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.

Women, Minority & Rural Issues in the 2016 Election and Beyond in the Delta

Posted on December 21, 2017 at 05:51 PM

At this time when the role of women, minorities and rural America in our economy and society are at the forefront of the national dialogue, we convey the in-depth analyses of these issues at the 2017 annual fall conference at the Clinton Library. We had a series of speakers on the impact of these issues on the 2016 election and beyond.

The impact of sexism on the 2016 Presidential election: Dean Todd Shields of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas, and Angie Maxwell, Director of the Diane Blair Center for Southern Politics and Society at the Fulbright College, spoke about their path-breaking research on the impact of sexism in the 2016 Presidential election.

The Delta, rural America and the 2016 election: The impact of the rural vote on the 2016 election is a major research interest of Al Cross, Director of the University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Series of speakers on women and minority issues: We heard from a distinguished series of speakers from across the region about their work regarding women and minority issues.

For the two-day conference as a whole, participants included Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, Congressman Rick Crawford, US Senator John Boozman, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority Peter Kinder, Congressman French Hill’s Chief of Staff Brooke Bennett, Todd Shields, Angie Maxwell, Al Cross and grassroots advocates from across the eight-state Greater Delta Region.

This is an in-depth reference work and we do not expect people to read all of it, but you may want to read one section or a couple of sections. Please look over the Table of Contents to see which section you may be interested in and scroll down to that section.



a. Dean Todd Shields, Fulbright College at the University of Arkansas

b. Angie Maxwell, Director of Diane Blair Center for Southern Politics and Society, University of Arkansas c. Al Cross, Director, University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues


a. Betty Dobson/Maggie Steed, Director of the Upper Town Heritage Foundation and the Hotel Metropolitan in Paducah, Kentucky

b. President Peggy Bradford, Shawnee Community College, southern Illinois

c. Humberto Marquez, Organizing Director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and a DACA recipient; joined by Steve Copley, InterFaith Arkansas

d. Liz Young, Executive Director, Arkansas Women’s Business Center (affiliated with Winrock International)

e. Lee Powell, Caucus Director, and Millie Atkins, Caucus Co-Chair and Community Leader from Monroe, Louisiana, State Senator Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock)

The Impact of Sexism and Rural Voters on the 2016 Presidential Election

Ia.: Dean Shields and Director Maxwell of the Blair Center for Southern Politics’ Research on Sexism and the 2016 Presidential Election

Caucus Director Lee Powell expressed appreciation to Dean Shields for his great attention to and outreach for the east Arkansas Delta as Dean of the Fulbright College for Arkansas’ largest university, and his innovative research on women and politics.

Dean Shields’ major research interest as a political scientist focused on the area of women in politics. He said that “We knew this nation was a sexist nation, we knew there were a lot of negative attitudes toward women, but we did not anticipate how prevalent and nuanced” modern sexism is. He stressed that it was not that people didn’t think that Hillary Clinton could do the job as President, but that they did not trust her. The survey found that Hillary Clinton and other women were most unpopular when they are running for office and asking for power.

The survey was based on an intensive, anonymous survey of about 4,000 people in which they over-sampled for six demographic groups-African Americans, Hispanics and Caucusians in both the South and the non-South. They had a series of major conclusions:

There is a big racial divide in the results:

–40% of Caucasians scored at the high end of the sexism scale.

–38% of Latinos scored at the high end.

–20% of African Americans were at the high end.

There was a huge partisan divide:

–54% of Republicans scored at the high end of the sexism scale.

–22% of Democrats scored at the high end of the sexism scale.

In another major finding, sexism was much worse in the South, and of course the Delta states make up a significant part of this region. There are very significant gender expectations and traditional stereotypes in this region. Southern white women were very important in helping Trump win the “SEC” primaries.

–44% of white men were at the high end of the sexism scale.

–32% of white women were at the high end of the sexism scale.

–42% of Hispanic males were at the high end.

–36% of Hispanic females were at the high end.

Director Maxwell emphasized that African American women DID turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton, even though overall African American turnout for her was down from what Barack Obama had received.

Survey utilized meticulous methods to assure accuracy: Dean Shields said the survey was conducted very carefully to get accurate results. Traditionally, pollsters have conducted surveys on the phone or if it was a very intensive person, face to face. But he stressed that to understand what the real attitudes are about race and gender, you can’t ask them in person because they will moderate their views because they don’t want the pollster to think that they are racist, homophobe or sexist.

Therefore, their survey took thorough steps to make sure that people were responding in an anonymous way so that they can hide behind the privacy and be as open as possible.

The modern sexism scale is based on asking people whether they agreed or disagreed, and how strongly, with a series of questions, with some of the most important being:

  1. Feminists aren’t working for equality, they really just want more power for women.

  2. Women are quick to complain about sexual harassment. They interpret innocent remarks or acts as sexist.

  3. Women don’t want equality, they want special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men.

  4. When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.

  5. Sexual discrimination is not a problem in America any more.

Director Maxwell pointed out that these are extreme statements, so if people are even neutral then that indicates a problem. But if they agree or strongly agree with these statements, that demonstrates a serious problem of distrust toward working women.

The concept of modern sexism, she said, is “an issue no one wants to talk about because it’s hard to believe, it’s hard to hear, and it’s hard to know how to fix it.” This concept digs deeper than traditional stereotypes of women. We don’t hear very often today that women are inferior, they just can’t do the job, or will get emotional and “freak out” under pressure. If pollsters ask people today about those earlier kind of prejudices, they will wind up with erroneous results that could make them think we are in a post-sexist world, but this is not true.

The University of Arkansas survey was designed to avoid the errors of previous researchers in the 1970s and 1980s erred when they thought that racism was dropping off, but in fact those surveys just revealed that they were receiving politically correct answers. Racism of the earlier era had not disappeared, but had just morphed into a different kind of racial bias.

The modern sexism concept gets at our resentment to working women, ambitious women and outspoken women.

Controlling for a range of issues: Dean Shields acknowledged that there is a wide variety of explanations of why the election turned out as it did. Therefore they asked if other issues like the economy, terrorism, hostility to the establishment, opposition to Obamacare or other issues were vital in their voting decisions.

Shields said that after controlling for all of these issues, one of the biggest predictors of who you voted for was still your score on the modern sexism scale.

Bernie Sanders’ voters impact: He said that not only if you’re a sexist were you not going to vote for Hillary, but even many Bernie Sanders’ supporters who scored high on the sexism scale voted for Independents Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, or for Trump.

