Jared Henderson, a Democratic candidate for governor of Arkansas, visited Jefferson County on Monday, April 2, to make the political rounds and attend a “Meet the Candidate” that night.

Henderson spoke with residents, elected leaders and community leaders, answering questions and expressing his views on different topics. Henderson is one of several running for the state’s top executive job.

Republican incumbent Gov. Asa Hutchinson is facing Jan Morgan in the Republican primary. Henderson will face Leticia Sanders in the Democratic primary. The winners of both primaries, which will be held on May 22, will face each other, along with Libertarian Mark West, in November.

When asked his thoughts about the decline in population in Southeast Arkansas, Henderson explained that because he has worked in the area for the past six years, he is passionate about the region and believes that there is incredible talent here.

“There are a couple of things I think can better our communities and the first is public education,” Henderson said. “How do we make the teaching profession more attractive in how we pay them, treat them, and celebrate them? I think that needs to be our central focus.”

The Pine Bluff metropolitan area saw the biggest decrease in population in the state from 2010-17, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the Pine Bluff metropolitan area, 1,633 more people left the city over the last year than moved to it, the bureau said. The number of births slightly outpaced the number of deaths in 2017, and slightly more migrants moved into the area than left, the bureau said.

According to statistics, Pine Bluff’s metro area was down from 100,093 residents in 2010 to 90,963 in 2017. The census statistics did not break down the numbers for the City of Pine Bluff, only the metropolitan area, which is made up of Jefferson, Cleveland and Lincoln counties.

Henderson focused on entrepreneurship as it pertains to job creation.

“Every city that I’ve been in, I’ve met people that have the talent, energy, and courage to start their own business, but they usually need more access to capital and healthcare,” he said.

When asked how he thought the current medical marijuana issues could have been handled better, he said, “We need greater transparency from the start and a greater sense of urgency.”

Henderson noted that although voters approved the measure in 2016, there is still no medical marijuana available. He said there are countless patients suffering because they don’t have access to the medical marijuana treatment.

“It needs to be an urgent matter,” he said. “We will get it done fast, and we will get it done transparently.”

A Little Rock circuit judge last week declared the state’s decision to issue its first licenses to grow medical marijuana, and the ranking of 95 applicants for the cultivation permits, null and void after ruling the licensing process violated the 2016 voter-approved amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The decision, which the state is appealing to the Arkansas Supreme Court, has left in limbo what was going to be the first medical marijuana program in the Bible Belt.

When asked his thoughts about the casino ballot measures that may be part of the November election, Henderson said that casinos could be a good source of revenue if the money is used to invest in education and infrastructure.

“If that does not happen, the negatives begin to outweigh the positives when it comes to casinos,” said Henderson.

Arkansas Wins in 2018 Inc. filed paperwork last week with the Arkansas Ethics Commission to campaign for a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos at specifically designated locations in Benton, Boone, Miller and Pulaski counties. The proposal was filed with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.

It’s the second effort to put expanded gambling before voters this fall. Another group, Driving Arkansas Forward, is trying to put a separate proposal on the November ballot that would legalize casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties, while allowing casinos at the Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs and at the Southland greyhound track in West Memphis. Both tracks already offer electronic “games of skill.”

The attorney general must sign off on a proposed constitutional amendment’s language before supporters can begin gathering the thousands of signatures needed from registered voters to qualify for the November ballot. So far, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has turned down ballot wording on the Driving Arkansas Forward initiative.

On the subject of school shootings, Henderson said that unlike some in his party, he doesn’t “think that we need to revisit the second amendment to know that it doesn’t make sense to arm teachers. We’ve already asked teachers to be social workers, parents, and nurses. Asking them to be armed guards doesn’t make sense.”

He said that having resource officers in schools could be a constructive solution, but arming teachers is not the answer.

After attending Arkansas public schools his entire childhood, Henderson graduated from the University of Arkansas with bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Physics. He later attended Harvard Business School where he earned a master’s in Business Administration. He simultaneously studied under full scholarship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where he earned a second master’s degree in Public Administration.

According to his website, in 2001 and 2002, Henderson worked as a research scientist and operations manager at NASA, where he was formally recognized for his leadership. After NASA, he joined the world’s top business strategy firm, McKinsey & Company. He was the first person ever to be offered a job at McKinsey while still a student at the University of Arkansas. At McKinsey, he worked alongside Fortune 500 executives in multiple industries, a state superintendent of education, and supported mayors of two of America’s largest cities during the Great Recession.

For the last six years, Henderson’s career has focused on public education. As an executive director and senior vice president of a national non-profit, Henderson had responsibility for more than 1,500 teachers and 150 employees.

For two years, Henderson served as managing director of ForwARd Arkansas, working alongside dozens of Arkansans to develop a statewide vision for the future of public education. The vision and more than 90 supporting recommendations were approved unanimously by the State Board of Education in 2015.