The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Summary of Economic Equality Event, Arkansas Capitol, August, 2016

Posted on August 23, 2016 at 12:24 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus held a bipartisan event on economic equality issues, Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Arkansas State Capitol that included a series of speakers on key community and economic development issues, as well as an informal debate between Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) speaking in favor of Hillary Clinton, and Bud Cummins (R-Little Rock), Chairman of the Arkansas Presidential campaign for Donald Trump, speaking for Mr. Trump.

The Delta Caucus would like to point out that the dialogue on the Presidential campaign was completely cordial and low-key, in marked contrast to today’s climate where political leaders often blast each other with heated, partisan rhetoric. Bud Cummins and Joyce Elliott are both to be commended on that score.

Below we are just trying to hit the highlights of the comments that took up almost an hour. We are doing our best to convey what was said, and people can draw their own conclusions. Due to space limitations this has to be a very abbreviated summary.


1) Informal debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Campaign Supporters

2) Brief summaries on community and economic development presentations on key issues:

a. Medicaid expansion in Arkansas–Arkansas Hospital Association;

b. Job creation–Arkansas Economic Development Commission;

c. Hunger and nutrition–Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance;

d. Poverty in Arkansas–Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families;

e. Farm trade to Cuba, Kevin Smith, Delta Caucus Senior Adviser from Helena-West Helena and Harvey Joe Sanner, President, American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas, Des Arc, Arkansas;

f. Transportation and infrastructure improvements,including I-69 Corridor, Rep. Lane Jean (R-Magnolia);

g. Education and Hispanic issues–Arkansas Board of Education and Arkansas United Community Coalition;

h. The College of Aspiring Artists/NAACP–March-ON Arkansas, Aug. 28 to commemorate Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and advocate for separation of the Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee holiday in Arkansas.

i. Support for the legislation to allow the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen, to travel America’s inland waterways once again.

Bud Cummins emphasized that Mr. Trump would be a more effective President based on his success in the business world and strong leadership skills. He said Trump would create jobs more effectively through his policies emphasizing tax cuts and reducing government regulations.

Sen. Joyce Elliott stressed Clinton’s broad-based economic plan focusing on working families and not the wealthiest Americans. She said that Clinton’s leadership on fair pay for women would be very important for economic equality, since over half the households are now headed by women.

On health care, Elliott emphasized that Clinton would improve the Affordable Care Act but would not make the mistake of starting all over again, especially after the ACA has provided millions of people with health insurance who were formerly uninsured.

Cummins said that Obamacare is already failing, and that Trump would throw it out altogether and replace it with a better system, emphasizing Trump’s comment that as President he will not “let anybody die in the streets.”

On investing in infrastructure to create jobs and repair our deteriorating infrastructure, Cummins emphasized that Trump has pointed out the severe weaknesses in our infrastructure, with many bridges and highways across the country crumbling. He said Trump has pledged to make major infrastructure improvements as President, and this is another area where his dynamic leadership ability will make him effective.

Elliott said Clinton has made major investments in infrastructure a major plank in her campaign. She said that Clinton understands the needs of Arkansans better than Trump because she lived in the state for two decades.

For example, she already knows about the need for progress on I-69, a major national transportation artery that will go through Arkansas and the Delta. Secretary Clinton has pledged to invest $300 million in infrastructure, and Arkansas facilities like the Little Rock Port Authority and the Little Rock airport will benefit greatly, as would many communities with outdated water and sewer systems.

Delta Caucus partners pointed out that since Secretary Clinton has been involved in public life for many decades and Mr. Trump is new to politics, she naturally has mapped out more policy specifics. People will draw their own conclusions as to whether they prefer experience and the greater specificity of one candidate, or being new on the political scene and not delving into policy details by the other.

On education, Elliott emphasized Clinton’s plan to provide college education without saddling students with massive student loan debt, as well as major investments and improvements in K-12. Elliott was a high school teacher of English and public speaking for 30 years and former Director of Government Relations for The College Board Southwestern Region, and emphasized as an educator her appreciation for Clinton’s commitment to improved education as the key to a better future.