Only about 75% of Sanders’ voters supported Hillary in the general election, and Jill Stein received votes in the close races of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

This discussion of course did not have time to go into all the details of the election results, but regarding the number of votes that went to Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the key swing states, they were quite substantial when compared to Trump’s victory margin. This would not be significant had the race not been so close, but the figures for those states were:

–In Michigan, Stein won 51,000 votes and Trump’s margin of victory was 10,000.

–In Wisconsin, Stein won 31,000 votes where Trump’s margin of victory was a little under 23,000.

–In Pennsylvania, Stein won almost 50,000 votes, and Trump’s victory margin was about 44,000.

Considering the number of Sanders voters who did not vote for Hillary, Maxwell said that “Republicans rallied around the nominee and Democrats didn’t.”

Maxwell said that “sexism wasn’t the only reason” for the election’s outcome, but it’s certainly the one we don’t want to talk about.”

Here we are providing a more detailed explanation on Sanders voters who did not vote for Hillary Clinton on the Blair Center website (please Google “Blair Center for Southern Politics” to get a copy of the full report, entitled “The Impact of ‘Modern Sexism’ on the 2016 Presidential Election”):

“Democrats were not as successful at forging a general election coalition. Only 74.4% of Sanders’ primary/caucus voters reported voting for Clinton in the general election.”

“The 25.6% of Sanders’ primary/caucus voter who did not vote for Clinton in the general election translates into an approximately 2.8% decrease in Clinton’s popular vote total in the general election…”

“Over 15% of Sanders’ supporters voted outside of the two major parties, with 7% choosing Johnson, 4.6% choosing Stein, and 4% submitting a write-in candidate. Another 4.1% decided not to vote at all, and 5.9% crossed the partisan divide and cast their vote for Trump.”

“Though the percentage of Sanders’ “sexist” supporters was the lowest measured, they were also the only group of voters who, if they wanted to vote for the nominee of the party with which they participated during the primary/caucus election, had to vote for a woman… ”

“On average, the least “sexist” Sanders’ supporters did vote for Clinton. Those slightly higher on the scale either did not vote or voted for Stein. On average, Sanders’ primary/caucus voters who had Modern Sexism scores closer to “neutral” either wrote-in their own candidate or selected Johnson. Sanders’ supporters with decidedly “sexist” attitudes voted for Trump.”

Please also see the Rutgers University Institute for Women and Politics, which has research on the status of women in the South. Maxwell is a member of the Institute’s board.

A range of issues contributed to the results in addition to the women, minority and rural votes discussed at the Delta Caucus conference: Maxwell, Shields, and Al Cross of the University of Kentucky did not say that the issues they focused on were the only reasons for the outcome and acknowledged that there were many factors contributing to the election results in addition to the sexism issues discussed by the U of A researchers, and Al Cross’ analysis of the rural vote (summarized below). Among these were included FBI Director Jim Comey’s re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, (which ultimately demonstrated that nothing illegal took place), Russian meddling in the US electoral process, and other factors. In an election so close, many factors will inevitably be cited. However, the women, minority and rural votes’ issues discussed by the three researchers do stand out as clearly among the most if not the most important explanations.

Hillary’s inherent disadvantage in effectively running as the incumbent: There was general agreement on the point made by Al Cross that an important factor was the reality that “It’s time for a change” is the oldest slogan in politics and as a Secretary of State running for the party that had been in power for eight years she was basically running as the incumbent in a year when many voters were receptive to the need for change. People from different parties will have widely differing views as to which candidate truly represented change, but traditionally there is advantage in the “time for a change” pitch to the candidate who is not seen as the “incumbent.”

Shields said that no matter what they tried to do in finding an alternative explanation, modern sexism was still the most significant predictor as to what drove this Presidential election. He concluded that “In this country we’re not ready for a female President, and unfortunately that’s for men and women.”

Pollsters in 2016 failed to take into consideration modern sexism in their surveys: Maxwell said there were zero pollsters who placed the modern sexism factors into their model. She discussed the phenomenon in 2008 when some voters who would have been expected to vote for Barack Obama based on their beliefs, party affiliation and other basic indicators but did not pull the trigger for Obama because he was an African American.

The phenomenon of voters not wanting to admit to pollsters their biased attitudes is called the “Bradley effect,” after the election in 1982 when African American Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles was a huge favorite to win the race for governor according to pollsters, but he wound up losing to Republican George Deukmejian.

The national pollsters in 2016 did not factor in modern sexism, yet the University of Arkansas research indicated that the effect was almost twice as large regarding gender in the case of Hillary Clinton as it had been for Obama regarding race in 2008.

Problem was not unique to Hillary but was shared by other women: Maxwell said that Shirley Chisholm 40 years earlier was the last Democratic woman candidate for president to get a number of delegates, underlining the problem that there are too few women candidates.

Elizabeth Dole had an impressive resume and was very popular based on her Harvard law degree and her traditional, deferential support for her spouse, Bob Dole. She was a dynamic speaker and everybody was favorable until she asked for power by forming an exploratory committee to run. Then no one gave her any money. It seems that “you can be liked or taken seriously, but not both,” Maxwell said about women’s dilemma when they decide to ask for power.

Many other women candidates gained office when their husbands passed away and they ran in their place, such as Sen. Hattie Caraway in Arkansas and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, who represented the southeast Missouri Delta for many years. (Note–Rep. Emerson had many admirers in the Delta Caucus and worked with our coalition productively for many years.) In cases such as those of Caraway and Emerson, since they were replacing their spouses they skipped over the phase of asking for power solely in their own right.

Maxwell said that economics did not come up as a significant factor in determining the outcome, with the major factors being sexism, resentment and race.

Unusually long tracking poll record for Hillary Clinton: Secretary Clinton had an unusually long record of tracking polls from having been in public service for so long. She was most unpopular when she was asking for power. After she won her Senate race, she was popular as a senator because she was doing a good job.

When Bill Clinton lost his race for governor, one of the reasons was that as First Lady of Arkansas, Hillary went by the name of Hillary Rodham, and many people disapproved of her non-traditional decision not to use her husband’s last name. She changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton; so she couldn’t run under the name she would have liked to be called.

Hillary was also popular once she was serving in the Senate and doing a good job. Again, it was not when she was in the middle of a controversial policy debate over legislation or other issues, but rather when she asked for power by running for office that the distrust escalated.

The most successful attack ads against Hillary were not those that said she was too frail, even after she fainted at the 9/11 ceremony, but rather anything geared toward distrust.

Another hurdle that Hillary had to overcome was that a woman cannot serve as Commander in Chief. By gaining the endorsement of many generals and other military leaders, she largely succeeded in breaking that ceiling. “The hard thing about being the first is that there’s no blueprint for how to do it,” Maxwell said.

