Senate District 33,
Two experienced, well-known and formidable black female politicians are opponents here. Sen. Irma Hunter Brown, 69, of Little Rock, seeks re-election in a majority-black district that contains white enclaves such as the Hillcrest neighborhood. She’s challenged by former state Rep. Joyce Elliott, 57, of Little Rock.
Both candidates are former school teachers, and both cite education legislation they’ve sponsored. Brown has the endorsement of the Arkansas Education Association, the schoolteachers union, but Elliott and the AEA haven’t been close since she helped try to found a rival teachers union some years back. Elliott was chairman of the House Education Committee when she was term-limited out of the legislature. Brown is currently chairman of the Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committee and the Black Legislative Caucus.
Aside from the AEA, it’s Elliott who has the labor-union endorsements — machinists, communications workers, et al. Without the unions, Elliott says, she couldn’t stay close to the “special-interest” financial support that Brown receives. Elliott also gets contributions from prominent white liberals. She’ll carry Hillcrest.
Brown’s big contributors include nursing homes, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Coca Cola, the Isle of Capri casino in Lula, Miss., the Arkansas Wine and Spirits PAC, fellow senators like Denny Altes of Fort Smith and Randy Laverty of Jasper, and fellow members of the black political establishment.
Brown, who served 18 years in the House before she was elected to the Senate, boasts of her role in legislation such as the “28 and out” retirement bill for teachers, and the cut in the sales tax on groceries. She says she doesn’t mention her opponent while campaigning.
Recalling her six years in the House, Elliott talks about higher salaries for teachers, a colorectal screening program at UAMS, and keeping the Little Rock city buses running on Sunday. She tells voters “I am an unapologetic advocate of people, not special interests.”