PERSEVERANCE – LINDA COLLINS
By David Ferguson
It has been almost three months since Linda Collins was found murdered. I attended her funeral but it is still hard to accept my friend is gone. I keep expecting a call or text saying, “I will be passing through town. Would you and Susan like to meet me for a late supper.”
Some people have a few good friends, other people tend to have lots of casual acquaintances, but Linda had lots of close friends who she cared about very much. She made us all feel special …. because to her, we were special.
I met Linda when she was elected as a state Representative in 2010. I was the director of the Bureau of Legislative Research and was introducing myself to the new legislators. She was from my home area and we quickly became friends. She went by Linda Collins-Smith back then but after her divorce she dropped the hyphened part.
In the decades I worked for the legislature I met a lot of good people. But no other legislator can compare to her for her dedication to keeping her promises.
It is not unusual for a conservative politician to identify as pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values, for limited government, and for lower taxes. But identifying as a conservative and voting conservative are two different things. Some politicians merely say those things to get elected. Others want to vote conservative but have a hard time keeping campaign promises. There is tremendous pressure from influential politicians who want them to water down their promises for political reasons and big businesses that push them to get them a bigger slice of the government pie. The pressure is great – greater than most people realize.
Hands down, Linda was the strongest example I have ever seen of a politician committed to keeping her promises in the face of the Goliaths who stand in the way insisting “be pragmatic”. (“Pragmatic” can be a code word meaning conservatives shouldn’t keep their promises and instead join the liberal big government crowd.) Above all Linda was a Christian and was always guided by her belief.
She enjoyed being in the legislature, but she would not fall in line with leaders in order to have a smooth path to reelection. Reelection always took a back seat, and the establishment types of both parties made her pay for not getting in line.
If you are a fat cat who prefers to elect a chameleon who will pay you back for your support by helping you get a bigger slice of the government pie, then Linda was not for you.
Linda infuriated many politicians because in seeing her promise-keeping they saw what they were not.
Even if you are a liberal who opposed every bill she supported, Linda is still an example of the strength and dedication you would hope for in a politician representing your views.
I want to tell you about a few political struggles Linda took on. I hope it will help you see her uncommon dedication to principle. In telling about these struggles you will see that she found herself having to fight first Democrat leaders and then Republican leaders.
Some who read this will find themselves aligned not with Linda but with Democrats or with “pragmatic” or left leaning Republicans. If so, that is okay, because my point here is not to criticize her opponents. Instead, the point here is to help you see that Linda meant what she said, said what she meant, and gave it 100%.
Big Tent Party
Linda was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 as a Democrat. Linda was about as far removed from being a Democrat as a person could be. So, why did she run as one?
For decades the Arkansas Democrat Party sold itself to voters as the “Big Tent Party,” meaning it welcomed both liberals and conservatives as candidates and as voters. It had a monopoly on politics. Even in 2010, many Arkansas Democrats still called their party the Big Tent Party. That idea was strong in Pocahontas where Linda lived and in most of northeast Arkansas. Nearly all politicians in that area still ran as Democrats even though many considered themselves to be conservative.
What Linda and the voters didn’t realize was, the political atmosphere in Little Rock had changed. In Little Rock, conservative Democrats were expected to get in line and support some liberal policies and big government expenditures when Democrat leaders told them it was an important vote.
Yet as a state Representative, Linda didn’t get in line. Instead she followed up on her promises by supporting legislation that was pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values, anti-tax increase, and pro-smaller government.
I don’t recall which of her votes was the final straw, but she said after one vote in 2011 she was surrounded by leaders of the House of Representatives who angrily INSTRUCTED her she would NOT cross leadership again and WOULD fall in line.
Linda was shocked and hurt by the men who towered over her. “They talked to me like a dog,” she said.
Bullies (Democrat and Republican) would sometimes make her cry but she would not be bullied. Her tears were not a sign that she would tuck tail and run. Instead, with her tears she would get bowed up and all the more determined to do what she believed to be right. Powerful politicians were just not as important to her as her promises and not as important as the people back home.