What does this mean and what do we do about this? The depressing news is that this means that modern sexism is a severe problem in America today. But Maxwell emphasized that “you can’t change what you do not acknowledge.”

Key actions needed for change:

Women must turn out to vote: To bring about change, women need to have a heavy voting turnout. Many women in Arkansas are registered to vote-63%, compared to 46% of men being registered. But women in Arkansas don’t vote-“We are 44th in Arkansas for women voting.”

Women need to run for office and when they run they have to expect to over-perform: Many people will not tell they they won’t vote for them because they are women. They will say “I’m so excited about your running,” but nice comments are not the same as real commitments such as signing an endorsement in a newspaper.

At the current rate in Arkansas, it will be the year 2066 before we have gender parity in the Arkansas legislature, and Maxwell said “I will be 90 and I don’t want to wait that long.”

Equal pay’s impact in Arkansas: If Arkansas just had equal pay for women who are currently working, the poverty level would be reduced by 48%.

Maxwell called for job opportunities for women who have young children. The University of Arkansas in 2017 still does not have paid maternity leave.

Arkansas is almost dead last in the number of part-time jobs for women with children under age 6.

Great jobs for young women, she suggested, would be as state legislators, city council members and school board members.

We have to support women when they run for office, give them money and help them get elected.

We need to encourage young women to think about the contributions they want to make when they get out in the world, and fit political office into their pathway. Women’s issues will not be considered if they are not in the room when decisions are made.

In one of President Obama’s last speeches for Hillary in 2016 he said that if you just don’t like her but you can explain why, you need to look into your heart.

Hillary Clinton’s achievement in spite of the narrow loss as the first woman nominee of a major political party for President: Maxwell and other speakers on the panel regarding the 2016 election did emphasize that in being the first nominee of a major political party for President and in winning the popular vote by 3.5 million votes was “an enormous accomplishment.”

Director Maxwell’s compliment for Ms. Crystal Barnes: Maxwell complimented the presentation by Ms. Crystal Barnes earlier at the Clinton Library session. Ms. Barnes is president of the senior class of Pine Bluff High School and a co-coordinator for the TOPPS nonprofit mentoring program for young women in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Maxwell said Ms. Barnes gave “an exceptional speech” and they would like to see her enroll at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Importance of educating younger generations about the struggles and accomplishments of the women’s rights movement: Maxwell said that we need to do a better job of teaching people about the struggles of the women’s rights movement that made possible the gains women have achieved today. She recalled the National Women’s Convention in Houston in 1977, a unique national women’s convention that included every First Lady up to that date, bipartisan participation, and women’s rights advocates from across the country. There were minority women leaders there and a minority plank in the platform was endorsed.

One of the delegates was the late Diane Blair, the distinguished women’s rights activist and political scientist at the University of Arkansas, for whom the Center for Southern Politics and Society at the Fulbright College is named. Maxwell said that we are currently not doing a good job of teaching her students’ generation about what previous women leaders fought for, so they don’t know about it. Her career as Director of the Blair Center was based upon those earlier struggles: she said, “My life is not possible without their sacrifices.”

Support for the Fulbright Scholar Program: As a final note, Caucus Director Powell expressed appreciation to Dean Shields at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences for joining with the Delta Caucus and the Fulbright Alumni Association in supporting the Fulbright Scholar Program, founded by the famous Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. This program has led to the exchange of hundreds of thousands of scholars across the globe and was praised by President John F. Kennedy as “the classic modern example of beating swords into plowshares.”

Supporters of the Fulbright Program joined forces to defeat an ill-advised effort by President Obama to cut funding for this exemplary initiative. Now President Trump has a much worse budget cutting proposal against the Fulbright Program, and we plan to defeat it as well.

Fulbright Scholars aid education in the eight Delta states and all 50 states as well as across the globe, and we call upon all supporters of education in the Delta to keep its funding fully intact.

Participation of legislators from the National Assembly of Ecuador: The Delta Caucus was glad to work with Global Ties Arkansas in bringing a group of seven members of the National Assembly of Ecuador-a South American nation of 17 million people-to the Delta conference at the Clinton Library. They said they were inspired by the presentations about US trade with Latin America and women and minorities’ issues at the conference. They are working on passing national legislation in Ecuador to prevent violence against women.

1.c: Al Cross’ presentation on the impact of rural voters on the 2016 Presidential election

Al Cross, Director of the University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said that since he started the Institute 13 years ago he had always wanted to take part at a Delta Caucus and was glad to do so.

In introducing Al Cross, the Caucus director said that the Institute deals with national rural issues, although being based in Kentucky they have special insights into two of America’s largest rural regions-Appalachia and the Delta-since the western part of Kentucky makes up part of the Delta and eastern Appalachia is in the heart of the Appalachian region.

Cross said that he imagined many people in the Delta Caucus were shocked, disappointed or even in despair at Donald Trump’s victory, yet despite the controversial budget cuts and almost daily turmoil, we need to remember one truth about Trump’s election: “He could not have won without rural America.”

“We need to remember that,” Cross said, “and so does he.”

Trump’s huge margin of victory in rural America: Trump won 62% of the rural vote-more than any other modern President.

In the 9 steps USDA has from most urban to most rural, the smaller the population of a place, the greater was its vote for Trump, with one small exception within the margin of error.

Trump’s victory continued a Republican trend of winning more and more of the rural vote, but in 2012 the rural turnout was down.

In contrast, there was a much better rural turnout in 2016, and this surge in turnout was tremendously important for the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Rural America’s choice of a man who is probably our most urban President suggests that “big and bad things were going on in rural communities led them to turn out in such huge volume for Trump.

Cross especially called attention to one vital measure: each year from 2012 to 2016 fewer people lived in rural America than the year before. The losses were pretty small, but each year that set a record because the total rural population had never declined except as a percentage of the total national population before 2012.

Rural America is losing people primarily because it lost jobs and businesses in the Great Recession that have not come back.

One year ago, employment was about 5% higher in the metropolitan areas than in the first quarter of 2008, which is the official start of the recession.

In contrast, employment was 2.5% less in rural areas of America over that same period.

The evidence of rural America’s economic distress was seen in closed factories, vacant storefronts, and streams of works moving to more urban places. The economic decline was accompanied by social and cultural decline, with above average drug use, divorce, poor health and increasing mortality rates-especially among middle-aged whites.

The workforce shrank as disability payments expanded, and the Wall Street Journal concluded that the statistics of rural areas today resemble those of inner cities 30 years ago.

Cross stressed that feelings are usually more influential in elections than statistics, and in rural America there was a deep resentment of urban elites, including the news media. Many rural Americans felt they were not getting a fair shake from government and its trade deals and were generally looked down upon.

