On Wednesday, April 6, 2022, the Hot Springs Village POA Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) hosted the Democrat Primary Forum. Committee Members, Sam Sacco, Steve Rittenmeyer, and David Childs were the event coordinators, with Rittenmeyer acting as Forum Moderator. Each candidate was given three to five minutes and then asked to answer two questions with two minutes also being allowed to address each question. The two questions were:

  1. What is a major challenge of the office you seek and how would you address it?
  2. What separates you from your primary or general election opponent?

Michelle Gates Roberts, Candidate for State Representative District 84

Michelle Gates Roberts said she came from humble beginnings with leftovers, hand-me-downs, and church. “That was a way of life.” Roberts said she was taught more than “church at church”. She was taught community, connection, and the bond that ties us together and to love her neighbor.

While growing up, Roberts knew she would go to college, but didn’t know how she would pay for it. Due to receiving scholarships, Pell Grants, and Federal Work-Study Programs, she was able to get a quality education.

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Michelle Gates Roberts
Michelle Gates Roberts, Candidate for State Representative District 84

Because of the lack of good-paying jobs in Arkansas, Roberts and her husband were forced to leave the state after graduating. For a time, they lived in Japan and South Korea, working in anti-human trafficking. While out of the country, she learned how difficult it was for people living on the margins of society. Missing one paycheck is catastrophic to some folks.

In Japan, she delivered her son and discovered the healthcare system proved to be superior to what it is in the United States, with costs being covered.

Roberts said, “Here in America – here in Arkansas, we can have quality health care that is affordable for everyone.”

These experiences and many more make Roberts uniquely qualified for the job. She says she is ready for the challenge of being a State Representative, House Seat 84.

What is the major challenge of the office you seek and how would you address it?

Roberts said, “I like to get things done. Right now the hardest part for me is patience. When I am elected, I want to hit the ground running, but I know we need to listen and learn.”

“It is really patience and slowing down. I am not good at that. The children of Arkansas have waited long enough for quality education. We are at the bottom of the barrel. They have waited long enough for quality health care.”

What separates you from your general election opponent?

“I have to really think on that because a lot of people think of him as a nice guy. And he is a nice guy, but he says one thing and votes another way.”

“One thing I learned from my parents is honesty and integrity.”

Working with women and children who are coming out of horrible situations and pharmaceutical companies to develop programs to help sustain the women and children – that is where my heart is.”

Dan Whitfield, Candidate for US Senate

Whitfield says he is a regular working-class Arkansas, working seven days a week, long hours. He paid his own way through school and finished three Associate Degrees, Magna Cum Lade with distinctions and honors, and is currently still a student working on his Information Systems Degree. He will specialize in blockchain engineering.

Whitfield said, “There are a lot of problems in the federal government right now. As a professional troubleshooter by trade, my job will be to go in there to address these problems and find solutions. We have not been finding the proper solutions that are putting people before profits.”

Whitfield said it is important that we look at a few important facts.

“This primary election is going to determine the outcome of the general election. It’s plain and simple.”

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Hot Springs Village Dan Whitfield
Dan Whitfield, Candidate for US Senate

“A Democrat in Arkansas has 100% support from every single Democrat in Arkansas but nobody else,” explained Whitfield. But they will still lose because Democrats are in the minority.

Democrats are going to win elections by bringing the Independent voters over to the Democrat side.

Whitfield pledges to “work on his supporters and implore them not to just show up and vote for me in November…but to vote for other wonderful Democrats.”

This election is going to be the most important election of our lives. “We have Sarah Huckabee Sanders running for Governor. I can’t imagine what Arkansas would look like with Sarah Huckabee Sanders [as] governor…We need to do everything possible to prevent that from happening.”

Important legislation is coming up next year. “We are going to have to vote to codify Roe because the GOP is doing everything they can to steal our family’s rights. We need to fight for our daughters’, our mothers’, and our sisters’ rights.”

What is the major challenge of this office and how would you address it?

Whitfield answered, “All the time you hear Democrats say, ‘We are losing democracy in America.’ America is not a democracy, it is a representative republic. But unfortunately, we are all kind of wrong right now because we are not even a representative republic anymore. We are an oligarchy. Our representatives no longer represent us. They have sold out to special interests. They take money from the health and pharmaceutical industry and vote on legislation that hurts our family, that kills people, that bankrupts people because it gives them more money for the reelection campaigns.”

Whitfield said the constituents must be shown how their representatives are voting to represent them, while also showing the constituents where the money to reelect the representatives is coming from. Usually, the candidate with the highest donations wins the election.

What separates you from your primary opponent?

“Policy is what separates us.” He said he is not just going to say we have problems, but he also has the solutions. “That is the difference.”

