A public meeting, such as the town halls we are holding around the state, can be a little tricky. People who care about an issue often speak with passion. There’s always a chance that emotions will run high.
In a gathering like a governor’s town hall, especially, you will rarely find consensus on an issue. That was true at the town hall meeting we held on the campus of Arkansas State University on Tuesday.
With about a hundred people filling the room, we didn’t reach consensus on every issue. What we did reach was the common ground of polite discussion and civil discourse.
I wanted to hear their questions. They wanted to hear my answers. I opened the meeting by mentioning my four priorities for next year.
I displayed two charts. One shows how our government looks now with its 42 cabinet-level agencies. Then I explained the chart that shows how it will look if I am able to reduce the number to 15.
I discussed my goal to raise the starting pay for teachers by $4,000 a year over the next four years. That would make our starting pay the highest in the region and give us a competitive advantage.
I told the audience that I hope to convince our legislators to allow Arkansans to vote in 2020 on whether to raise taxes to pay for our roads and highways.
And my last major goal for next year is to pass legislation that will lower our tax rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent over the next four years.
Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, who attended the meeting, summed it up perfectly in a tweet about the meeting. His message included Norman Rockwell’s painting entitled “Freedom of Speech,” which portrays a blue-collar man who appears nervous but feels free to speak his thoughts in a meeting as businessmen look up at him.
People of all ages and walks of life attended the town hall, and everyone was free to say anything they wanted. To a person, those who spoke were respectful, and they also listened. Those two elements are essential for civil discourse.
The challenge of free speech is a loss of civil discourse, as we are seeing in our nation today, especially on the political stage and in the age of the internet.
I value diverse opinion, and we must all be free to state our case. We must debate vigorously, but we must always respect those who disagree and speak kindly to them in our public discourse.
We still understand that in Arkansas. That is why I love to get across this state and meet Arkansans where they live and work, on a college campus or in a cotton field.
I hope that you will attend one of my town halls. You will find them interesting and informative with varied view points.