Two residents of Ozark will face off on Nov. 3 to be state representative for District 82, which includes a portion of Madison County.

Republican Mark H. Berry, a retired member of the U.S. Armed Forces, is running against teacher, homemaker and author Gwen Ford Faulkenberry, a Democrat.

The winner on Nov. 3 will replace State Rep. Sarah Capp, who did not seek re-election. She, instead, is running for a new district court position in Judicial District 7 serving Johnson and Franklin counties.

District 82, which includes portions of Franklin, Madison and Crawford counties, in 2016 voted heavily in favor of Donald Trump for president. Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives serve two-year terms, with term limits of no more than 16 years.

Berry retired as a 3-star general of the U.S. Air Force. He served more than 21 years active duty and 24 years with the Air National Guard.

He served in more than 10 foreign countries and served as president of the National Guard Association of Arkansas. He served as director of the Arkansas Military Department and Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015. 

He is married and has two sons.

Faulkenberry is an English teacher with Arkansas Tech University, a farmer, mother of four, wife of a high school football coach, and pianist at her church.

Recently, the group OnArWatch posted a video made by Michelle Garrison, a former employee at the Veterans Clinic in Ozark. Garrison accused Berry of bullying her and causing her to lose her job.

Berry said, “The video posted on line was paid for by my opponent. The money trail supports that a Consultant produced the video. The acusations [sic] are entirely false. This case was reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s office and currently at the VA Inspector General’s office. None of Ms. Garrison’s accusations could be cooberated [sic] by witnesses.  Ms. Garrison was not terminated.  She resigned from the Veterans Administration.  According to the VA Ms. Garrison had a history of substandard performance  which is very well documented and I would direct you to them for their position. In my situation Ms Garrison violated federal laws by releasing privacy act protected personal information to outside sources.  I received a personal apology from the Director of the Veterans Administration Director at the Veterans Administration of the Ozarks for this situation.  I can also tell you there were witnesses to my side of the story and the video was an attempt to tarnish my reputation. I cannot comment further due to pending civil action against Ms. Garrison.”

Faulkenberry said, “I did not pay for the video; that’s a lie just like everything else my opponent says about me. However, I am glad Michelle’s story is being told by On AR Watch. It’s important our people hear her voice and understand who Mark Berry is. I’ve been on the receiving end of his bullying myself. It is wrong and no one should get away with it, especially someone running for a position that is supposed to help, protect, and serve people. I would never treat anyone like he treated Michelle, nor how he has treated me, and I’m sure many others.”

The two candidates were emailed questions from The Record.

The candidates were asked why they are the best person for the job.

Berry: “I believe I am the best candidate for District 82 for numerous reasons. First and foremost, I am a God-loving American patriot who believes in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Second, I have already established relationships with about ¾ of our state legislators and the Executive Branch.  Third, I have been responsible for budgets exceeding $300 million every year. I’m fiscally responsible and a man of high integrity, with a strong moral compass.  I love our district, the state of Arkansas, and our great Nation. I am a Disabled American Veteran with 45 years of service to our country with 4 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have been endorsed by our Governor, Senator Boozman, and all 4 of our U.S. Congressmen, as well as Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.”

Faulkenberry: “I am the best candidate to represent District 82 because this is my home. I am a product of this district. I was born here, grew up here, went away to college, and came back here to raise my family. I could have gone anywhere else, but I always wanted to come home and invest in the people who invested so much in me. I know what our challenges are; I know what it’s like to put down roots and work hard to create a meaningful life here. I’m also a voice for the regular, every day people of District 82. I’m a wife and mother, a teacher, and a farmer. I can bring this unique perspective to a legislature that seems not always to be in touch with the common person. I will stand up for rural people, represent our concerns, fight so we get our part of the funding and opportunities available, and do everything I possibly can to preserve our way of life. Perhaps most importantly, I have absolutely no agenda other than what is good for our district. I’ve never aspired to be a politician. I was asked to run by local people who trust me to represent us and do what’s right. I don’t really care about a party platform; I can work with anyone. I’m not looking at this job as a stepping stone to get into some higher office; but an opportunity to serve our people and make a difference in the things that matter locally. No one owns me and no one ever will. When I vote, I’ll answer to the people of District 82 and ultimately my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

A big issue in November will be Issue 1 on the ballot. If voters don’t approve making the highway tax permanent, Madison County could lose more than $500,000 for roads and bridges. What are you prepared to do to help counties and cities with this loss of money?

