On the last day of May, Paul Spencer, a local grassroots activist and teacher at Catholic High School for Boys, filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee to run as the Democratic challenger against Republican incumbent French Hill for Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District. When he’s not teaching history or government classes, Spencer spends time at his home in Scott where he runs a small pecan farm and apiary with his wife and three sons.
Below is our Q&A with Spencer where he explained his thoughts on Citizens United, the American Health Care Act, and the "political stunts" of State Senator Jason Rapert.
THV11: What has compelled you to consider a run for Arkansas’s Second Congressional seat?
Paul Spencer: Our current representation favors special interests at the expense of the needs of Arkansans. This insult was most recently on display with the vulgar celebration of the American Health Care Act’s passage in the Rose Garden followed by the weakening of consumer protections in last week’s repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act. Arkansans deserve representation that works for all people, not just a few.
I am also greatly troubled that the recent and unprecedented assaults on the basic institutions of our democracy such as a free press, balance of powers, judicial oversight, and the rule of law are being met with passive complacency by our entire Arkansas congressional delegation.
THV11: What about your background separates you from other potential candidates such as Republican incumbent French Hill or challenger Natashia Burch Hulsey?
Spencer: I was born and raised in a small steel town in the upper Ohio Valley, which by the time I reached adulthood, had lost more than half of its population and most of its industry. My father was a mechanic; my mother was a part time bank teller. My formative years were shaped by the poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity I saw around me in a dying steel town and the seemingly futile effort to become upwardly mobile. I was lucky to be blessed with the gift of musical ability that eventually gave me the opportunity to travel throughout the country and perform work that was meaningful to me.
Later, I found interest in History and Anthropology and worked my way through college, graduating from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio in 1999. I met my wife at the college, and after we married, we moved back to her hometown of Little Rock in 1999.
I find great satisfaction in my work as an educator at Catholic High School, sharing my knowledge and experience of America’s story along with the struggles of her people with young students, many of whom would not otherwise have insight into this facet of American life. I would say that my background makes me identify primarily with struggling families in the Second District that are similar to the ones with which I grew up.
THV11: What if any adjustments do you think should be made regarding campaign finance policy? If you were to run, would you accept any Political Action Committee (PAC) funds?
Spencer: I think the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allowed unlimited outside spending in political campaigns, drowns out the voices of real people and was wrongly decided. The idea that campaign contributions are considered political speech and consequently protected by the First Amendment has inflicted incredible damage to our democracy. Also, the idea that corporations are people and should have the same political speech rights as actual citizens is an affront to human dignity and our electoral system, which rests upon the ability of human persons to direct their political destiny.
If elected, my first act would be to co-sponsor the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution calling for the end of corporate personhood, which allows for unlimited special interest campaign spending.
I would not accept PAC or special interest money. By accepting only individual contributions, the struggles and the advancement of the people of the Second District would be my singular focus.
THV11: Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Do you support the American Health Care Act? Which aspects of the nation’s current health care policy do you feel are nonnegotiable?
Spencer: While the ACA (Obamacare) was a good first step towards providing health care for all citizens, seven years of institutionalized Republican obstructionism ultimately rendered it incapable of keeping that health care affordable.
However, the recently passed American Health Care Act only makes the situation worse. The plan will likely leave 23 million citizens without health care and end Medicaid expansion programs like Arkansas Works. To even call it a “health care plan” is insulting to the millions that would be harmed by rising premiums and the cuts to benefits. The bill also would allow states to deny coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions or force them to pay more. It is irresponsible and impractical to corral all Arkansans with an existing illness into an unaffordable high-risk pool.
The AHCA also gives over $275 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, while simultaneously leaving our most vulnerable citizens--children, seniors, veterans, and the disabled--subject to bankruptcy, untreated illness, and preventable deaths.
My faith compels me to honor the intrinsic dignity of every person and to recognize health care as a human right that should be guaranteed to every citizen. For that reason, I believe that the United States should finally join every other industrialized nation in the world and institute a Medicare For All national health program. Other countries spend significantly less on health care per person than we do, while also enjoying a two to three year longer life expectancy simply by having organized preventative care and universal coverage. It is only lack of political will that has prevented Americans from the same level of health that every other developed country takes for granted.
THV11: This legislative session saw two resolutions calling for amendments to the United States Constitution. The first, which was approved by Governor Asa Hutchinson, asked for a national “right to life” law, and the second, which failed after the session adjourned, sought to define “marriage” to be exclusively between a man and a woman. Where do you stand on these social issues?
Spencer: These were both political stunts introduced by State Senator Jason Rapert. Both amendments are efforts to divide us along party lines and only serve to distract from real economic issues that affect Arkansans on every range of the political spectrum.
If a lawmaker is truly opposed to abortion, they would also oppose circumstances that give rise to increased abortions, such as poverty or lack of resources.
I do not and would not have supported any ban on same-sex marriage, as the 14th Amendment and the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling provides all citizens equal protection under the law. Neither we, nor the Arkansas General Assembly, are at liberty to pick and choose groups to exclude from that protection.
THV11: President Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Do you support that decision? Do you think climate change is to some extent caused by human activity?
Spencer: President Trump had an obligation to offer up an alternative plan or timeline if he deemed the Paris Climate Accord not appropriate for the United States. To withdraw our nation from the 195-nation accord without a coherent plan to fight climate change is negligent and should not be supported.
Human activity directly contributes to the planet’s changing climate, and we owe it to our future generations to alter our energy consumption. This process should begin with the wealthiest citizens on the planet, who produce over half of the climate-harming fossil fuel emissions.
THV11: The Russia investigation has dwarfed much of the legislative action in Washington. Do you support the decision to appoint a Special Counsel to look into any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign?
Spencer: I support the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a Special Counsel. It is imperative that the outcome of this investigation be accepted as legitimate by the American people.
However, we must also not allow this process to consume all of our attention. While the media will undoubtedly turn the ongoing investigation into a circus, our representatives must exercise prudent impartiality in this matter while simultaneously upholding their commitment to the real issues that citizens of Arkansas and the Second District face every day.
Last Tuesday, we posted our Q&A with Independent Natashia Burch Hulsey. You can read her answers by clicking here.
We have reached out to Representative French Hill for a Q&A session. We will publish his answers once we receive them.