Michael Wendel of Conway has informed the Arkansas Times that he will run as a Democrat for state representative in District 70, which includes parts of Faulkner and Perry counties. Wendel is a political newcomer who said that he was galvanized by the 2016 election.

The District 70 seat has been held by Republican Rep. David Meeks since 2011. Meeks is not seeking re-election. Spencer Hawks, a Faulkner County Justice of the Peace, is running as a Republican.


Billy Fleming, in a column this week for the Arkansas Times, projected that ten districts that lacked a declared Democratic candidate were flippable for the Dems according to a statistical model he used. District 70 was one of those; with Wendel’s entry, make that nine. (Wendel cited Fleming’s column on his campaign’s Facebook page: “This is why we need more individuals to step up. We can’t win if we don’t try.”)

Wendel, 30, a lifelong resident of Conway, graduated from UCA with a degree in business and has worked as a corporate recruiter for a technology company for the last seven years.


After 2016, when Meeks ran unopposed, Wendel said, “It became clear that people needed to step up. Not having a candidate on the ballot to challenge someone is ridiculous.” 

Wendel, whose district is represented in the state senate by Jason Rapert, said, “The people in my area have been underserved for quite some time by representatives who feel the need to escalate things to a point that is not helpful to the people they represent. Representatives who are focused on national politics as opposed to getting with their local constituents and hitting the issues that matter and things that are going to effect the day-to-day lives of the people they are elected to represent.” 


Wendel said that his campaign would focus on “the people who have been left behind.” He cited poverty, debt-free college education, and access to health coverage as key issues. He said that he supports “Medicare for all” as a long-term national goal, “but here in Arkansas, we can start with just not kicking people off their health care.” He criticized Governor Hutchinson’s efforts to reduce eligibility and add various requirements for beneficiaries in the Medicaid program: “They’re getting targeted every year, every year just chipping away a little more. … If we can get more people covered, it lowers costs for hospitals, it helps hospitals stay open, and it helps people come out of poverty.”

Can a progressive candidate like Wendel win in District 70, which has become heavily associated with the Tea Party and where Meeks cruised to a 13-point win in 2014 before running unopposed in 2016?

“I believe so,” Wendel said. “Ultimately you’re looking at working class people, people who are hurting. They’re worried about health care, they’re worried about their children being able to afford college. I think a Democrat can win if they’re willing to get out and talk to people about issues that matter.”

Wendel said the lesson from Democrats’ success in Virginia was to focus on local issues rather than trying to turn Trump into a bogeyman. “The lesson is, don’t take the book of 2008 and 2010 where the Tea Party ran on Obama Obama Obama — don’t make your campaign about Trump Trump Trump,” Wendel said. “You can speak on those issues, but taking that bait just polarizes people. I don’t want to alienate people who might have voted for Trump because they felt disenfranchised or felt like Trump would give them something they had been lacking. If we focus on the people of Faulkner and Perry County, I believe we can win.”   


Wendel said that the campaign’s website is still in the works but the campaign has a Facebook page and Twitter account. His CrowdPac page went live yesterday.

Here’s more from Wendel, from the CrowdPac page:

I often get asked “why” I am running for office. To be brief, its because of people like my mom. She was a hard worker who never let her children go without. My mom didn’t have a voice when I was a child, she suffered in silence like so many do. I want to be that voice for the individuals who have been left behind in our society. The families who struggle to pay their bills, the students who work multiple jobs just to afford a college education. I love my community and I know there is so much more we can do to make it more inclusive, and an even better place to call home.

I am glad to call Arkansas home but there are many areas where we are failing. We rank among the highest for poverty, we have a legislature that continues to actively chip away at healthcare for thousands of Arkansans. We must step up and be willing to fight for the individuals who don’t have a voice, the individuals who are neglected in our society because they don’t have special interest money. This is a fight for the State and Community we want our children to live in.