Berry: “The impact is actually closer to $560,000 for Madison County and over $600,000 for Franklin County.  For the state, it’s over ¼ of a billion-dollar impact, which is why most sitting legislators and candidates for this election are in favor of extending the tax. Safe roads are crucial to the economic growth of our region and state. Our roads are the arteries through which tourism, trucking, agriculture, school buses, ambulances, and law enforcement flow. I feel confident the tax will be extended by Arkansans but, if it isn’t, I can meet the challenge.  My experience in finding creative ways to fund multi-million-dollar projects, coupled with my established relationship with legislators and cabinet secretaries, will better prepare me to meet the needs of District 82.”

Faulkenberry: “Well, first of all I hope it passes, and I believe it will. However, if we lose that money we will have to get really creative to compensate for it, because we have to have good infrastructure like our roads and bridges. The first thing I would do is get a group of county leaders and other interested folks together and we would figure it out.”

The candidates were asked if there be term limits in state and federal governments?

Berry: “I do believe in term limits. I believe there has to be a ‘blood transfusion’ periodically to have better ideas to improve our communities and government.  New and fresh ideas are critical to change and progress for the future.”

Faulkenberry: “The answer to this question is not black and white to me. On one hand I am for term limits because it is a terrible wrong for people to stay in office year after year doing nothing for the people they are elected to serve. And we do see a lot of that in Arkansas and around the country. However, I tend to be against anything that limits democracy. And don’t term limits do that? Don’t we already have term limits in that we vote for who we choose every term? Do we really what our choices limited? That seems – ironically – to put more power in the hands of government. We don’t need term limits if we the people are informed voters who actively participate in elections. What I’m really for is an educated, engaged citizenry who keeps its politicians accountable. If a public servant does a good job, why fire them by limiting how long they can serve? But if they’re not doing a good job, let the people vote them out.

The candidates were asked about where they have been in the district during the campaign?

Berry: “I been from the far southern part of the district to the most northern part of the district. I’ve been to the east and to the west, and all points in between. I’ve been in homes of our voters, their backyards, businesses, and the forests.  We have a gorgeous district, which is why my family chose to live in the district almost 13 years ago. By the way. Withrow Spring. God’s blessing of beauty!”

Faulkenberry: “I have been all over this district. That has been the best thing about the campaign – meeting so many wonderful people. My family lived in Charleston when I was born, and I grew up in Ozark, but I’d not spent as much time in Madison County before I started this race. I wanted to develop a sense of the place and get to know the people I’m trying to represent. So from the beginning I’ve been out driving dirt roads, visiting people in Combs, St. Paul, Pettigrew, Red Star, Huntsville, Kingston, and Marble. Before Covid hit I went to schools, churches, local Democrat and Republican meetings, small businesses, and restaurants. I took meals to the police and Easter goodies to City Hall and the courthouse and newspaper. Two of my favorite experiences were singing with Jim Owens and the band at the Senior Citizens’ Center dance, and observing the empathy, grace, and dignity of a day in Judge Zimmerman’s court. I also recently attended the rodeo, and a benefit for Doug Davidson, where I helped serve food. It’s an honor to feel like part of the community. The people have been so gracious to welcome me in. All of these experiences have given me insight into the concerns – as well as the character – of our citizens, and helped me forge the relationships I need to best represent us. I’ve come to feel such a kinship with the citizens of Madison [County] that it’s really an extension of home. Combined with my old stomping grounds of Franklin County and that tiny sliver of Crawford, District 82 is the most beautiful district in Arkansas and we have the best people. I’m so proud to be a part of it!”