“Onto this landscape strode a brash billionaire,” Cross said, who was a household name due to his television reality show and business success, and while offering few specifics primised to be the trune for the people who were hungry for a politician who would improve their daily lives. He said that “In 40 years of covering politics, I’ve never seen a candidate who attracted the depth of support and enthusiasm-especially in rural America-as did Donald Trump.”

There were half a million more votes in 2016 than 2012, but two and a half million fewer votes in urban areas. That second number, according to Cross, illustrates the low enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, especially among Hispanics and African Americans (note-this was true overall but not for African American women, who did turn out in large numbers for Clinton).

Hillary received 88% of the African American vote, whereas Obama had won 93%.

Despite Trump’s attitudes on immigration, Clinton received less of the Hispanic vote than did Obama. She won 65% if Hispanics to 71% for Obama.

Turnout was generally down among African American and urban voters, while turnout was strong among white and rural voters.

Cross acknowledged that some have argued that minority VOTES were suppressed by ovter ID laws, less time for early voters and other measures that discouraged turnout. He said this did happen and had some effect, but in his assessment only in North Carolina and Wissonsin was this impact large enough that it might have cost Clinton the election.

Even if we do switch North Carolina and Wisconsin to the Clinton camp, that still leaves Trump with 284 electoral votes, 14 more than were needed to win.

An important factor in Trump’s victory had a great deal to do with race and ethnicity, mainly dealing with immigration. Rural Midwestern towns that attracted many immigrants, particularly Latinos, were Trump strongholds in the primaries and caucuses.

Cross pointed out that Just before the general election, Gallup polls showed Trump doing very well in racially isolated white communities. In those places, Trump voters were less motivated by economic concerns than by issues of race, ethnicity and immigration.

Cross said that other researchers before and after came to the same conclusion about the national vote.

A final result of the election, according to Cross, was that it gave a wake-up call to many national journalists about the problems of rural America. The Wall Street Journal is not the only national news outlet that paid more attention to rural places. Chuck Todd of NBC News said on election night as it Trump began to win that “Rural America is basically screaming at us-STOP OVERLOOKING US.”

So rural America is getting more attention, and that should mean more attention to the Delta, one of America’s most rural regions. As Peter Kinder of the DRA said at the opening session, the Delta has some of the greatest economic challenges of any region in the country, but it also has great opportunities.

“For many people the election of Trump is a challenge, but for rural America it’s also an opportunity in raw political terms, because Donald Trump owes rural America,”

Cross said. Politicians sometimes have to be reminded of who they owe, and in the case of rural America because it’s so diverse, it makes it more difficult to have a strong lobby that speaks up for it.

Agricultural interests can help, but they can also hurt by focusing more on increasing farmers’ wealth and just paying lip service to the needs of rural communities.

There is a bipartisan Rural Caucus in Congress, but it has only 43 Members, which is 10% of the House, whereas rural America is 15% of the national population, and we need a stronger voice.

Cross concluded by saying that he hoped the Delta Caucus conference would lead to greater networking and lobbying among all the groups that try to help all parts of rural America. The Institute of Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky will try to cover it. “So make some news for us.”

UPDATE AND BACKGROUND NOTE ON NAFTA AND PITCH TO RURAL AMERICA ON ECONOMIC ISSUES: Al Cross and the luncheon speakers could not delve into all the background of all these issues due to time constraints, so we would like to give this brief update and background information.

One of the issues that Trump as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders played up during the campaign was the alleged terrible damage that was inflicted on states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the Midwest, as well as Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and the country as a whole by NAFTA. These claims were grossly inflated, as revealed by the thoughtful presentations made by four Republican governors in Washington, DC in December.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, and Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa met with Vice President Mike Pence, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to warn of the devastating consequences if NAFTA is abandoned.

NAFTA and other free trade agreements must be improved and expanded to include much stronger dislocated worker programs to train workers for other jobs who were thrown out of work due to the vicissitudes of international trade and through no fault of their own.

NAFTA needs stronger labor and environmental safeguards as well. It certainly needs reforms and improvements.

But to blame NAFTA as virtually the worst force causing job losses in America is erroneous. There were certainly some economic sectors that were hurt, and not enough has been done to shore up those problems. But there were also some benefits in other sectors, and in any case to blame it as the major force for unemployment in America over the last 8 years is a gross exaggeration.

Gov. Hutchinson said, according to comments in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other news sources, that NAFTA should be renegotiated in a way to make it more fair, but he also stressed that it is very important for Arkansas businesses and agriculture to continue their vital trading ties to Mexico and Canada.

Unlike the country as a whole, Arkansas has a trade surplus with Canada and Mexico. Arkansas exported $1.2 billion to Canada in 2016 while importing $752 million. Arkansas exported $686 million to Mexico while importing $597 million. As Gov. Hutchinson said in his presentation at the Delta Caucus conference, Mexico is the largest purchaser of Arkansas rice.

Canada ranked as the top market for Arkansas products, while Mexico was third (France was second).

Moreover, Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders falsely blamed NAFTA as a major if not the major source for factories moving overseas and causing American job losses in recent years. While this did happen in some cases, the fundamental cause of moving factories overseas was the incentive to gain the much cheaper labor and lack of environmental and other regulations in Mexico, China and other foreign destinations. The marginal difference in tariffs was quite small in comparison to that major reality of wage and regulatory differentials, which existed before NAFTA and remained the basic magnet for moving factories overseas.

Fundamentally, the constant raving against NAFTA allegedly being a huge cause of job losses by Trump and Sanders distorted the vastly greater reality that the fundamental cause of unemployment from 2008 to 2016 was the Great Recession and its aftermath. NAFTA’s impact was tiny compared to the colossal impact of the recession.

In discussion, Emeritus Professor Economics Gary Latanich of Arkansas State University pointed out that Hillary Clinton had the opportunity to go back to Wisconsin and Michigan to address the real causes and remedies of job losses during the recesses and clarify the NAFTA issues, but did not do so.

Please note the states represented by the four governors who met with Vice President Pence, Secretary Perdue and other administration officials to ask for improving but not abandoning NAFTA: Gov. Snyder of the key Midwestern state of Michigan, Gov. Reynolds of Iowa where Trump’s margin was larger than Michigan but still not large, and the two Delta state governors, Gov. Hutchinson of Arkansas and Gov. Haslam of Tennessee.

The leaders of all these states were carrying the message that NAFTA has a net positive economic impact on their states, so the solution is to improve NAFTA, not abandon it.