“Healthcare is the number one issue in our country.” Whitfield supports “healthcare for all”. Medical debt is the cause of 63.2% of all bankruptcies, even though the majority have health insurance. Everything is not covered.

“How do we pay for it? That is the question. The way we pay for it is 4% of your income after $29,000. If you are on Medicare, you no longer have to pay for Advantage plans.”

To learn more about Dan Whitfield click here.

Jesse Gibson, Candidate for Attorney General

Gibson said he grew up on a dead-end dirt road in Boone County, Arkansas. Gibson’s parents taught school for 30 years in public schools. “They instilled in me the value of getting a good education.”

Gibson graduated Valedictorian in 1992. In 1996 he received a degree in Economics and completed his law degree in 1999. He began his career working for a big law firm in Little Rock. Soon Gibson realized he had made a horrible decision.

In 2002 Gibson started his own law firm where he provided services to people across the state. “It was in that job that I found my calling and passion of service.” This inspired Gibson to run for Attorney General. He wants to take the Attorney General’s office and “change so many lives in a positive way”.

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Hot Springs Village Jesse Gibson
Jesse Gibson, Candidate for Attorney General

“I also want to run for Attorney General to be an example for all those kids I grew up with…to show them there is a way they can serve their community, their state, and their country.”

“What do I want to do as Attorney General? You can sum it up in three words – safety, security, and strength.”

“Security of our right to vote is number one.”

“Safety – it is always the responsibility of the Attorney General’s office to stand shoulder to shoulder with law enforcement…Tough penalties for violent criminals, but programs that decrease recidivism. Working with prosecutors to keep guns out of the hands of violent offenders. But also education programs so they can assimilate back into the workforce.”

“Strength – Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. Am I perfect? Certainly not…I am going to always try to do the right thing.”

“I want to bring the spirit of service, the spirit of justice to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.

What is the major challenge of this office and how will you address it?

“Culture – I think it is an issue of culture. Culture in the office of Attorney General. Too often there has been a culture of corruption. In a culture dominated by Washington politics, inside baseball, and a spirit of ‘how do I get myself ahead and not how do I help the people who elected me?'”

“Change the culture into one of service and belief and the empathetic practice of law.”

What separates you from your general election opponent?

“It is a very complicated three-part answer. It is experience, experience, and experience.”

“I’ve been practicing law for a quarter of a century.” Gibson said he has tried over 100 cases to verdict. My opponents, in Arkansas courtrooms across the state – zero. Never had a case in Arkansas court…This is public record.”

Gibson says he has the experience of helping folks and caring about what happens to them.

To learn more about Jesse Gibson click here.

Goldi Gaines, Candidate for Commissioner of State Lands

Gaines said she is running to heal the land. She is a native Arkansan, born in Pulaski County and raised in North Little Rock. Her father served 42 years in North Little Rock’s Department of Parks and Recreation and her mother was a nurse who was known in the community as the ‘community nurse’.”

“I grew up in a household that fully believed in servant leadership.” Her parents taught her to advocate for others, not just for herself.

She worked in various non-profit organizations and she “began to look at the issues and circumstances in different communities and how important it was to stand and advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves.”

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Hot Springs Village Goldi Gaines
Goldi Gaines, Candidate for Commissioner of State Lands

She graduated from North Little Rock High School, subsequently earning her Associate of Science degree at Pulaski Tech. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management at the University of Pheonix she went on to earn her MBA in Business Administration.

She was an adjunct faculty member for a North Little Rock college, teaching Business Studies. In addition to this experience, she has 23 years in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs where she advocated for veterans.

“My veterans taught me a valuable lesson about loyalty and servitude. But they also taught me how to drink coffee and to play spades. As a result of that, I am one loving individual that can drink you under the table with coffee and that can make you cry at the spades table.”

Operating for 23 years in a large bureaucratic organization gave her the skill set necessary to “really put forth customer service.”

“I had experience in culture, culture change, and shifting culture to ensure that workplace processes were run with an even flow, as few bottlenecks as possible.”

“I am running for the seat to heal the land in three different areas – education, innovation, and accountability. I think it is important that we begin to look at our Arkansas landscape and think of ways to plan a landscape for not only ourselves, but the generations to come, specifically our millennials.”

What is the major challenge of this office and how would you address it?

“Bringing in a different culture. Seventy percent of this job is strongly related to managing delinquent properties as well as auctioning off state lands – even the honor of holding on to survey documents and maps dating back to the Louisiana Purchase.”

Often the goal is to make sure properties are sold to Arkansas residents. “In this seat, we also have the opportunity, again, to look at our landscape through a program called, ‘The Land Donation Program’. Not only do we have an opportunity to look at our landscapes there, but to also push those homestead programs for our Veterans.”

