- - Monday, March 20, 2023

Arkansas’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the country’s youngest serving governor and her state’s first female governor, has wasted no time attracting the national spotlight. As a predominantly rural state, Arkansas is usually not thought of as a trendsetter — but Mrs. Sanders has heads turning to see what policies she’ll enact next.

Best known for her nearly two-year role as White House press secretary in the Trump administration, Mrs. Sanders has proved a strong, determined leader – and not one to back down in the face of pressure.

Facing a daily all-out assault by the left-wing media on everything then-President Donald Trump said or did, Mrs. Sanders stood her ground on the podium with guts and grit. Her resolve and sharp intellect consistently had the media on their heels. Mrs. Sanders proved herself up to one of the toughest jobs in America, gaining the respect of conservatives and even some of her political opponents.

Following in the footsteps of her father, Mike Huckabee, Mrs. Sanders sought the helm of Arkansas’ statehouse. She won the gubernatorial race by a landslide margin — nearly 28 percentage points.

Her political campaign was not her only challenge. In early September, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer; she had surgery to remove her thyroid gland and is now cancer-free. For some, the diagnoses might have resulted in discouragement or even caused them to abandon their campaign. But for Mrs. Sanders, it was only the latest opportunity to display her unwavering faith in God’s grace and resolve in the face of challenges.

Her credibility and respect among fellow Republicans were rewarded when Mrs. Sanders — less than one month from being sworn in as Arkansas’ 47th governor — was given the opportunity to deliver the rebuttal to President Biden’s Feb. 7 State of the Union address.

And deliver it she did. Despite her relatively young age and only a few weeks in office, Mrs. Sanders delivered what has been described as the best State of the Union rebuttal speech on record.

There were many powerful lines, but chief among them was the one that contrasted herself with President Biden: “President Biden and I don’t have a lot in common. I’m for freedom, he’s for government control. At 40, I’m the youngest governor in the country, and at 80, he’s the oldest president in American history. I’m the first woman to lead my state, and he’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is.”

She continued: “The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy.”

These words undoubtedly resonated with everyday Americans who have watched the radical left seek to defy the biological reality of the male and female sexes, strip the speech rights of law-abiding citizens while ignoring crime and violence, promoted an increasingly hysterical climate change narrative, advanced socialistic economic policies that are wreaking havoc on the economy, opened our borders to uncontrolled illegal immigration, and endorsed a weak and ineffective foreign policy that is leaving our country vulnerable to foreign attack.

Near the end of the speech, Mrs. Sanders announced that her LEARNS Act would be unveiled the following day. She described the education package as “the most far-reaching, bold, conservative education reform in the country,” one that “empowers parents with real choices, improves literacy and career readiness, and helps put a good teacher in every classroom by increasing their starting salary from one of the lowest to one of the highest in the nation.”

Countering what is being forced upon children by the entrenched, union-dominated, K-12 education establishment across the nation, Mrs. Sanders ended with an important commitment: “We will educate — not indoctrinate — our kids and put students on a path to success.”

While she has hit the ground running on many policy fronts, her most impressive early policy victory has been the LEARNS Act. As described by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, the act “simultaneously expands educational choice while providing district-run public schools with new flexibility and resources to help them compete for students.”

Less than two months after being sworn in and just one month after introducing her LEARNS Act legislation, on March 8, she signed the act into law. With the action, Arkansas became the fourth state — joining Arizona, Iowa and Utah — to pass universal education savings accounts, or ESAs, in the nation.

Come summer, a significant percentage of Arkansas students — including all incoming kindergartners and all students “with disabilities, homeless students, children in foster care, the children of active-duty military personnel, students assigned to low-performing district schools, or children enrolled in one of Arkansas’s other school choice programs” — will be eligible for an ESA. Parents will be able to allocate the ESA amount of $6,600 to the educational avenue and expenses of their choosing. With the three-year phase-in, by 2025, 100% of Arkansas students will be eligible for an ESA.

This go-getter governor is getting stuff done. And it doesn’t appear that she’ll be letting up anytime soon. More challenges, naysayers and opposition will inevitably come. But her track record so far suggests that her guts, grit and grace will continue to guide her as she works for the good of the people of Arkansas.

• Keri D. Ingraham is a fellow at the Discovery Institute, director of the American Center for Transforming Education, and a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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