Butch Berry, candidate for State Representative, District 97
Robert "Butch" Berry is running for State Representative in District 97 as a Democrat. He hopes to replace Bryan King who is term-limited and running for the State Senate. His opponent will be either Bob Ballinger or Jeremy Miller, depending on who wins the Republican primary on May 22nd.
Ninety-seven (97) is one of the most diverse districts in the state. It takes in suburbanites in Springdale to the west, retirees on the east bank of Beaver Lake, shopkeepers and bartenders in Eureka Springs, industrial and food processing workers in Berryville, and 5,000,000 chickens from the Missouri border north of Beaver all the way south past Wesley. Clifty, Goshen, and Hindsville are included, but Huntsville and Green Forest are not.
Berry believes he can respond to the distinct and often divergent interests of 97's citizens because he is a 4th generation Arkansawyer, a small business owner--he's an architect in the construction trades--and a current alderman on the Eureka Springs City Council. He has also been Mayor Pro Tem of Eureka Springs four times and worked in Little Rock as a planner and architect at the state capital. He is also graduate of Berryville High School.
Any reservations I have about Berry's candidacy are firmly connected to his Eureka Springs roots. Politics in that city often seems less about governing and all about performance art. I don't know if he is a good actor, a bad actor, or that most unusual of Eureka Springs council persons, an effective non-actor who occasionally gets things done. If you know of any legislation, ordinances, or policy facilitation accomplished by Berry, we invite you to share it in the comments box at the bottom of this column.
Berry's other problem is that lives and works in a town that pretends that the rest of the county doesn't exist, except maybe as the defendant in law suits against consolidation plans, poor librarians, and ideas of inter-city cooperation. Saying that "the Kings River is where Woodstock meets Livestock" is funny because its mostly true. Berry needs to show he can represent cattlemen in Alabam as effectively as he's supported tourism in Eureka Springs.
That said, Berry was able, in an interview on The Ozark Harvest Radio Hour to confidently and comprehensively outline an economic development agenda that has potential to create living wage jobs in District 97. It was, frankly, refreshing to hear actual job creation ideas in lieu of the usual and always non-specific "cut taxes-cut regulations" mantra that gutted the federal budget surplus when it was put into play during the Bush Administration.
Among Berry's ideas are to strategically position District 97 as a high tech corridor attractive to clean, low-impact businesses such as call centers, software and applications developers, and so on. "This requires," he explained, "planning, and direct communication between businesses and high schools and community colleges so that graduates have skills specific to current workplace needs and demands."
In addition to promoting workforce development and education Berry intends to work closely with with other State Representatives to assure that Arkansas, as a whole, is on investor radar for expansion of rural broadband networks. Broadband capability is an essential building block in any economic development plan, especially in areas with relatively low population density, topographical barriers, and greater geographical distances. In attempting to address these challenges, some rural communities develop a strategic plan for broadband deployment that includes creating a comprehensive business proposal to broadband providers. Such a plan, for example, could demonstrate to broadband providers that deployment is a sound business decision that would benefit both the providers and the communities in the broadband service area.
Berry also identified lack of access to finance for business start-ups and expansion as a critical barrier to an improved economy. "We have got to help banks and other financial institutions feel more confident about the business ideas that come to their attention," he said. "One way to do that is to better prepare entrepreneurs to understand risk, and risk management."
Berry says he is interested in learning what's on the minds of District 97 voters. "I know that small farmers are interested in expanding our Ozark's growing season through using high tunnels and other appropriate technologies," he said. "But I only know that because I've talked with them and learned about their needs and ideas. I hope other folks will come forward and share their ideas and needs too."
As the campaign season goes forward we'll make every attempt to give Bob Ballinger and Jeremy Miller equal time in this column, and on The Ozark Harvest Radio Hour. In the mean time, you can learn more about Butch Berry at his Website