On nutrition, Elliott stressed Clinton’s commitment for strong funding for the SNAP, school meals, summer meals, WIC and other programs that are a key safety net against hunger and a key preventive action against nutrition-related health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Cummins emphasized that Trump has strong commitments to education and nutrition, and these are vital subjects that everyone supports. On many of these issues regarding the state of the country he said the Obama administration has failed to resolve them and Trump will be a major change in providing stronger leadership.

We are not expecting surrogates to be able to answer every policy questions with a lot of specificity. On hunger and nutrition issues, Cummins was not aware of any specific positions Trump has taken as of yet. Trump is fleshing out his positions on more issues now and hunger and nutrition advocates will want to hear from him on these vital subjects soon.

Controversies regarding Hispanics, women and other minorities: The Delta Caucus is a highly diverse coalition including many women, Hispanics, African Americans and other minorities. Therefore, we did ask Cummins to explain what impact Mr. Trump’s well-known, extremely controversial statements regarding these minorities may have on the election, while asking Ms. Elliott to comment on why Trump remained with substantial strength in spite of these comments.

Cummins said that while he of course could not know why some of these comments were made, that many people appreciated the candor with which Mr. Trump speaks his mind. He said that Trump had not said all Mexicans were criminals, that most of them are in fact good people, and that he was just expressing concern about making our borders safer.

Cummins said that Trump has retained many supporters across the country in spite of his controversial statements and that his comments were reflecting his honesty.

Elliott, who is an African American woman, said that in fact in recent weeks Mr. Trump’s support has significantly declined. She believes that decline is an indication that many people believe that the comments about women, Hispanics, and other minorities do express legitimate concerns about a potential President of the United States holding such views about these large groups in the population. Again, please note that both speakers were being very restrained and very careful to refrain from any heated, partisan rhetoric.

Ms. Elliott said she believes Clinton has a deep compassion for families across the country and would put her great experience, knowledge and caring to greater use as President.

Bud Cummins is a former US District Attorney, former chief legal counsel to Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Republican Second District Congressional nominee, chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign in Arkansas, served as a Whip on the Republican National Convention floor, and member of Donald Trump’s transition team advisory committee led by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ).

Sen. Joyce Elliott is a distinguished educator, senior member of the Arkansas Senate, Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention, former Democratic Second District Congressional nominee, high school teacher of English and speech for 30 years, and former Director of Government Relations for The College Board for the Southwestern Region.

The event began at 9 a.m. with a series of nonpartisan, substantive speakers on key economic and community development issues. They are from Arkansas organizations, but the issues are mostly common to the entire 8-state Delta region. Speakers will include:

Bo Ryall, CEO of Arkansas Hospitals Association, speaking about the nationally recognized Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program in Arkansas. He said that health care is a key element of economic development, and increased funding for medical coverage has been vital for rural hospitals in Arkansas.

The innovative Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program in Arkansas has received widespread praise as a national role model, and more than 270,000 people in the state have become insured as a result.

Rich Huddleston, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, speaking about poverty issues in Arkansas, especially for children, single women and African Americans-three large groups in the population who have not shared in our society’s prosperity. He said that the USA has the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized country, and Arkansas has one of the highest rates-an overall poverty rate of 19% and a child poverty rate of 26%.

He called for an Earned Income Tax Credit at the state level in Arkansas, a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, and action against the severe racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.

Huddleston cited extensive economic data and research demonstrating that tax cuts do not propel economic growth, but weaken funding for programs for job creation, health care, education and other essential services.

Danny Games, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Executive Vice President, Global Business, on job creation at good wages. Games noted the successes Arkansas has had in the last couple of years in bringing such major projects as the Big River steel plant to northeast Arkansas, a major plant in Arkadelphia, and the multiplier impact that these major projects have in generating additional small businesses that promote further job creation.

