Transcript of Rodney Govens interview with Roby Brock on 11-19-23

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity’s sake. The complete unedited transcript is available on YouTube.

Roby Brock: We are back with Rodney Govens. He is a Democratic candidate for Arkansas’ 1st Congressional district. Good to see you. 

Rodney Govens: Nice to be here. 

Roby Brock: Thank you for being here. Are you ready for this race? I mean come on, you’ve got about close to a year of non-stop eating catfish and uh drinking a lot of sweet tea? 

Rodney Govens: So the beautiful thing is, I’m from the South, from the Southeastern Conference, so sweet tea goes without saying — that’s going to be at my house anyway. And I love catfish, so I think I’m ready, I’m built for this well. 

Roby Brock: And the 1st District’s got a lot of good fresh vegetables too so you’ll probably get full on those at a lot of campaign stops. Tell people who don’t know anything about you a little bit about your background. You have served your country, and you have been a big advocate in the foster care system… so tell me a little bit about what drove you to (enter) this race and just some of your biography. 

Rodney Govens: I served in the United States Army, I joined when I was 17 years old, I’m a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, I was there from 2003 to 2004. 

Roby Brock: What did you do when you were there? 

Rodney Govens: Communications. I was in the Signal Corps, so whether it was satellite communications or whether it was line of sight, or whether it was just holding some radios and making sure that we could make some phone calls out — just multifaceted… 

Roby Brock: How old were you when you were there serving? 

Rodney Govens: I was 18 years old when we first went over there (to Iraq) and I was 19 when we got back. It was an eye-opening experience and it really kind of led me down the pathway of empathy. As I saw, and as I know and learned throughout my entire life, there’s no winners when there’s a war. Nobody wins. That kind of shaped me, and I got to see a lot of the orphans during that time, and me being a former foster child was always something that you know kind of tugged at my heart. 

So I got involved in the foster care space, volunteering through the Court Appointed Special Advocates in Arkansas — shouts out to Grand Prairie CASA, the greatest job I’ve never gotten paid for — and I represent foster kids and their best interests in court and on a daily basis. I love my kids and can’t quit on them.

Roby Brock: How many kids do you kind of mentor or oversee in this process? 

Rodney Govens:  I used to have six cases with 18 kids. Now I’m down to three cases right now with three kids. 

Roby Brock: So do they age out, or do you find homes for them? 

Rodney Govens: My goodness, Roby, so … I don’t know if people are particularly aware of the statistics, but once you turn 13 years old, the chances of adoption plummet well below 10%. So those are the kids that they love to give me (to mentor and advocate for). 

Being a former teenager in foster care I kind of understand the anger and can really bond with them a little bit better. We prepare them on the pathway of either adoption or aging out — and aging out, that’s tough. 

Roby Brock: Something triggered within you to make you want to run for Congress. Did you run for state representative previously? 

Rodney Govens: I did, I ran for state representative before the redistricting house for House District 44, (against) incumbent Cameron Cooper. I got absolutely mollywomped. 

Roby Brock: But you liked the political process and you see the opportunity to affect change, I would presume? 

Rodney Govens: When I talk to people, there is not a Republican or Democrat issue, there is not a black and white issue. There are issues (common to all residents across Arkansas) and there’s a lack of representation. There’s not a single person that I’ve met campaigning so far that doesn’t agree with the issues that we all face. Farmers struggling, the foster care system, the economy, the Buffalo National River — all these issues we can all agree on.

We don’t have the proper representation talking to us; they don’t come home. So that’s when I knew, I live here, this is my home, I’m always coming home, so I might as well start representing the people. 

Roby Brock: Tell me what some of the other issues are; we talked about foster care, that’s obviously going to be something that happens at the state level though there are some federal opportunities there too. But beyond that, let’s talk about what Congress does spend a lot of time focusing on: Defense, foreign policy, the Farm Bill is another big one. And what are some issues that you’re hearing from the voters that you’re talking to? 

