The membership of the 92nd Arkansas Legislature General Assembly is now more diverse with the highest number of women serving as lawmakers. Two of the new faces from Northwest Arkansas are now getting to work after recently taking the oath of office as legislators in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
A group of women gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Little Rock Monday morning. They were from different parties, backgrounds and come from all corners of the state of Arkansas. They joined together to capture a historic moment with a group picture.
The group was comprised of members of the Arkansas House of Representatives, the Senate and the Executive branch. Many are returning faces but some, like District 84 Representative Denise Garner of Fayetteville and District 89 Representative Megan Godfrey of Springdale — both Democrats — are new members of this exclusive group.
“I didn’t sleep very much last night,” Godfrey admitted. “I was excited and just ready to get the day started.”
The first day butterflies come with the territory, but the weight of the moment proved impactful for the Northwest Arkansas lawmakers. Garner reflected on the gathering, since it was her husband Hershey Garner who first entered politics.
“It is full circle for me,” Garner explained. “It is coming back from 40 years ago when we were involved in politics at a time when it didn’t dawn on me that women could be politicians.”
There are a number of agendas represented in the legislature and those freshman lawmakers we met with on the opening day of the session sad they are there not only to represent their districts but also their respective parties. In addition to those duties they also gave a nod to bipartisanship.
“My biggest hope is that we can work collaboratively, that we can work together to govern,” Garner shared. “I’m actually wearing purple today because I do think it’s important we work together.”
“It’s really encouraging to feel the energy in the room and the excitement to do a lot of good work and then collaborate together as House and Senate caucuses,” Godfrey said. “And even being in the super minority I think there’s a lot that we can do together to push our ideas forward.”
As Godfrey and Garner begin their terms in the House, they will work with fellow first-time District 86 Representative Nicole Clowney — a Democrat from Fayetteville. But they will also look to collaborate with returning Republican Representative Robin Lundstrum of District 87, which encompasses an area from Springdale to Siloam Springs. Lundstrum is the first woman to represent her district and said she is proud to be a part of the largest group of women to serve in the legislature.
“I think we a unique perspective, but also just being an Arkansan,” Lundstrum offered. “I think we’re past just being male or female. I think just being an Arkansan and being a part of history is what’s important.”
As to whether more women involved in lawmaking will help the search for common ground between the parties, Lundstrum thought for a moment before giving her answer.
“I don’t know,” Lundstrum admitted after a moment of pause. “I hope so.
“I think that will be something that we’ll just have to wait and see and find out. I think there’ll be middle ground because we are Arkansans and we care about Arkansas.”
While it remains to be seen if the spirit of collaboration will take flight, all of the lawmakers we spoke to were grateful to take the oath of office with their families there to witness the moment.
“My daughter [Zuzu] actually sat on the House floor with me, so that was really special to have her with me and I’m just really excited to get started,” Godfrey shared with a smile.
After taking the oath of office, committee assignments were given out and Garner Godfrey and Lundstrum were assigned to various topics — from education, to tax and revenue, to transportation among others. They said, after Tuesday’s continued pomp and circumstance, they expect to get down to the real business of governing Wednesday.