Who knew that a van ride from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Hot Springs would lead to a community-wide political forum for the election of the man who would lead the City of Jonesboro over the next four years?
Mid-South Delta Leader participants Everett Fair, executive director of Beacons & Bridges, and Tammy Fowler, executive assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Arkansas State University-Jonesboro (ASU-J), met while carpooling to the MSDL training retreat in September 2003. During the three-hour van ride, the riders began to talk about a variety of issues facing the Delta Region and the Jonesboro community (including the upcoming mayoral election, the first election guaranteeing a new administration in 18 years).
During this particular conversation a discussion ensued regarding the virtual void of candidate information in circulation and the dangers relating to the “election by slogan” methodology that was in play. With seven candidates running, the field could be confusing and could result in many voting solely on superficial information and possibly not voting at all. So, Everett and Tammy took charge and decided to facilitate a public debate between the candidates, whereby the community would have the opportunity to engage each on a variety of topics relevant to the future development of Jonesboro.
After follow-up conversation, the two made visits to the ASU Student Government Association to solicit help with staffing and to address logistical concerns. Word soon spread to others and as a result, the ASU-J Political Science Department, Jonesboro Business and Professional Women, and the League of Women Voters came on board to lend their expertise and efforts to the event as co-sponsors. Before all the planning was completed, the local ABC affiliate KAIT-TV, Channel 8, agreed to broadcast the forum live! Additionally, the ASU-J College of Communications agreed to tape the event for viewing on their local cable channel and KASU radio agreed to air it live.
The forum took place on Oct. 5 at the ASU Auditorium and was attended by over 350 Jonesboro area residents. Panelists from the Jonesboro Sun newspaper, Beacons & Bridges, ASU-Student Government Association and ASU Political Science Department questioned the candidates for an hour and a half. The last half hour of the event was spent with the candidates fielding questions from the audience.
The only downside was the preempting of the live broadcast by the Vice-Presidential debate. However, KAIT agreed to run the entire debate the following Sunday, and ASU-TV agreed to run it three days a week (Tuesday mornings 9-11; Wednesday evenings 8-10 pm and Friday evenings until the election.
According to Everett, “This forum is proof that the impacts of MSDL and the Mid South Delta Initiative are definitely being felt in this Delta community!”