SiKia Brown, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Out of School Director for the No Kid Hungry campaign, spoke about the great importance of child nutrition, SNAP and other nutrition programs. Arkansas, Mississippi and other Delta states unfortunately lag at or near the bottom in food security in America, leading to high rates of nutrition-related health problems like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. She explained the importance of school meals, summer meals, WIC and other vital provisions in the pending Childhood Nutrition Re-Authorization bill in Congress. The current Senate version is superior to the House version, which will be damaging to many lower income families across the country if it passed into law. Concerned citizens need to contact their Members of Congress in strong support of full funding for childhood nutrition programs in this vital legislation.

o The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance also unveiled a mobile farmers’ market project that will help disseminate nutritious fresh produce to people in the state while providing markets for small farmers.

Mireya Reith, speaking on education in general in Arkansas based on her role as Chairman of the Arkansas Board of Education, and issues for the growing Hispanic population in Arkansas in her capacity as director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, was the only speaker who wore two hats and addressed two vital issues at the meeting. Arkansas has the fourth fastest growing immigrant population in the United States. Half of the school districts now have English language programs to reduce the linguistic barriers to education.

Ms. Reith stressed the need to take action against alarmingly low rates of graduation from high school of Hispanics and African American males, and she said Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of graduation from college for Hispanic and African American males.

Reith said that our immigration system is broken, but our response cannot just be punishing and excluding those who are different. For those in the Dreamer category in Arkansas, there are about 8,000 who have lived most of their lives in the USA who have been hard-working and have no issues with the law other than how they got to be here. She also noted that Arkansas is one of only three states with no independent civil rights commission.

She emphasized the great importance of increasing equality and opportunity for the growing minority population in Arkansas. As of about 2010, the Hispanic percentage of the electorate was approximately 1%. This year, organizations like the Arkansas United Community Coalition and many other concerned citizens acr”ss the state are working toward the much higher percentage of 5% or 6%.;

Kevin Smith, Delta Caucus senior adviser in Helena-West Helena, and Harvey Joe Sanner, President of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas in Des Arc, spoke on opening up farm trade to Cuba to expand Arkansas rice, poultry and other exports-Kevin recently traveled to Cuba, and Harvey Joe traveled there in the mid-1980s and met with Fidel Castro on this subject.

Other Delta Caucus leaders like Lee Powell and Kay Goss have also traveled to Cuba.

Kevin Smith and Harvey Joe Sanner emphasized that Cuba will be a major new market for Arkansas rice, poultry and other exports if we can fully open up trade to the island. Cuba was one of the largest markets for Arkansas rice before the revolution, and it will be again if the obsolete embargo is finally lifted. The embargo has been in place for 50 years and has done nothing to undermine the Castros’ dictatorship. After 50 years of failure it is time to try a new policy.

Smith said that the United States is losing out by not developing stronger trade and economic ties to Cuba. China, Europe and other countries are beating us to the punch in investing there. He said that China’s economic development initiatives are much more colonial than those of the United States, which is mutually beneficial to both countries. The Chinese use as much of their own materials and extract as much wealth as they can in their economic relations with less developed countries. The USA can easily out-distance in economic competition there if we will just drop the Cold War relics as outdated and counterproductive policies.

Rev. Arthur Hunt, CEO, The College of Aspiring Artists/NAACP March-ON Arkansas, August 28, to commemorate Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and also to advocate for separation of the Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee holidays in Arkansas.

The Delta Caucus endorsed separating the two days of honor for these gentlemen, saying it makes no sense to honor a Confederate general and the greatest civil rights movement leader on the same day. This detracts from the legacy of Dr. King. Lee will not lose anything by being honored on a different day, and doing so on the same day is not helpful to either gentleman’s legacy.

Rep. Lane Jean (R-Magnolia), Chairman of the Arkansas I-69 Legislative Caucus, speaking about the need for transportation improvements in Arkansas and the nation, including the Interstate 69 Corridor.

We need transportation improvements all over Arkansas and the Delta, but in particular we want to urge the next President and Congress to finally complete the Interstate 69 Corridor, which would be a major national transportation artery from Mexico to Canada, extending through the heart of the Delta in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Rep. Jean said 189 miles of the road will traverse southern Arkansas, and this massive project would boost the economies of every county it touches. In Arkansas and the Delta, I-69 will go through many of the most impoverished counties in America.