Trump administration proposed budget cuts to USDA Rural Development, SNAP, school meals, WIC, health care, the Delta Regional Authority, Appalachian Regional Commission are all harmful to rural America:

Delta Caucus partners pointed out that these many budget cuts would be harmful to many lower income, middle income working people in rural America. This creates the paradox that many rural Americans voted for a candidate whose economic policies are detrimental to their economic interests. This could partly be explained by lack of information or confusion, but it also tends to strengthen the conclusion that race, gender, and feelings by rural Americans that they were being excluded and looked down upon were vital factors in the electoral outcome.

III. Women and Minority Issues in the Delta Region

##A. Betty Dobson/Maggie Steed, Executive Director, Upper Town Heritage Foundation in Paducah, Kentucky

Betty Dobson is always one of the most dynamic, entertaining and educational speakers at Delta Caucus events. She is executive director of the nonprofit Upper Town Heritage Foundation, which is one of the best examples in our region of an organization utilizing Delta heritage tourism to educate people about our great legacy while generating tourist dollars.

Dobson portrays the remarkable historical figure of Maggie Steed, an African American entrepreneur of the Jim Crow era who rose above the segregation and sexism of her times to become the successful owner of the famed Hotel Metropolitan in Paducah, Kentucky.

The Hotel Metropolitan was the only hotel in the western Kentucky Delta area where African Americans could stay in the Jim Crow era, and its customers included many famous Americans including Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ike and Tina Turner, the Harlem Globetrotters and players from the old African American baseball league.

In her role as Ms. Maggie Steed, Dobson recalled her struggles in becoming owner of the Hotel Metropolitan. At first she discussed the idea of a hotel for African Americans with her husband, Henry, who dismissed the idea.

Ms. Maggie persisted and went to the white businessmen in Paducah to present her business plan. The white men told her that it would not be possible for her open a business because she was a woman, and a woman of color. Using the language of that day, they added, Why would anyone want to stay in a hotel for black people, anyway?

She said you couldn’t talk back in those days if you wanted to live to tell about it, but she did explain that black people would want to stay at a black hotel, “because we want to be nice, safe and dignified just like you. There is money to be made for anyone who would back this new hotel,” she said.

The white businessman thought a minute and then said that if she could go back and get her husband’s signature on the papers, they would consider it. Maggie said she was so happy, ran all the way home and began praying, first praying to the Lord, then to Henry. By the end of the day she had the papers signed.

She once again ran joyfully to her home, but when she was back in her house she prayed again, exclaiming “Lord, forgive me.” She needed forgiveness because she had signed her husband’s name to the papers, but Henry had been dead for four years. This was not known by the white business leaders, however, and the Hotel Metropolitan opened in 1909.

Ms. Maggie said that she had been listening to the younger speakers all day, and one message kept coming through-in the vernacular of her day, she said, “If you don’t know no better, you can’t do no better.” She said the way to rise above the challenges that she faced and many others still face today is through education.

She said she used to tell Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, the Harlem Globetrotters and the black baseball stars, along with Ike and Tina Turner (who were not very well behaved guests all the time and tore down her shades, but she forgave them) that “you may not always be able to sing or play ball, so the way to change things is to get an education.”

Maggie Steed/Betty Dobson disagreed with the harshly negative statements that some people often make when they claim that despite the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and all the struggles for justice and equality, that we still have not made any progress at all because we still have problems of poverty, inequality and injustice.

She said that while we still have serious challenges today and should fight just as hard as our ancestors did to overcome them, the situation was far worse during Maggie Steed’s life-time, when African Americans did not have minimal access to public accommodations, could not vote, and racism was far more flagrant than even it is today. She said that when Maggie Steed was a young person, it was impossible for her to obtain an education no matter how hard she worked or how smart she was. Today, we still have problems in education, economic equality, civil rights and justice, but there are possibilities that would have been unthinkable to earlier generations.

Notwithstanding the progress, Dobson said we still obviously have problems with poverty, racism, and sexism today, but “we need to find our voice and speak up. When you learn, you do better.”

Dobson and her colleagues at the Upper Town Heritage Foundation overcame challenges of their own in establishing the museum on the site of the Hotel Metropolitan and restoring it to its former charm. When integration gathered force, the business for the hotel declined and the hotel became very run-down. It was condemned in 1999.

But Betty Dobson and other community-minded people in Paducah joined forces to raise the funds to form the Upper Town Heritage Foundation, restore the hotel, and it has been flourishing and growing since the early 2000s.

Whenever you are in western Kentucky, please go by the Hotel Metropolitan. Ms. Maggie Steed will be glad to see you.

B. President Peggy Bradford, Shawnee Community College, Southern Illinois Delta

Peggy Bradford is the new President of Shawnee Community College in the southern Illinois Delta. She has the unusual career story of having served for many years as a prosecutor, but then decided to make her mark in the field of higher education. Shawnee Community College has been a strong participating partner with the Delta Caucus for over a decade now and we welcome President Bradford back to her home regiom.

She said that as a prosecutor she would have hundreds of cases going through her system and she would always win 99% of them, so it no longer seemed a challenge. She obtained her Doctorate in the field of Education, because she sees education as the key to a brighter future.

She had served in big cities like Cleveland, Baltimore, and finally left New York to return to the southern Illinois area where she grew up. This was clearly an obvious indication of dedication to the region to go from New York, where in her area average salaries were $150,000, to the southern Illinois area which Shawnee Community College is located in the middle of, where the average salary for women was $22,000 and average male income was $54,000.

President Bradford depicted in stark terms the serious issues facing her home areas that makes up part of the southern Illinois Delta and has a population of 57,000 people: The closes doctor is an hour away, and the response time for an ambulance is 45 minutes.

Unemployment is 8.8%, the highest in Illinois, and the poverty level is 28.5%, also the highest in Illinois.

For residents over 16, 19.5% don’t have high school diplomas. 58% don’t have college degrees.

The median income is $37,000.

28% of the population is on public assistance.

99% of the students in the public schools are on free or reduced lunch.

There are no grocery stores, and due to the lack of gas stations, people either have to drive long distances to get a decent price per gallon or pay inflated prices for the few nearer stations.

The school rating is 1 to 3 on a scale of 100, and life expectancy is low. A sense of a loss of hope permeates the area, with obesity, suicide rates and alcoholism at high levels.

Bradford said that she has to combat the tendency of many parents to tell their children to go to work. She tells the young people that “going to work for $7 or $8 an hour with no benefits will not serve you well for the long term over the next 10 to 15 years, and you’ll find yourself in the same place.”

Bradford works to steer young people into a wider range of career choices. Two of the most common jobs currently are in cosmetology and early childhood education, which are fine but usually don’t pay well. She tries to get them to think about medical billing, STEM, science, nursing and other jobs that can pay in the $60,000 to $80,000 range. Nurses in particular make high salaries because they are in high demand in southern Illinois.