Realizing the “Big Tent Party” no longer existed, Linda switched parties and became a Republican. Becoming a Republican was no trivial matter back then. The Republican Party was still the minority party in Arkansas and the voters in northeast Arkansas had a consistent record of electing Democrats to the legislature.
She switched despite it being a hard thing to do politically. The voters would either agree with her move or not, and so be it, because it had to be done.
She switched because the Republican principles had been her principles all along. These are those principles as stated in the Arkansas Republican Party Platform.
- The power of faith in God
- The sanctity of life
- Individual responsibility and initiative
- Individual freedom and liberty secured by a limited government
- Private property
- Lower taxes to produce economic growth
- Strong national defense
- The personal right to own and bear arms
- The equal and just enforcement of the law
- Separate and equal branches of government
Democrat Governor Takes Her Out
Her switch to the Republican Party came at a vulnerable time. It happened while Governor Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and Secretary of State Mark Martin were redrawing the districts of the House of Representatives and Senate. Beebe and McDaniel were Democrats which meant they could ignore Republican Mark Martin and draw the districts to suit themselves.
The House district where she lived was drawn so the Democrats could eliminate at least one Republican from the House of Representatives. They put Linda and another Republican incumbent, Lorie Benedict, in the same district. Linda refused to run against Lorie. After all Lorie had run as a Republican in 2010 and Linda had not. Lorie ran for reelection to the House but the new boundaries put the voter strength on the opposite end of the district and she lost to Democrat Scott Baltz.
As for Linda, she made the decision to run for the Arkansas Senate. Political observers saw it as an uphill battle. The biggest population area in the Senate district was on the opposite end of the district in Independence County where Senator David Wyatt, the popular Democratic incumbent, lived. Linda did very well, but lost the election 51.2% to 48.8%.
Distractions And 2014 Run
Linda got another opportunity to run for the senate two years later in 2014 because following reapportionment Senator Wyatt drew a two-year term. Linda announced as a candidate again. Wyatt did not run for reelection and Linda faced another Independence County resident and sitting state Representative James McLean.
People associated with her campaign were worried Linda was spending too much time out of the district and that she needed to focus only on her race. She had been so close in 2012.
What was she doing? She was taking some of her campaign time to promote the Republican Party across the state. She also took time to recruit Republican candidates for other offices, helped other Republican candidates get organized, and made speeches to fire up Republican women in other areas of the state. She was basically a Republican evangelist and her work helped add to the number of Republicans elected in 2014.
Her work outside her district didn’t mean she was taking her race lightly. She worked hard on her campaign while also managing her business. She spent long hours every day working as hard as she could. Friends got text messages from her at all hours, “Can you talk?”
Linda won the election.
Being Part Of The Republican Party But Still Ruffling Feathers
Not only did the Republicans go into 2015 having a majority of the House and Senate, they also took the Governor’s office. Linda was excited about being part of a Republican majority and about working with a Republican Governor. But it didn’t take long for Linda to find herself on the opposite side of the Governor and his two Senator nephews.
RPA Principle – “Lower taxes to produce economic growth”
The phone rang. It was Linda, “I messed up. What can I do?”
Earlier in the day the Senate had traveled to attend the funeral of a former senator. Senate leaders told the Senators when they got back to Little Rock they would finish the day considering a few noncontroversial bills. One of those noncontroversial bills was the Governor’s income tax cut for middle income taxpayers.
During consideration of supposed noncontroversial bills, she voted for the middle income tax cut bill not realizing it had just been amended to add a section the Governor wanted. To make up some of the revenue that would be lost from the tax cut, the new section took away a capital gains tax cut passed by Republicans just two years earlier and had just become effective that month. Had she realized the “noncontroversial” agenda included this controversial tax increase she would not have voted for it.
Linda was so embarrassed she took the unusual step of making a motion to recall the bill from the House of Representative so the Senate could redo the vote. Her motion failed and her move embarrassed and upset big government politicians. Just a few days had passed since the beginning of the legislative session and Linda was already known as not a “team player” by those who wanted to advance anything on the Governor’s agenda.