The candidates were asked to assess the job of Gov. Asa Hutchinson during the Covid-19 Pandemic in Arkansas and how they would have done it differently?

Berry: “Revenue is up, people are going back to work, we have a surplus in our budget, schools are gearing back up, economy is better, and I can go in a restaurant of my choosing. I am not going to judge anyone on how they handle a historical event such as a pandemic, wild fires, or the historical floods of years past. We would probably all do something different if we were in charge. I depend on our leadership to come up with the best possible plan to keep us safe, based on input from subject matter experts, such as the Department of Health and Center for Disease Control. Only history knows at this point how we will come out of this. God willing, we will come out of it even stronger than before.” 

Faulkenberry: “Overall, I’ve been thankful for the governor’s leadership during the pandemic. Of course I don’t agree with everything he’s done, but I think he’s really tried to do right by Arkansas. The most difficult thing to deal with, I think, besides the actual pandemic, is another disease we have in society right now: polarization. I’m concerned about the place many Arkansans – and other Americans – have come to in politics and public discourse. There’s an ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ mentality that seems to dictate a lot of behavior. It appeals to the worst that is in us as humans and I believe it erodes democracy.

“The ideal of democracy, and what our forefathers focused on as they forged this nation, is that government exists to help people, and otherwise stays out of the way. They recognized that America was, and would be, a melting pot of different people with different interests, but that we could come together on common ground, and give and take until we came up with solutions that look out, not only for our own interests, but the interests of others as well. At our core, that’s what it means to be a Christian nation.

“The way this relates to Asa and his handling of the pandemic is that I believe he has tried to balance the interests of a lot of conflicting perspectives. For the most part I think he has shown compassion for citizens and our needs, and respect for medical science and what we’ve learned in real time about this virus. While people from both parties have criticized him, he’s tried to stay calm and reasonable and visible, updating us daily.

“Other than leaving every possible decision in the hands of local people, I don’t know what I would have done differently.”

Things have turned heated between you two. Is this symbolic of politics in America?

Berry: “Unfortunately, I think it is. When you have two political platforms in such stark opposition to each other, you are naturally going to have conflict. With the Republican Party, being a party of Pro-Life, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement and Pro-Lower Taxes etc., there’s going to be a lot of opposition by the Democratic Party.”

Faulkenberry: “This is a difficult question to answer because I disagree with the premise that ‘things have turned heated.’ I made a concerted effort to be friendly with my opponent in the beginning, and when he flatly refused that offer, I committed myself to civility. I did not get into this race to become someone I’m not; to start being rude or unkind; to lose my integrity. What that has meant in regard to my opponent is, by and large, not to engage him, and play offense, focusing on my own narrative of unity, hope, and faith. In contrast, my opponent has been heated toward me since the very beginning. His strategy is to paint me as a left wing liberal in order to scare conservatives into voting for him. In those efforts he has called me names, maligned my character, tried to silence me from speaking the truth, attempted to block me from communicating with Republicans and other Trump supporters, and simply made up lies to further his agenda.

“Recently, however, he insulted the people of this district by sending out a mailer supposedly specific to his campaign and his original plans for the district. The problem was that another Republican candidate in another district, who uses the same political consulting firm in Little Rock, sent out a near-identical mailer, supposedly specific to his campaign. The pictures and names of the candidates were just swapped. I called my opponent out for this in order to stand up for our people. Most of the time I ignore his attacks on me. But I will never allow someone to bully our people.

“So I do think Mark Berry’s behavior is typical of American politics during this season. What my campaign is about however, is changing that here at home, and trying to re-create a culture of honesty, kindness, and respect. I want us to prioritize people, and relationships, over politics. I’m trying to lead that by example.”