She said it’s a challenge to get young people to focus on education in this day of I-Pad, cellphones, Twitter, etc. “It’s difficult to get them to sit still, read and focus for 15 minutes;” recalling her experience, it took many years to get her juris doctorate and then three more years to get her doctorate in education. She conveys to them that “It won’t happen overnight. It’s not a Micro-wave situation.”

She said the earning potential with an associate degree is $50,000 or more, but with no college earning are in the $16,000 to $24,000 range with no benefits.

She has had successful entrepreneurs who graduated from her college or others come back to give internships to young people there and come back to the area to convey to them the need for education.

Bradford said the racial divide is still a serious problem in the area. Only one faculty member at the college is a person of color.

Nationwide, out of approximately 1,300 community colleges, 400 females are presidents but only 130 are people of color.

The job levels below president are based on teaching positions. Tenure is achieved by votes of your colleagues, so if there is no diverse representation, how is minority representation on the faculty going to be expanded?

The curriculum needs to be designed to inspire and encourage people. Bradford emphasized that we need to reach children at the beginning levels in the first, second and third grade to get them to start thinking about math, reading and STEM.

Reaching students at an early age is crucial, because data shows that when problems emerge early on there are predictors for those who will wind up in prison. Drawing on her experience as a prosecutor, she said we must address the issues of poverty, the overall environment and education in a preventive manner to avoid the waste of spending $54 billion to lock people up and then another set of money to deal with people who did not acquire education, hard skills and soft skills for the workplace.

Bradford stressed that education is the key, whether they want to become electricians, plumbers, medical coding or billing, other health care professions, or a doctor or lawyer. She also advised people that if they are not hired or you’re not getting equitable pay due to racial or gender prejudice, you need to file a lawsuit.

Bradford concluded her remarks by emphasizing that people need to take up a stand and speak up on these issues if we are to achieve the progress we have fought for since the 1960s.

C. Humberto Marquez, Organizing Director, Arkansas United Community Coalition, a major Hispanic organization

Humberto Marquez is Organizing Director of Arkansas United Community Coalition, a major Hispanic organization. A Dreamer himself, he said that the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) program is very important in allowing immigrant youth to get a work permit and a driver’s license.

There are a substantial number of DACA recipients in the Arkansas Delta and they contribute to the economy as they become entrepreneurs, buy homes and cars, have access to loans. Their contributions are a positive impact for the entire community in which they live.

There are large concentrations of DACA recipients in Monticello and McGehee, in addition to migrant farm workers, employees in the rice and poultry industry and other work. State agencies are working on educational efforts for them through community colleges so that they are integrated into the community. Marquez said Batesville is doing a great job in welcoming the immigrants.

The Hispanic population in Arkansas is growing steadily, and other diverse groups are also increasing. There is also a thriving, growing community of Marshallese in Pine Bluff. Arkansas has the second largest share of Marshallese in America after Hawaii.

Marquez said that as diversity increases, we look forward to contributions of immigrants and to the welcoming efforts of communities and school districts.

Doubling of Hispanic and Asian vote since 2012: Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC) is heavily involved in civic engagement initiatives like voter registration, and Marquez was pronounced that the Hispanic and Asian vote in Arkansas has doubled since they began their work in 2012.

In 2018, AUCC is preparing to knock on doors, make phone calls and build upon this progress.

Marquez said that “We know that many people want to become US citizens and we ask why,” and they reply that they are productive, hard-working people who want to make a contribution to the society and economy but are currently under attack.

Between the last two Presidential elections from 2012 to 2016, the increase in young Hispanic voters turning 18 years old was 40,000 people. AUCC has a goal of an exponential increase in Hispanic voting by 2020 again.

Marquez stressed that AUCC is nonpartisan, and they are working to make sure Hispanics and other diverse populations in the state are well-informed and engaged.

Along with these positive developments, Marquez addressed the alarming situation regarding DACA. When the Dream Act was announced in 2012, it was estimated that there were about 10,000 individuals in Arkansas who potentially could benefit.

According to USCIS, the agency that administers the program, about 5,700 have applied in Arkansas. You have to be at least 16 years old to apply for the program.

Now that DACA has been rescinded, these thousands of people will not be able to get a work permit or a drivers’ license, and Marquez called that “catastrophic.” On Sept. 5, Marquez was in Washington, DC in front of the White House when the announcement of DACA being rescinded was made. He was part of a four-day fast, and as a DACA recipient he was devastated.

Marquez said “They gave a cruel one-month window to renew their applications from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5, to give those whose work permit expired on March 5. This was an “impossible feat” when they had to process 153,000 applications nationwide.

There will be hundreds of dreamers every day “thrown back into the shadows because they won’t be able to contribute to their state and country,” he said.

Marquez said most of his colleagues and friends who are DACA recipients are college graduates, in graduate school-people who want to become teachers, attorneys, doctors, and even as Arkansas has a major shortage of professionals “we’re tearing their dreams and professions away.”

He emphasized that it is crucial to know that DACA was rescinded based on a letter signed from 11 Attorneys General who were vowing to sue the Trump administration unless DACA were rescinded. One of these Attorneys General was Arkansas’ Leslie Rutledge, who took this decision without consulting a single Dreamer in the state.

“We tried to chase her down for two months, and after we finally got to talk to her, she had literally never met a Dreamer or DACA recipient before,” Marquez said. His colleagues just could not understand why AG Rutledge wanted to put Arkansas on this national platform against DACA without ever consulting those who were harmed by it.

Marquez asked as a proud Arkansan and DACA recipient if all the Delta Caucus partners could contact their Members of Congress and ask them to not make the same mistake of Attorney Rutledge in opposing DACA without consulting any Dreamers. He urged passage of legislation to make DACA permanent and to move forward in passing a law providing a pathway to citizenship, which is ultimately what is most needed.

Steve Copley, a United Methodist minister and director of Interfaith Arkansas, has worked closely with AUCC and Humberto Marquez, Catholic charities, and local entities on this set of issues and enthusiastically endorsed his message. Interfaith Arkansas.

Copley said that as the 5,700 Dreamers continue to work they add to our economic base. They are building wealth and adding to the economy while many in our country are unwisely talking about building a wall on the Mexican border to keep out Hispanic immigrants that will cost billions of dollars.

Copley asked all the Delta Caucus partners to “Contact your representatives. The Dreamers came here as children, they have dreams of a better life that will make all of our lives better.”

In recent developments, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said on Dec. 20 that he has received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) that bipartisan legislation will be considered in Januray to provide a solution for illegal aliens living in the US under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

In rescinding the program, Trump gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative solution.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois supports efforts to keep this initiative alive, “and we’re fighting to pass this measure soon.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that deporting the young immigrants “is not in our nation’s interest.” He said any immigration solution must include border security, but building a wall along the entire US-Mexico border doesn’t make any sense. Sen. Flake also minimized the chances of passing a measure including the 2,000-mile border.