“With the Land Donation program, we have an opportunity to allow organizations, city, county, non-profits to really bring their ideas to the table, to address some critical issues that we have in Arkansas – poverty, hunger, and bad health.”

What separates you from your general election opponent?

“Perspective – Oftentimes I say even a dead fish can go with the flow. It is just time for us to shift streams. I understand paying off taxes. That is very important. But I think it is time for us to use this seat at its maximum capacity. It’s not enough to just partially operate in a position.”

“I would say what I have is a pulse on a community that is typically underserved and that is poverty, hunger, and healthcare.”

“I am not running against Tommy Land, but I am running for Arkansas.”

Gaines said she will not only focus on land taxes but will also work on healthcare, poverty, and hunger issues.

To learn more about Goldi Gaines click here.

Natalie James, Candidate for US Senate

“I am ready to get to work for Arkansas,” stated Natalie. She said she is mindful of the women who have done this and sacrificed, using their determination and resilience to pave the way for today.

“We’re experiencing a moral reckoning with racism and systematic injustice that has brought a new coalition of consciousness to the streets of our county, our country, and our state, demanding change. America is crying out for leadership.” James said she is quoting Vice President Kamala Harris. And yes, I am very partial to the amazing administration that we do have right now, currently. They are doing an amazing job, given what was handed to them and how they are able to fix it and how they are uniting the whole nation.”

James wants to make sure there is a good future for the children.

James asked herself, “How can I make Arkansas better?”

“Arkansas is ready for leadership that is going to provide solutions.” James wants to protect Arkansas. A servant’s spirit is required to fulfill this position.

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Hot Springs Village Natalie James
Natalie James, Candidate for US Senate

Being a realtor by trade affords James a unique opportunity to talk to many people every day. Her father was a minister and insurance salesman and her mother was a teacher. She is a fourth-generation native Arkansan.

James said she is obstinate and headstrong, but also resilient and full of grit, in the right way. She brings to the table her experience in global and national interactions.

What is the major challenge of the office you seek and how would you address it?

The major challenge is that there are no black women currently in the United States Senate. “That means that 50% of the population – women – their voices aren’t being heard.”

“I am a mother, a nurturer and I bring that together. We need somebody that is going to be able to tie us all together and represent us all, regardless of who you vote for.”

As one of three democratic candidates for Senate, please separate yourself from your primary opponents.

Servant spirit – “I get out there and am able to relate to more communities, more groups than the majority of our candidates. They are amazing in their own right. I would love to have them working with me…If all of us combine forces…and unite there will be some amazing things that we can get done for Arkansas.”

“I naturally, inherently lead. That is just what I do and I am extremely bossy, but in a good way.”

To learn more about Natalie James click here.

James “Rus” Russell, III, Candidate for Governor

Russell has 20 years of healthcare experience and started out as a Physician Credential Specialist for the state Medical Board before moving on to a position as a Medical Staff Coordinator at Children’s Hospital. These positions exposed Russel to a lot of different ideas as well as many communication problems between legislators and the science community.

Going back to college, Russell pursued a dual major in Pre-med Biology and Legal Political Ethical Theory. His wife completed her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology leading them to start “New Dawn Counseling.” New Dawn Counseling is a mental health practice they operated for the past eight years. COVID led them to take this practice state-wide, utilizing Telehealth.

Democrat Primary Forum 2022 Hot Springs Village James Rus Russell
James “Rus” Russell, III, Candidate for Governor

For the past eight years, he has dealt with Arkansans in crisis. This is what he wants to bring to the office of Governor. “We need people who can listen without demonizing the other side.”

Russell said we need real people in the governor’s office who can be contacted.

What is a major challenge of the office you seek and how would you address it?

Culture – “One of the main things is establishing a sense of trust with leadership again through choices, through cabinet appointees that are actually the best qualified for the position, rather than who donated the most to your campaign.”

We have a “terrible turnout” at the voting polls. “What I see in those numbers is that the vast majority of Arkansans simply feel like their vote doesn’t matter because they are not being represented or listened to. They are not being given anything to vote for.” They choose the lesser of two evils.

“We have to give them someone who will listen, who will address them, talk to them one-on-one and be a human with them.”

What separates you from primary election opponents?

“I am not polished. This is not something where it has been an aspiration for a long time. If you are talking to me, you are getting me. Not what was prepared for, not what was polished, not what was planned by the committee. You always know where you stand with me.”

Even if someone disagrees with him, it doesn’t mean they are enemies.

“There is absolutely no difference between myself and any of you sitting here. There’s none.”

“I am the candidate that if you holler and say you need help moving a couch, I am the one who is going to show up and do it.”

To learn more about James “Rus” Russell, III click here.

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