The two candidates were asked what other issues they would like to see brought before the General Assembly if elected?

Berry: “I have numerous issues on my radar. Law Enforcement Reform is at the top of my list, and I have done a great deal of study on the quality of life for law enforcement in Arkansas. In three separate studies, Arkansas Law Enforcement quality of life is ranked 48, 49, and in one case counting the District of Columbia, 51st in the nation. I believe we can at least get to the top 20. We must. Our family’s safety and security depend on these professionals to serve and protect us while receiving the proper compensation. 

“At Risk Youth is another huge passion of mine. We are incarcerating non-violent kids costing the state nearly $300 a day. I believe there are alternate ways to rehabilitate these kids, and I have an established plan.  Substance abuse, Veteran’s care, and security of our schools are three others.”

Faulkenberry: “I don’t know how likely this is, but after getting broadband Internet service into every nook and cranny of our district – and the rest of Arkansas – I’d like to put some things before the General Assembly that we get rid of. So many of our laws are unnecessary and cumbersome. I’d love to simplify that down to the absolute essentials and throw out the rest. As for new legislation, I’d like to see attention paid to expanding Pre-K and Medicaid, protecting the woods where we hunt and the rivers and lakes where we fish, reducing the price of prescription drugs, providing more mental health services, and supporting existing businesses while recruiting new ones that would provide good jobs for our people.”

A big issue is public education in rural areas of the state. Why would you be the better lawmaker for rural schools.

Berry: “First, I believe parents have the ultimate say as to where their children go to school, just as we, as Americans, have the right to choose where we worship. Who knows better where a child should be educated? It’s surely not the Government. It’s the parents.

“I know for a fact that can be done without having an impact on our rural education system. Second, as a former post-secondary educator here in Arkansas, I can say firsthand that we have a great rural school system producing highly competitive graduates. We just need to work on some increased funding issues and teacher pay. I am a product of public education in Arkansas, as are my children, brother and sisters.

“My mother was a teacher for 30 years in the public-school system, and I believe we all turned out pretty good. Again, my established relationship with the Executive Branch and Legislature will be a tremendous asset towards successfully building on what we have now.”

Faulkenberry: “I’d be the better lawmaker for rural public schools first and foremost because I am a rural public school teacher. I got a great education in Ozark Schools, and I’m also a mother of four children in rural public schools. My parents are retired teachers, my husband is a teacher and coach, my sister-in-law is a teacher, and my brother is the current Ozark Public Schools superintendent. Rural public education is my mother tongue. I think it is counter-intuitive that we have so many laws governing schools made by people with no expertise or experience in a classroom, and no responsibility for carrying them out in real-life situations. I can offer the perspective both of a teacher and a mother who is deeply invested in public school.

“I respect the right of parents to choose how to educate their children. I am not against private schools, charters, or home school. However, I am against taking money away from our rural public schools to fund private schools and charters in places like Little Rock. Unfortunately, though most people I talk to don’t realize it, our current state leaders come close every session to passing legislation that would be disastrous for our rural public schools. I will fight this with everything I’ve got. I know how important it is that every child in our district have access to a good education and I know how essential our public schools are to our small towns. Public education is one of our last truly democratic institutions and we need to protect it for future generations as well as fund it well.”

Early voting will take place at the Madison County Courthouse. Week one will be Oct. 19-24 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Week two will be Oct. 26-31. The last day to Early Vote will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. 

Fear of voting on Nov. 3 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic prompted state officials to allow voters to submit absentee ballots.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot, by law, is one week before the Nov. 3 election. Madison County Clerk Tamitha Blocker has urged voters to request an absentee ballot sooner rather than later.

Voters can request an absentee ballot at madisoncogov.com or by calling (479) 738-2747. A voter also can get registration and polling information at www.voterview.org.