Rodney Govens: Well, Roby, one of the biggest issues comes from infrastructure. So one of the best things that I think any recent leader has done is the infrastructure bill that was passed with Joe Biden’s leadership. Because the Infrastructure Bill covers not just bridges and roads but also broadband infrastructure. Having worked in the internet service providing business for 20 years, I know a little something about internet and how important it is. 

When you look at the way that the process took, where you’ve got the federal dollars for the infrastructure, but they’re controlled kind of at the state level, then you’ve got competing companies (to get those jobs). Everybody wants to go and expand their network, but where was the focus at? Everybody wanted to go to Beebe and Searcy and Little Rock and Fayetteville, but nobody wanted to go install broadband in Eudora (population 1,730, in Chicot County in far southeast Arkansas). Nobody wanted to go to Humnoke (population 284, in Lonoke County). I was happy to be a part of a company, Swyft Connect, that went to those areas, and right now you can get faster, more reliable, and better internet in Humnoke, Arkansas, than you can in parts of Little Rock. There are more Eudoras and Humnokes out there (than big cities), so we need to have a little bit more focus there (in the rural areas of Arkansas).

Roby Brock: What’s happening in Washington DC particularly these last couple of months um I described it earlier  in the show as it’s been a little bit of a circus in Washington DC. It has been that way for many, many years — I just want to preface that: Nobody rides that Bronco very smoothly it seems. How would you be different than current leadership — how would you approach the leadership positions that have been at the center of a lot of the controversy in the House of Representatives? Would you be consider crossing the aisle and doing something in a bipartisan manner?

Rodney Govens: I’m never going to shy away from reaching across the aisle when it comes to leadership. I’ve had many leaders throughout my career — whether that was in the telecom space (working for) Time Warner Cable and EarthLink or whether that was in the United States Army — great leaders that I’ve served under have always come back and listened to their people. They’ve talked through things; we didn’t always have to agree but we knew that our leader cared about us, and I don’t get that feeling out of this leadership group in Washington right now. 

We’ve got to get past this, you know, ‘same clown car, different driver’ mentality.

Roby Brock: I am sensing from your answer here that your criticism of Representative Rick Crawford, the incumbent that you’ll be running against, is that he does not come home into the district as much as you would if you were elected. What would be your M.O. if you were elected to Congress? How often would you be back? … How would you do things differently? 

Rodney Govens: There comes a time when you’ve got to go to work, and then when you’re done with work — just like every other Arkansan here — you go home. Washington is work. You’ve got to come home, and part of coming home is doing your part and talking to your people. 

I had the pleasure of going to Jonesboro recently for the Veterans Day parade; both me and my opponent Rick Crawford are veterans. I served from 2003 to 2004; I believe he served from somewhere in the ‘80s, that’s great. Here’s the difference: Rick Crawford participated in the parade, waving his hand, parading his truck (with a sign) “Elect Rick Crawford.” He has every right to do so. He also was scheduled to give opening comments at the ceremony (honoring local veterans) after the parade, and he never showed up. That is indicative of the very issue that I … bring up. The issue at hand is we don’t have the proper representation, we don’t have somebody who cares about real issues affecting real Arkansans and everyday people — and that’s exactly what I’m bringing to the table. 

Roby Brock: All right. I don’t have to tell you that being a Democrat in Arkansas has been a liability the last couple of cycles; you’re going to be tied to President Biden and some of his policies you’ve mentioned — infrastructure is one that you’re very supportive of — but you know, you’ll get tied to the effect of Joe Biden on the economy. I could make some arguments the economy is doing pretty well, and I could also point to some places where it’s not. In about 60 seconds or so, how do you combat the separating yourself from national Democratic Party leadership, or do you embrace it? 

Rodney Govens: First, let me say I am running as a Democrat, but more importantly I’m running as a regular individual from the 1st Congressional District. There is no Republican or Democrat (constituent). There is no black, white. There is no other kind of way to segregate it out; there is (simply) great people in the 1st Congressional District I want to represent and work for.

You may disagree on Social Security spending, and that’s fine, but the one thing that we can all agree on is we’ve got some representation issues and we need to go ahead and fix those. With Joe Biden, I think his leadership has been pretty great, but no leader is without criticism, and I have mine. 

Watch the full interview below:

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