In 2017 helping some veterans by exempting military retirement pay from the state income tax was on everyone’s list, but the approaches were different. The Governor proposed raising several taxes to at least offset the revenue the state would lose from exempting military retirement pay. Linda opposed the tax increases and wanted the state to absorb the tax cut into the budget since tax revenues were growing and she thought little effort had been made to curb state spending. Even the military retirees would have part of their tax cut taken away by the new taxes included in the bill.
She compared the Governor’s version to leaving a man behind because although military retirees would get a benefit, veterans without military retirement would only get higher taxes.
Video of the debate shows the Governor’s nephew, Senator Jim Hendren attacking Linda personally by questioning her support for the military because she opposed the plan. She called me just a few minutes later. I think she called to vent and calm down before she was scheduled to do a radio interview. With her voice cracking she said, “He talked down to me like a dog.” I immediately remembered the other time I heard her use that phrase. It was when Democrat leadership surrounded her and chewed her out. Now it was a Republican leader. Just as with the Democrats, the result was the same – she bowed up and was more determined than ever to stand for her principles.
There were other tax increases that she also voted against such as the Governors special tire tax on mounting new or used tires. It must have been very frustrating to leaders that she wouldn’t break her promises and get in line.
RPA Principles – “Individual freedom and liberty secured by a limited government” & “Individual responsibility and initiative”
In her 2014 campaign for the Senate, Linda had promised to work for repeal of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in Arkansas, now called Arkansas Works, which despite work related requirements primarily applies to able bodied working age adults who do not work.
Everyone knew her pledge. It had even been posted on a large billboard on the highway in Southside as you approached Batesville. She viewed the program as draining Arkansas funds that she thought could be better used helping needy citizens such as our disabled citizens or in addressing other urgent needs.
Again, her pledge put her at odds with Governor Hutchinson who championed the program. In 2016, she and some other Senators vowed to block funding for the Obamacare program. The administration responded by claiming that she and the other senators would be responsible for the loss of the federal funds going into the program and would cause drastic budget cuts all throughout the state budget. A list of claimed cuts was circulated and included everything from health care to schools. It was pain point politics but the Batesville Guard newspaper eagerly attacked Linda based on the outlandish list.
A few senators backed down but Linda wasn’t one of them. The Governor got the funding continued but only after he went to the unusual step of telling legislators to let the restriction against Obamacare funding to be added to the budget bill because he would then veto the restriction.
The Batesville Guard article was widely read and assumed to be true by uninformed readers. It weakened her support in the Batesville area, and it may have been the moment it was decided to find an opponent to take her out in the next election.
RPA Principles – “The personal right to own and bear arms”
In 2017, Representative Charlie Collins had a simple but controversial bill. Some college employees were concerned college campuses being gun free zones made them and their students vulnerable to attack by crazy people. They wanted a bill to allow them to defend themselves and their students by allowing college employees to carry a concealed handgun on campus, if the employee had a concealed handgun license. Governor Hutchinson opposed the bill saying the current law was sufficient, which in practice meant the employees would not be able to carry. The law said a college could authorize employees to carry concealed but since colleges are generally liberal no college allowed it.
Representative Charlie Collins’ bill sailed through the House but the Governor’s nephew Senator Jeremy Hutchinson was the chair of the Judiciary Committee where it would be considered. Senator Hutchinson blocked the bill from being considered when there appeared to be enough votes to pass the bill in committee. Linda’s name was added as a cosponsor of the bill by amendment, but Senator Hutchinson had other amendments adding many restrictions, limitations, and requirements that Linda opposed. The restrictions appeared to be intended to weaken support for the bill, or if it passed, ensure that few employees would ever take advantage of it.
Linda led the charge against the amendments rallying Arkansas gun rights advocates. She made an urgent call to Fox News contributor and Arkansas businesswoman Jan Morgan saying she needed her help and Morgan became a powerful ally in the heated debates that lasted days.
