My Pulse News

Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

State and local candidates visit the fair 

By Ethan Nahté

There were plenty of booths at the Polk County Fair, ranging from beekeepers and banks, schools and insurance companies, to the American Legion and CMA. A couple of individual candidates had booths: Stephanie Murr and Kacie Rose, opponents battling it out for the Polk County City Clerk/Treasurer position being vacated by the retiring Linda Rexroad.

There were also booths for the Democratic Party of Polk County as well as the Polk County Republican Committee (PCRC). The Republicans had a few special guests, including Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, and Rep. John Maddox on hand, helping man the booth. In addition, Sen. Terry Rice (District 9) met and greeted visitors Friday evening, but he donated an American flag plaque, which was won by Tom Bellon.

Saturday saw the arrival of two Republican candidates in the upcoming general election making their way to Polk County. For Arkansas State Representative Mark Lowery, it was his first time to visit Mena. He was running for Arkansas Secretary of State but is now the Republican nominee for Arkansas State Treasurer. Lowery and Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands, Tommy Land, sat for a roundtable luncheon before visiting the fair and the PCRC booth.

Lowery began, discussing his running for office and what he’s looking for on the campaign trail by meeting voters. “They feel like we have an agenda, and we either hide it or it doesn’t line up with what they like or what the majority of the population wants. I’m interested in hearing what they like.”

Land talked about his goals, stating, “I want to continue a lot of the work what we’ve been able to do in the land commissioner’s office. In my first term, the first thing we did when we took office was go to the legislature and get them to pass some bills for us that allowed us to go to online redemption to allow people to pay for their property online and pay with a credit or debit card.” 

Previous to that, landowners would have to travel to land commission office in Little Rock to take care of business. For someone in Pulaski County, that may not seem like a big deal. For someone coming from upstate in Washington County or Chicot County in the far southeast corner, the roundtrip drive and visitation could be an all-day hassle, not to mention the fuel cost.

“The second thing we did was to improve the process of purchasing property from the land commissioner’s office. We deal with tax-delinquent real estate.”  

Land explained the lengthy process that takes four years or more between the County and his office in sending out notices on delinquent property. If the taxes are not paid, the land goes up for auction.

“We have an auction in every county, every year. Property that doesn’t sell at that live auction is still in our office and still for sale. That’s called post-auction sales. Last year, in July 2021, we started an online auction for everything that is in post-auction sales. We have thousands of parcels in post-auction sales. 

“I believe that property does not need to be in the hands of the State of Arkansas,” Land said. “It needs to be in the hands of the public. We want to give folks the opportunity to research the property and determine if that’s the kind of property they want to purchase. If it is, we give them an avenue to purchase that property.”

Land estimates that in the past 12 months, the online sales have collected $3 million. The taxes and interest collected does not stay with the state. It is returned to the county where the property was purchased.

“Eighty percent of every county’s budget is k-12 education. The money we collect goes back to your county—helps pay for k-12 education, helps pay for the sheriff’s departments, county roads—whatever services the county provides. We’re very proud of the fact we’re helping counties get by.”

For more details on the land commissioner office and the post-auction sales, visit to download the property list and watch tutorials on how the process works. 

The office is also doing what is called e-Recording. Arkansas is only the third state to use the process, which saves paper, postage and time when it comes to processing deeds between property owners, circuit clerks and the land commissioner office. Land stated that his office processes somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 thousand deeds per year. The electronic transfer of deeds makes it more efficient and will save the land commissioner office a lot of money. 

Timewise, a deed moves out of the office in a day or two instead of 30 days, which makes it handy for the title companies, and buyers, to complete closing on property.

Land also believes that when it comes to budgets, his office will be cutting 10% of their budget. That includes moving to regional auctions vs. the county-by-county auctions, saving time and expenses on travel, lodging, fuel, etc.

Land is also the chairman of the Arkansas Natural Resources Committee, not to be confused with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC). The Committee oversees the mineral interests that belong to the state of Arkansas. They, along with other bodies, such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, will look at contracts requesting rights to mine and determine whether they will allow mining or not depending on the environmental impact, for example, that the process may have on our natural resources.

Lowery provided some background about his 10 years in the Arkansas legislature, including his main background in education, teaching at the higher-ed level at UCA. One of the committees he served on as a state representative was the House Education Committee. 

He has also been chairman of the House Insurance & Commerce Committee. That committee oversees almost everything relating to financial issues, overseeing, and regulating utilities, banking, real estate, insurance policy for example. 

Lowery said, “I’ve had a great opportunity in that capacity to be involved with issues of finance.”

Lowery also has a prior background to being an executive director for the Arkansas National Association of Insurance Advisors. “I’ve been very critically involved in insurance issues and financial management. I don’t have a background in accounting or finance.”  

That doesn’t deter Lowery from attempting to get to the root of the problems. “If you check my record, at all, you’ll see I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions.”

Education is a good example. He saw that no progress was being made at having more students at reading at grade level. Many superintendents gave the excuse for the numbers being so low was a lack of education funds. Lowery began digging and asked how much money were Arkansas schools sitting on. The amount is astounding.

“We have to fund education before we fund anything else. Even if we have a deep recession, education would still be funded. Why do superintendents have to sit on so much money in net balances? I found out that number statewide was $790 million in 2017 that superintendents were just sitting on.

“When I started asking, ‘Why is it so high?’ They said, ‘We’re saving up for building programs.’ Then I found out there’s a separate fund balance called a construction fund balance, which was another $800 million. So, Arkansas school districts with superintendents who say they are impoverished, were sitting on $1.6 billion.

“We passed a law in 2017 that set a cap on how much an Arkansas school district can keep in net fund balances…it was set at 20% of their annual revenues.

“When we passed that bill in 2017 and started implementing in 2018… we gave Arkansas school districts five years to spend down to that 20%. …Now that law has been in implementation the past four years, the last I heard was that $1.6 billion cumulative has grown to over $2.2 billion. It’s gone the wrong direction. 

“We have administrators, not just in school districts, but in government, who have figured out how to game the system—how to take legislation that legislators have worked hard on and agonized over, and say, ‘How can I do a work around?’ 

“We’ve got to cut those loopholes out. We’ve got to identify those who are not willing to work with us, in making sure that the laws of the state of Arkansas are followed correctly, and the policy I believe Arkansans are wanting us to carry out. …”

“That’s just an example. I think I’m going to bring that same level of inquisitiveness and not accepting the story or excuse of ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’”

Lowery spoke positively of the job current State Treasurer Dennis Milligan has done and the positive financial condition Arkansas is in thanks to state investments. Still, Lowery believes there are other things to do to keep more money in the pockets of Arkansans instead of having a huge surplus at the end of a fiscal year.

He spoke about investment groups such as BlackRock, which are ESG investment groups. According to Lowery, ESG investment groups don’t invest in companies that might be a gun manufacturer, dependent upon fossil fuels and other factors he believes are not a sound consideration when it comes to investing. ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance.

“Two things I have learned in the short time I have run for treasurer or since I won the primary… I understand the key to investing for the state of Arkansas… is that the investment has to be safe, and it has to be liquid. You want a decent return on investment but return on investment can’t be the number one criteria. We have to make sure we have safe investments.”

Lowery also spoke about interacting with voters and discussing tax policy; his upcoming meeting with Tennessee’s State Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. and, in part discussing how our neighboring state makes things work with no state income tax, an important subject on the list for Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she wins the governor’s race; looking to cut his staff of 34 by 15% or so.

Following the luncheon, Land and Lowery proceeded to the fair to shake hands and meet constituents.

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