficiency and performance standards are not met, Johnson would like to see a 900-student minimum for school districts (current law mandates a 350-student minimum).
Johnson and Parke point to their careers and experiences as evidence of their readiness for public office.
"I’ve been in the private business world for years, and I have had leadership positions in the community," said Parke, a Little Rock native who is the vice president of Democrat Printing and Lithographing Co. As chairman of the Museum of Discovery, he shepherded a merger with the Arkansas Children’s Museum, which he says demonstrates his ability to forge consensus.
Johnson, who moved to Little Rock six years ago to join the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney’s office, believes that his knowledge of the law better prepares him to serve in the House.