We encourage all Delta Caucus partners to support the bipartisan efforts of Sen. Flake, Sen. Durbin to arrive at a solution that will protect DACA recipients.

Government reports indicated that 132,000 out of 154,000 eligible renewals applied before the October deadline, which means that more than 20,000 people are now without protection from deportation.

D. Liz Young, Executive Director, Arkansas Women’s Business Center (an affiliate of Winrock International

Liz Young is Executive Director of the Arkansas Women’s Business Center, an affiliate of Winrock International. She joined Rep. Warwick Sabin, Senior Program Director of the foundation’s USA domestic programs as one of two Winrock speakers on the conference during the two-day conference (Rep. Sabin’s comments were summarized in the Nov. 23, 2017 article on the Delta Caucus website at entitled, “Thanks to Delta Grassroots Leaders; & 2nd in Series of Reports on Oct. 19-20 Delta Caucus” at the “Caucus Articles” link of the website.

Director Young said that the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) gets support from the Small Business Adminstration and is administered by Winrock International. It is named after Winthrop Rockefeller, who had a very distinguished record as governor being elected in 1966 and serving from 1967 to 1971.

The Arkansas Women’s Business Center helps women-owned businesses get started up and grow, compete and market by providing them with training, counseling, capital and other resources.

They usually help small business start-ups, because it is rare for someone to come to their office with a large amount of start-up capital. The assistance focuses on how to start up and fund small businesses.

The initial question is whether the business is even feasible, because they want to prevent people from devoting large amounts of time, work and money to a business that winds up failing. AWBC walks them through business plans, balance sheets, looking at the market, and if it turns out the project is viable, they will help with access to capital.

While AWBC is open to helping everyone, 75% of their clients are women.

In Arkansas about 32% of businesses are owned by women, slightly higher than the national average of 31%. The percentage is slowly growing, and across the nation women-owned businesses have a profit of $1.5 trillion.

AWBC tries to make the process easy in navigating women through state and federal agencies dealing with women businesses.

To be eligible for government assistance, you have to be 51% owned by a woman or women, and managed on a daily basis by a woman.

There are two ways to gain federal certification:

First, you can choose the self-certifying route. This is free, but it is long, time consuming and requires a great deal of paperwork. Many who have chosen the self-certifying route have been frustrated by the delays, paperwork and difficulty of reaching someone in Washington, DC.

Secondly, there are also third-party certifiers who charge a fee usually in the range of $300 to $600. It’s quicker but more expensive, and if you are not approved you don’t get the fee back.

Until recently, the only route was through federal certification, but in 2017 the state legislature passed a bill to allow women to be considered a minority in Arkansas. This is through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and is called the Minority and Women Business Entrepreneur Certification.

Several benefits have already been approved through this program and Young said it will be a major benefit in Arkansas.

The AWBC has also become involved in work to develop entrepreneurial skills for youth. Last summer in El Dorado they held an entrepreneurial youth camp along with the local Upward Bound program, the local community college, with 11 young women and one young man. SBA, local bankers and local entrepreneurs took part in training about business development skills, including how to do an elevator pitch. There was a competition and the winning team won $500.

This project was aimed at lower-income families who were lower income, did not have financial knowledge, in some cases did not have bank accounts, and were sometimes held back by relatively minor obstacles (in one case an unpaid medical bill) from starting up businesses.

These efforts are informing young people who will be the small business owners of tomorrow.

Young said that AWBC works in four-fifths of the counties in Arkansas, with the majority of the clients being in rural areas. AWBC has video conferencing capability to help communicate across the large area they serve. They frequently travel to businesses, community development organizations and community colleges across the state. They cross-connect with Winrock International’s many other domestic programs and are looking for new opportunities especially in under-served areas to expand AWBC’s outreach.

E. The Need for a Candid Dialogue about Race Relations in the Delta and the nation: LEE POWELL, MILLIE ATKINS AND SENATOR JOYCE ELLIOTT

The Delta is one of America’s most diverse regions, so naturally the Delta Caucus is deeply disturbed by the resurgence of white supremacy in America. Caucus Director Lee Powell said the tragic race riot in Charlottesville was not a remote event that happened way off in Virginia, but is relevant to the nation and the Delta. Several Arkansans unfortunately were involved in the racial violence there.

Again emphasizing that Delta Caucus partners address President Trump’s statements on a case by case basis and give him credit for good actions while opposing detrimental actions. In the case of President Trump’s statement that there were “many sides” to the Charlottesville tragedy, the Delta Caucus has to condemn that statement.

On Oct. 19, President George W. Bush unequivocally condemned white supremacy, and Trump should have done the same.

The Delta Caucus supports the right of free speech for everyone, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. We want to know exactly who they are, what they are saying, and what they are doing rather than allowing them to slink around in dark corners. The best way to counter their vile, ignorant speech is to respond with thoughtful speech.

While not in any way infringing on the freedom of expression rights of the racists, Powell said that we need to use our common sense about reasonable time, place and manner considerations that are established pillars of First Amendment law. Powell, who is very familiar with Charlottesville having earned graduate and Juris Doctorate degrees from the University of Virginia graduate school and University of Virginia Law School, pointed out that Emancipation Park and the downtown Mall area are very small areas and are not suitable for any large-scale demonstrations simply as a practical matter of physical space.

Powell cited the precise legal work of Josh Wheeler, for many years director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression at the University of Virginia Law School and now practicing in Virginia, one of the leading First Amendment experts in America, who argued in federal court before the demonstration that the site should be moved from the small space around the Emancipation Park Confederate statue to McIntyre Park, a much larger area.

Powell re-visited the area in Charlottesville days before the conference and was reminded of how small these spaces are. There were expected to be at least 1,000 Alt-Right protesters and another 2,000 protesters. Compressing that many hate-filled racists along with emotional counter-protesters into such a small space was practically an invitation to violence that would be much more difficult for the police to control. Moving it to the much larger McIntyre Park-which was named for the benefactor Mr. McIntyre who in fact donated the land and the Confederate statue for Emancipation Park-would have given the police much more flexibility to control the demonstrations and the protesters and counter-protesters would not have been crowded into such a small area.

Lawyers arguing for moving the location of the rally said that free speech rights were not in any way compromised by the larger site, and they could still have espoused the same content of their speech, at the same time for the same duration.

To be sure, as it happened the police made mistakes in the way they handled the violence, such as remaining passive for too long and making other errors. But given the small space, they were placed in a very difficult situation.