The NRA sent out an email alert to members saying Linda had proposed an amendment to make the bill a straightforward gun rights bill and urged its members to support her amendment. But then the NRA quickly reversed course and dropped support for Linda’s amendment to take a deal from the administration to keep the heavy restrictions in exchange for broadening who could carry and where. The bill passed, still with Linda’s name on it but not with her vote.
During the bill signing ceremony the Governor announced he would be pushing for another bill to be quickly passed to add more limitations on where the new law would apply. The NRA called Linda for help to stop the new bill. She thought they had a lot of gall after the NRA betrayed her and gun rights advocates.
Linda served on the Arkansas Ethics Commission before seeking political office. She knew the importance of ethics in government.
The open secret in the legislature was that some legislators were representing clients in legislative matters, especially Senator Jeremy Hutchinson who as a lawyer gained clients who just happened to benefit from his representing their interests in state government. In 2017 Linda filed a bill to prohibit attorney-legislators and consultant-legislators from representing clients before the legislature. The bill failed.
It should be noted that Linda and one other senator filed ethics bills that year and both were targeted and defeated in the Republican primary.
It should also be noted that earlier this year Senator Jeremy Hutchinson pled guilty to accepting bribes to influence legislation. Linda did not live long enough to see that.
Perfect Storm Leads To Defeat
Sticking to her promises put her in conflict with the agenda of the Governor and his Senator nephews. Everyone knew this meant she would get an opponent in the 2018 Republican primary.
Her 2018 campaign got off to a very late start. Meanwhile her opponent was busy and his campaign signs were showing up attached to Governor Hutchinson signs throughout the district.
Pocahontas had suffered from a flood in 2017 and instead of preparing for her campaign Linda stayed busy trying to assist everyone to get the help they needed during the long recovery. Helping others is just what she did. I can’t count the times I would get a call from her seeking advice on how to help someone she thought had been treated wrongly by a state agency. She never just went through the motions of appearing to help. She always worked as hard as she could for them no matter how much time and effort it took.
A much bigger distraction was that her marriage was falling apart.
If the distractions had not been there would it have made any difference in her race? Maybe not. Big money interests had been pushed to line up against her.
During the campaign, she went to a function, I think a charitable auction, where her opponent spoke. Next some other local officials spoke and then it was her turn. But for some reason she didn’t want to embarrass her opponent, who sat not far away, so she never mentioned him by name. Afterwards people came up to her wishing her luck and wondering who her opponent was. Her troubles had made her more soft-hearted than a campaign required.
She lost the primary 5,309 to 4,735. It was essentially the second time a governor had taken her out.
It Is Not Over Until It Is Over
Often when a legislator is defeated for reelection, the outgoing politician will attend a few meetings basically to say goodbye to friends and then fade away. Linda did not fade away. Not only did Linda continue to attend meetings, she worked as hard as she could. One of the issues she continued to work on was exposing problems in the operation of child protective services and its willingness to take a child away despite the child’s relatives wanting custody.
I think the thing she was most proud of from her time in the legislature was her votes for pro-life bills. Many times, when she talked about abortion her emotions would get the best of her and out would come a deep sigh, “Oh, the babies.”
She was proud of times where she was able to convince liberal Democrats to support one of her bills and proud when she was able to get citizens involved in the political process.
2019 – Working Hard As Ever
She seemed to work harder than ever after she was out of office. She had more energy than I had seen in a long time. I’m not sure what all she was working on but she was still attending meetings and promoting causes. She continued her work advocating for grandparents who wanted to adopt their grandchildren but were not allowed to by the state.
Linda was murdered in her own home – stabbed to death. The who and why remains a mystery to me, even though someone has been charged. I just hope justice will be done.
Linda was not the only politician I know who was willing to take the consequences for standing up for principles. I witnessed politicians on both the left and right do that. What was different about Linda was that she was willing to do that over and over again.
A few days ago, I saw a full parking lot where I was told the banquet of the Spring River Friends of the NRA was being held. The organization raises money for shooting sports. Linda co-founded the organization. I think the fruits of her work will show up in many places.
I also hope people will remember Linda for her friendship, her faith, her devotion to family, and for being a person who put principles above political expediency.