Jean cited figures showing that per capita incomes in counties with an interstate are 32% higher than counties that don’t have an interstate. One of the major parts of I-69 is the Great River Bridge in southeast Arkansas. Jean urged people of both parties to contact their Members of Congress and state officials to urge funding for I-69.

Many participants at the meeting stressed that the next President and Congress will have the greatest opportunity ever to finally make progress on completion of the I-69 Corridor, which has officially been designated by the federal government as a “Corridor of the Future,” giving it high priority status for funding.

Lee Powell, Delta Caucus Executive Director and Co-Chair, Economic Equality Coalition, spoke in favor of the legislation to allow the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen, to once again travel on the Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio rivers.

This legislation now has powerful momentum, because it passed the Senate commerce and transportation committee earlier this year, and that was the committee where it was bottled up and stalled in the last Congress. Before being stalled in the Senate, the bill had passed the House in an earlier vote by 290-89, so we are in a great position to make the final push for passage this fall.

The Delta Queen is a historic national treasure, and the bill has been endorsed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Seafarers International Union, the American Maritime Officers, the Delta Caucus and many other organizations.

The boat informs people about America’s great tradition of steamboating and generates tourist dollars wherever it travels from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Greenville, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Helena-West Helena, the Memphis area, Cape Girardeau, St. Louis and communities in the upper Mississippi River, Paducah, Kentucky, many areas on the Ohio River including Cincinnati, on to West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Delta Queen’s exemplary steamboat record: The Delta Queen was operated safely on America’s inland waterways for 80 years before being moved to Chattanooga for six years in a failed experiment to use the boat as a floating hotel. The new owners led by Cornel Martin of New Orleans have made plans to have the boat traveling on the Mississippi and its tributaries once again and moved the boat to New Orleans to make the renovations needed to get the DQ ready to travel again.

To travel again, the boat needs an exemption from the Safety of Life at Seas Act, which as the name indicates was intended to cover entirely wooden vessels that travel the high seas. The intent was not to cover a riverboat that is never more than a few minutes at land–although technically it needs this exemption–and due to that fact and the fact that the boat was operated safely for many years, Congress routinely passed the exemption for 40 years.

Cornel Martin and the new owners have the financing to make the renovations and upgrades needed to make the boat ready to travel again, because after having been docked for about seven years again, of course it needs mechanical work to get ready to travel again.

The Delta Queen has a steel hull and in fact 75% of the boat is made up of steel and other noncombustible materials. The DQ has state of the art sprinkler systems and other elaborate safety precautions.

To add additional layers of safety to a boat that already had an exemplary safety record, there is an amendment to the current bill requiring that each year, 10% of the remaining sections that have some wood in the upper parts of the boat are to be replaced with steel or other noncombustible materials.

A competing steamboat company hired a lobbyist in the earlier House debate who made false claims about the boat, such as the utterly erroneous allegation that the sprinklers do not cover the public areas of the boat. This is a falsehood. The sprinklers do cover the public areas of the boat.

We commend all the Members of Congress who support this legislation, including Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), both Senators from Ohio of both parties, Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), and many others.

Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to vote for the legislation to allow the Delta Queen to travel again.

There will be another brief event in the northern Virginia/Washington, DC area in October, again to emphasize on economic equality issues in the context of this year’s historic Presidential race. That will include partners from our national affiliate, the Economic Equality Coalition.

The Aug. 16 meeting was free. As a separate, ongoing activity, our budget is based on voluntary donations in the form of annual membership dues, sponsorships and registration fees (although again there are no registration fees for the Aug. 16 meeting).

Annual membership dues: If you would like to become a member and support our year-round program of community and economic development advocacy for the 8-state Greater Delta Region or our colleagues in other impoverished regions in the Economic Equality Coalition, please make out the annual membership dues in the amount of $25 (for individuals or small organizations), $50 for medium-sized organizations, or $100 for corporations, foundations, universities, or those who would just like to contribute at a larger level.

Please make out the annual dues check to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

Alternatively, you can donate by going to the PayPal link on the website at and contributing on-line.

Thanks very much. Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Grassroots Caucus and Co-Chair, Economic Equality Coalition (202) 360-6347