Sep 19, 2022 - Politics

Chris Jones wants to walk in Arkansans' shoes during run for governor

A photo of Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones sitting at a table, making a point with his hand.
Chris Jones makes a point in his conversation with Axios. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Quick with a quip or colloquialism, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones counts everyone he meets as a potential constituent.

  • Jones has been traveling to Arkansas' 75 counties, talking with voters, walking a mile with those willing to join him and making a case to be the state's next executive leader.

Why it matters: Whoever is elected as our 46th governor will inherit a sizable and eclectic set of responsibilities: a record revenue surplus, poor child well-being and health statistics, low education scores, climbing crime and a spotlight in the country's ongoing culture wars.

  • And the choice is guaranteed to be historic, with either the first woman or first Black man taking the state's helm.

A scene from the trail: Jones' campaign strolls are meant to be representative of "walking a mile in your shoes," he told Axios in Huntsville recently.

  • And to maybe lose a little weight put on during the pandemic, he said with a wink.
  • Nearly 60 supporters and local Democratic candidates gathered to hear Jones give a short speech before walking and talking.

What he's done: A Pine Bluff native, Jones earned his master's in nuclear engineering and his doctorate in urban planning from MIT.

  • He served as an assistant dean at MIT, taught algebra in Boston public schools and was a principal at consulting firm BCT Partners, where he managed several multimillion-dollar federal projects.
  • Before beginning his bid for governor, he led the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit advancing infrastructure for the state's entrepreneurs.
Jones talks with Charles Templeton of Eureka Springs during his walk in Madison County. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

An ordained minister, Jones' faith guides his outlook on life. But he rejects the idea of "turning the state into a church," which is the direction he feels Republicans have been steering Arkansas.

Where he stands: Jones says he wants to spread "PB&J" across Arkansas — preschool, broadband and jobs. They're sort of a three-legged stool, requiring each to support the others.

  • Pre-school: Like his Republican opponent Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Jones sees increased access to pre-school as a way to elevate Arkansas in the long term. He would use public-private partnerships ​​to squeeze the most out of federal grants to help pay for more equitable access.
  • Broadband: A key to better education and job growth is access to high-speed broadband, especially in low-income and rural areas. Jones would incentivize providers and again use private-public partnerships to extend federal grants.
  • Jobs: In his view, boosting business through investment in entrepreneurial ecosystems and reducing regulatory burdens will drive job growth. Jones would support a model of workforce pipeline development from high schools to trade schools or colleges.

More positions: In addition to deeper details on "PB&J," Jones outlines his position on several key issues — from equality for women to fiscal responsibility — on his website's "Promises" page.

  • He's unapologetically a Democrat, but he's a fan of "math that adds up right," referring to a point of view by many blue voters that the recent income tax cuts will hinder the state in the long term.
  • He's a gun owner, but supports getting a handle on untraceable ghost guns.
  • Jones said decisions about abortion should be "between a woman, her physician and her faith."

What he's saying: "When I make decisions for you, I'm not loving you; when I take freedoms away from you, I'm not loving you," Jones said about some of the most divisive issues in the U.S. and Arkansas.

  • "The state's role is to ensure that people have freedoms and people have access to rights," he added.

State of play: Jones slayed the Democratic primary in May with 70% of the vote, but his 66,000 votes were slight compared to Sanders' nearly 290,000 on the Republican side.

  • A FiveThirtyEight analysis puts Sanders as having greater than a 99% chance of winning.
  • Jones wouldn't speculate on what he'll do if he loses. He generally focuses 100% of his attention on his big objectives, he told us, noting when it was time to apply for graduate school, he only applied to MIT.

What's next: Jones, Sanders and Libertarian Party candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. will debate on Oct. 21. It will air on Arkansas PBS at 10am and 7pm.

  • The last day to register to vote is Oct. 11.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 24. Mail-in and absentee ballots are due on Nov. 4, and election day is Nov. 8

Of note: Axios has requested to interview all gubernatorial candidates. Harrington has agreed; Sanders has not.

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