ON THE TRAIL: Democrat David Whitaker wants to tweak Medicaid expansion

He also thinks the Legislature should improve child nutrition, ease voter registration

By: - Thursday October 13, 2022 5:45 am

ON THE TRAIL: Democrat David Whitaker wants to tweak Medicaid expansion

He also thinks the Legislature should improve child nutrition, ease voter registration

By: - 5:45 am

Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville) speaks to supporters during a Farmington campaign event on Sept. 30, 2022. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)

Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville) speaks to supporters during a Farmington campaign event on Sept. 30, 2022. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)

Incumbent state Rep. David Whitaker, a Democrat, faces Republican Brian Hester in the race to fill the newly created House District 22. You can find a story about Hester here

FARMINGTON — Three weeks before the start of early voting, Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville) called this part of his re-election campaign the chute. Much like when a rodeo cowboy mounts a bull or bronco in the bucking chute, things are about to take off.

“You’re in the chute now folks; there ain’t no getting off this horse,” Whitaker said during a campaign event Sept. 30. “You’re either going to hang on and get your eight seconds or you are gone.”

Whitaker’s busy morning began with a Democratic Party of Arkansas event at a Farmington bakery. After sharing coffee and miniature cinnamon rolls with a small group of supporters, he made the 1.5-mile journey to the town’s high school where officials celebrated the district’s newly-constructed solar power arrays with a “Flipped the Switch” ceremony.

“I’m dedicated and I’m here, and I love what I do,” Whitaker said in an interview prior to the campaign event. “I love helping the people of my district.”

Whitaker has represented his Washington County district in the Arkansas House since 2013. Due to last year’s redistricting process, Whitaker is running for the new District 22 seat, which still includes Farmington, but much less of Fayetteville than his former District 85.

Redistricting, which occurs once every 10 years following the U.S. Census, requires the state’s 100 House and 35 Senate districts to be redrawn so that each district meets various legal criteria, including that each one has about the same population size.

“It’ll be a more competitive district because it has greatly shrunk,” Whitaker said.

The incumbent is facing Republican Brian Hester, a rematch of the 2020 race, which Whitaker won with 55% of the vote. Hester’s brother Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) is running unopposed to represent Senate District 33. He was first elected to the Arkansas Senate in 2012.

If you don’t think that’s health care, then you don’t understand child development because kids who come to school hungry are not going to succeed.

– Democratic Rep. David Whitaker on the issue of child hunger

Health care

Health care is a focus for Whitaker who wants to “repeal or soften” a state law that bans abortion except to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

He also wants to continue shaping the state’s Medicaid expansion program, which he began working on during his first legislative session in 2013. The Arkansas Works program was replaced by the Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me program, or ARHOME, on Jan. 1, 2022.

RELATED: Arkansas will no longer auto-assign new Medicaid expansion enrollees to private plans

“Broadly, we need to migrate it more toward the original concept and undo some of the changes that were made in the last eight years,” he said.

With the end of federal funding that provided free lunch to all students in response to the pandemic, Whitaker also is worried about childhood hunger. Arkansas has the fourth highest childhood hunger rate in the country with nearly one in four children facing food insecurity, according to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

“If you don’t think that’s health care, then you don’t understand child development because kids who come to school hungry are not going to succeed,” Whitaker said. “Their brains simply won’t develop either.”

In addition to addressing health care issues in Arkansas, Whitaker said he’s “really committed to automatic voter registration.”

“The government already knows who I am and where I live, so why do I have to go apply to be able to exercise the most fundamental rights in a democracy,” he said. “All other rights spring from that right, and if you can’t vote, or we put impediments in the way of you voting, we’re not a true democracy.”

Working together

This part of the campaign can be tough, but Whitaker told his supporters that they’re “all in the chute together and it makes it easier when there’s people with you.”

Sen. Joyce Elliott speaks while standing beside Rep. David Whitaker
Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) speaks in support of Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville) during a Democratic Party of Arkansas event in Farmington on Sept. 30, 2022. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)

Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) was by Whitaker’s side in Farmington, but because of term limits, she won’t be joining him on the ballot this year. Elliott served in the Arkansas House from 2001 to 2007 and she’s been in the Arkansas Senate since 2009.

“This is the first time I’m not on the ballot, and I’ve always said to people, if you are not on the ballot, get out there and help the people who are,” she said. “And I believe that deeply enough to keep coming up here and doing whatever I can do because we have real opportunity.”

Elliott also participated in a Democratic event Sept. 29 in Bentonville in support of Kate Schaffer and Jen Standerfer, who are facing Republicans Mindy McAlindon and Scott Richardson for Districts 10 and 13 in the Arkansas House of Representatives, respectively. There are no incumbents in those races.

Even though being in the Legislature isn’t always “a glamorous and happy job at the state level,” Whitaker said he’s dedicated and wants to continue serving his constituents.

“All you got to do is believe,” he said. “We can do this. There are people all over this state crying out for change and relief and we can help them get that.”

Whitaker and Hester will participate in a candidate forum hosted by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Fayetteville Public Library. The event will be livestreamed.

This is part of a series of stories about candidates on the campaign trail in Arkansas.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate
Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.

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