FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — For the first time in a decade, a Democrat is campaigning for state Senate District 23.

“We’re looking at a decade of not actually having a local Democratic candidate to talk to us from the perspective of that party for rural areas,” Democratic candidate Derek Huber said.

The seat in Baxter County has long been held by a Republican.

“People like to remind me that the odds are stacked against Democratic grassroots campaigns over here, but I just feel like it was important that people at least had the option between the incumbent and someone else,” Huber said.

The incumbent, Senate Majority Leader Scott Flippo is ready for that challenge.

“I’m not entitled to anything. Even if I’m the only candidate on the ballot I still gotta get out there and do my job and visit with the people that I represent,” Flippo said.

He has held the position since 2015 and this will be the first time he has ever had an opponent who is a Democrat; something that is not uncommon in Arkansas.

“That has to do with polarization in the environment, our national environment. That has to do with gerrymandering districts,” University of Arkansas Political Science Professor Janine Parry said.

Parry says a lack of competition in politics has effects like low voter turnout. Statista states Arkansas was second to last in voter participation in 2020.

“From the majority party perspective, their support isn’t necessarily needed for their candidate to win, and from the minority party perspective it just feels like a waste of time,” Parry said.

Parry says the political polarization might only worsen if candidates are not challenged after their own party’s primary. But Flippo says he did not campaign that way before and still will not now.

“At the end of the day, you still have to go out and work. You still have to go off and show people who you are, what your priorities are, how you think you’re the best qualified to be the voice for north central Arkansas in the state senate,” Flippo said.

To learn more about Flippo, click here. For more on Huber, click here.