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Mayor Ray Bowman: Civic Duty and Working Together, Arkansas

As told by Mayor Ray Bowman
Little Rock, Arkansas

Story Narrative:

A man with brown hair and suit and tie on sits in a black leather chair.

Between December 2019 and January 2020 (just weeks before the pandemic), Smithsonian staff and their storytelling partners at the Peale, Baltimore, traveled to multiple states in the U.S. to ask residents of those states about voting experiences, the current state of American democracy, what issues brought them to the polls, how they made a difference in their communities, and what Americans' civic responsibilities were, among other complex questions.

Mayor Ray Bowman (00:00): One thing I think is very important is people's civic responsibility on the democratic process. One of the things we talked about after we got ready for election is it would be a low key election, shoe leather type election. No signs, no advertising. And so for the first time I got out and seen my neighbor, a lot of them, went door to door. V connects people I hadn't seen in 20 years, and he gave us something new to talk about. We had a common cause. And after we got our first census, we had a population of 2,257. During the incorporation period, there was a time where we could not bring in everybody that wanted to be in because of state law and proximity of their address.

(00:45): So we decided to do a land annexation, and that is a majority of the landowners and a majority of the acreage. And it just affects the people that's in that annexed area. There's no vote by anybody else. And so that gives us a chance and the people that live in that area, they wanted to carry that, that's also a petition. They carried it around, they had to sign off on the property, had the land description, the map they wanted to be... It was going to be annexed in. And it took several months to get that to come together. But it gave the people there the chance to get involved and to voice their concerns about, "Well, here's what I like about the possibility here. What I like about being left alone." I mean, it is a big deal if you've been in a county residence your whole life, when you're signed up to come into a new city, it's something to think about, and I could understand that.

(01:32): And so we promised we'd do everything we could to leave it as much like what they had as possible. We had a great workout with the county already. They already did a great job for their trash. And we had our own water department, sewer department, so we didn't have to do a whole lot of stuff that a lot of new cities would have to. Had a great volunteer fire departments in the area, so that was taken care of. So by going door to door, we talked to them. One night I got a call from one of the volunteers. They said, "We've got about 52%." I said, "That's not enough. Let's go for more." And so when it's all said and done, we had 62% of the people and 64% of the land are wanting, and vice versa, we owed 60%. But it give everybody a chance to take their time and think about what they were doing.

(02:15): And then after the election was all over and all that got come in, we had an local agreement with the county. We pay them so much to do their trash and their police and they take care of... They have everything they had before and the county doesn't lose what they were getting and we don't have to take care of it. They get what they had before. But the fact that you go out and you talk to your neighbor, that's very important democracy. If you just wait to be filtered, it gets filtered out otherwise. People will tell you stuff face to face they won't tell you over the phone or they won't come to the meeting and tell you anything. That's how you find out what's going on.

Asset ID: 2023.02.12.c-d
Themes: Elections, Civic Duty, Campaigning, Civic Responsibility, Neighbors, Annexation, Local Government, Democracy, Mapping, Land Use
Date recorded: December 4, 2019
Length of recording: 0:02:52
Related traveling exhibition: Voices and Votes: Democracy in America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Arkansas Humanities Council, Little Rock
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