Powell said he went to the site where the racist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, describing it as an “eerie experience to stand at the place where Heather Heyer was killed. They keep flowers there every day and a mural on the wall reads ‘Heather, we will never forget you.’ The alley where she was killed was more of an alley that a street, and was so small that there was no way that heather and the 19 other people who were injured could have gotten out of the way of the car.”

Some people have confused the issue by describing it as if the key issue regarding Charlottesville was the Confederate statue, when of course the key issue was the racism and violence. Powell said, “We have many Confederate statues all over the Delta and all over the South, but does anyone think that if every Confederate statue were immediately removed that the KKK and Nazis would become quiet? Of course not. They would find some other pretext and venues to spew their hate-filled venom and incite violence.”

“In Arkansas with our history of the 1957 Central High crisis and in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, you would think that we would want to be acutely sensitive to the need for a candid dialogue on race relations in America and certainly would support the creation of a legislative race relations panel in the Arkansas legislature,” Powell said.

Powell noted that many families in the Delta Caucus had opposed Gov. Orval Faubus’ racist demagogy. His father, the late James O. Powell of the old Arkansas Gazette newspaper-then the state’s largest paper-was an adamant opponent of Faubus and received death threats in that era. In growing up in Little Rock, Powell recalled bullying as a kid because his family was one of the few white prominent families in his area who opposed Faubus. This dark era in our history did give way to the moderate era beginning with Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and continuing with Governors Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton.

Janis Kearney, a senior White House aide to President Clinton who grew up in the Delta, is another Delta Caucus partner. She is the author of a biography of Daisy Bates, the civil rights leader who was a mentor to the Little Rock Nine when they bravely desegregated Central High.

Given Arkansas’ background in the history of the civil rights movement, originally many people thought there would be overwhelming support for an initiative backed by Sen. Joyce Ellliott, a Democrat now living in Little Rock who grew up in south Arkansas, and Sen. Hendren, a Republican from northwest Arkansas. The Delta Caucus supported this initiative and turned the program over to Sen. Elliott to explain the bizarre result whereby the Arkansas legislature rejected this clearly meritorious proposal.

Sen. Joyce Elliott’s comments on efforts in the Arkansas legislature to promote a constructive dialogue on race relations:

Sen. Elliott said that when she joined forces with Sen. Jim Hendren, they had all the bases covered and believed that no one would think that they were trying to do anything other than what was right: “Hendren and I are as different as night and day.” She is an African American, progressive Democrat now based in Little Rock and originally from south Arkansas, and Sen. Hendren is a white, conservative Republican from northwest Arkansas.

None of the reasons for the legislature’s rejection of the effort to create a legislative race relations panel had any validity:

They argued that the Martin Luther King Commission could address these issues. These commissioners do fine work, but they are appointed officers subject to the whims of politics, and a dialogue to build a consensus for action in improving race relations needs to be taken up by the state’s duly elected representatives in the legislature.

They contended that this has never been done before. If an initiative is clearly valid and needed, the answer to the fact that it has never been done is that it’s overdue to take this constructive step.

Some argued that you can’t do anything about race relations by passing laws. Those were the same arguments made by the segregationists before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Elliott said she grew up in south Arkansas, and after graduating high school many people left the state. But she decided at the age of 17 that if her ancestors could give their blood and sweat to the red soil of this state, “then I’m going to stay here to honor their legacy.” An important part of that life-time commitment was to act constructively about race relations.

The legislative race relations panel was to have 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans, and the focus was not just about passing laws but about changing culture. They wanted to develop a blueprint after going around the state having a dialogue with people, because she felt “we’re being held back by structural racism.”

Unfortunately, she said, “We were roundly defeated. We needed 22 votes and we only got 9.”

Not one to give up, Sen. Elliott began working on the formation of a legislative caucus on race relations. During the Delta Caucus, a number of legislators who were in attendance publicly committed to supporting the formation of this caucus, including Sen. Eddie Cheatham of southeast Arkansas, Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock, Rep. Chris Richey of Helena, and Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville. The caucus would not be as good as a full-fledged legislative panel but would be a step in the right direction.

Sen. David Wallace, Republican of Leachville in northeast Arkansas, said he would also join a race relations caucus in the Arkansas legislature. He was scheduled to speak at the Delta conference, but his emergency services company was doing the Lord’s work in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico aiding victims of the disasters so he was not able to attend.

Elliott said “We will force a conversation on race for our state, because we can’t act as if it doesn’t matter. It’s a small state and we don’t have any people to waste. We can’t afford to be undermining our possibilities, but our poor relations are doing that because we don’t work together many times, we don’t go to school together, we don’t work together, we don’t eat together unless it’s a meeting like this {the Delta Caucus}. It ‘s up to us to make this change, and that’s what we had in mind for the race relations panel.

Millie Atkins, community leader from Monroe, Louisiana and Co-Chair of the Economic Equality Caucus, on women and minority issues:

Millie Atkins is a community leader from Monroe, Louisiana and for many years public policy manager for CenturyLink, where she led efforts to expand access to broadband in the Delta among many other meritorious initiatives.

Atkins recalled a study that was administered to young boys and girls in which they were each given lemonade that had salt in it. The boys were honest and brutal in their responses, saying this is disgusting, take it away.

The lady administering it told both the boys and girls that she was planning to give the lemonade to other people and wanted to test it first. The girls replied that they did not really like the lemon and did not want any more, but you could serve it to others if you want to, so it’s okay.

The girls were completely determined to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings and do what they thought was the right thing, so they tried to be as nice as possible about the salty lemonade.

Atkins used this study as an example of the need for women to candid in approaching women’s issues. She said that we should not expect a group of men to fight for equal pay for women. “There should not be any policies made unless women are at the table. You need to find the best women candidates you can find and support them,” she said.

When she was an executive at CenturyLink, she was working with the local Chamber of Commerce president and suggested that they support a legislative proposal for equal pay for men and women doing the same work. The Chamber president surprised her by saying that she could not support it because businesses were opposing it and it would be too controversial.

Then she went to the CenturyLink offices and said that they should support the effort for equal pay, and was again told that they could not support it. She asked “Why not? I’m in this room and you are talking to a woman.” They replied “Can you imagine the lawsuits we would have if we supported this effort for equal pay for women?”

Atkins emphasized that “If we are going to change we will have to do this ourselves.” Her father was a sharecropper and she grew up in segregated Louisiana at a time when violence against African Americans was a depressing fact of life, there was a “white waiting room and a black waiting room.” She said that she vowed that “If I ever get out of Mangum and get educated I will always connect to the people of the Delta to work for change, and I am inspired by the commitment I see every year from the Delta Caucus.”