10 questions with Rep. David Ray
5 min read

10 questions with Rep. David Ray

Apr 5
5 min read

OA: To get us started, tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background, family, and “real job”?

Rep. David Ray: I live in Maumelle with my wife and two children. My wife and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have a 6 year old daughter and a 4 year old son that are our pride and joy.  

I grew up in west Tennessee, but moved to Arkansas to go to college here. After I finished school, I spent several years working to elect Republicans in states all across the country. I managed two campaigns for Congress, one for Attorney General, and worked on a couple of U.S. Senate races. I moved back to Arkansas in 2013 after I got married, and I’ve been here ever since. I worked for the Republican Party of Arkansas, was Senator Tom Cotton’s communications director on the 2014 Senate campaign, and was the state director of Americans for Prosperity Arkansas for a few years. Immediately before I ran for the legislature, I was Chief of Staff to (at the time) Lt. Governor Tim Griffin from 2017-2020. These were all unconventional jobs, but they were great experiences. It gave me the experience of handling multi-million dollar budgets, hiring dozens of employees, and leading people towards a common goal. 

Outside of the legislature, I still work with Republican candidates and organizations as a consultant. I managed Attorney General Tim Griffin’s successful campaign in 2022 and continue to help a number of other conservative clients. I’ve also begun trying my hand at managing rental property the past few years. So far it’s going well. 

OA: What inspired you to run for office?

Rep. Ray: I’ve basically devoted my entire adult life to working to elect conservative candidates to office and enact conservative policies. But until recently, I’d been content to do this through working for other candidates. I never envisioned being a candidate myself. But I became very frustrated in 2019 when our legislature (with Republican supermajorities) passed almost half a dozen different tax increases in a single legislative session. I thought if I could get elected, I could push back against this sort of behavior. And while I’m not trying to claim the credit, I am proud to say we haven’t raised any taxes in the four years I’ve been in the legislature.  

OA: How did the 2023 legislative session compare to past sessions you’ve been a part of and how would you grade it on a scale of 1-10?

Rep. Ray: There’s probably never going to be a 10/10 legislative session, but this one was pretty close. We enacted historic education reform that delivered universal school choice, passed a once-in-a-generation parole reform package, and continued cutting income taxes for hardworking Arkansans. There were dozens of smaller policy wins along the way, but on the top line level, I think we’ll still be feeling the positive impacts of what we did in the 2023 session decades from now. The legislature got behind the Governor’s leadership on these topics, and I think it’s fair to say we accomplished more major conservative reform in the 2023 session than we had in the previous 8 years combined. I’d give it a 9/10 or higher.

OA: What would you say was the biggest highlight of this session and the biggest disappointment, if any?

Rep. Ray: Passage of the LEARNS Act was the highlight of the session for me. Giving parents (rather than the government) the ability to choose where and how their children are educated is a total game-changer for the future of our state. We had tried and (mostly) failed to expand school choice for years and years. Governor Sanders’ leadership on this was instrumental – I don’t think we could have done it without her leadership, and obviously Sen. Breanne Davis and Rep. Keith Brooks deserve a ton of credit as well for leading the charge in their respective chambers.

As far as disappointments, it’s hard to be too upset with how things turned out. If I were nitpicking, I’d say that while we held budget increases well below the pace of inflation, I think we’re going to have to start seriously finding more areas we can save money in state government in the near future. Even with Republicans in control of state government, the urge to spend too much money has to be resisted.

OA: You championed special election reform this session, which has been a passion project of yours for some time (HB1510). How does it feel to finally have that long-standing problem fixed and do you anticipate wanting to make more reforms to local elections in the future?

Rep. Ray: This is something conservatives have been trying to achieve for over a decade, and we finally broke through and got it done. Forcing local ballot questions (such as sales and property tax increases) to be held on regular and consistent dates will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in relatively short order. 

I think the next big step in this fight for taxpayers is to try and get something resembling a “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” similar to Colorado’s TABOR law. I’ll be talking more about that as we approach the 2025 session.

OA: You also worked on legislation that allows voters to have a say before being subjected to advertising and promotion taxes (HB1027). What brought this issue to your attention? What do you hope will look different for Arkansans in light of this legislation?

Rep. Ray: I live in Maumelle, which thankfully does not have an A&P tax (commonly called the “hamburger tax”), but some in our city tried to pass one back in 2017. I went to the City Council meeting and spoke against it – not as an elected official, but just as a citizen activist. Thankfully, the Council decided against it. That was when I realized that unlike virtually every other local tax, this one did not require voter approval. I think it’s fair that if you’re asking citizens to pay higher taxes, they should get to sign off on it at the ballot box. That’s what motivated me to pass this bill.

As most Arkansans know, we already have the 3rd highest combined state and local sales tax burden in the nation. And A&P taxes drive those taxes even higher on things like overnight lodging and prepared food at restaurants. Especially in this environment, the last thing we need to do to people is put higher taxes on their food. 

OA: You have been an outspoken supporter of education freedom and the LEARNS Act. What impact do you think education reform will have on the future of Arkansas?

Rep. Ray: It’s a total game-changer. First of all, parents should be in charge of where and how their children are educated – that’s called freedom. Secondly, the healthy competition that results from giving people the freedom to choose will force all schools to improve – both public and private. Third, not all kids learn the same and they sometimes need different educational environments. This legislation is literally going to change the trajectory of students’ lives in the State of Arkansas. I’m thrilled that I got to play a small role in helping pass this law for Arkansas families and children.

OA: The next legislative session isn’t until 2025. A lot can change before then, but looking ahead, what do you think the focus of that next session should be?

Rep. Ray: We have to keep the ball rolling on income tax relief. There are already people saying that we’ve done enough, and now that our income tax rates don’t stick out like a sore thumb, we should turn our attention to other issues. I’m fine addressing other issues, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can’t let up on tax relief because other states are constantly improving and becoming more competitive. In the world of economic competitiveness, you’re either improving or you’re falling behind. There’s really no such thing as standing still because other states are constantly trying to gain an edge. In the words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” 

OA: What feedback are you getting from your constituents about the 2023 session?

Rep. Ray: I think most people are able to discern between the good work we’re doing in Arkansas and the nonsense that’s going on in Washington, D.C. with the Biden administration – and polling I’ve seen also suggests that is true. Normal people are pissed off that the federal government has made their lives more expensive and put the American Dream further out of reach. Their reckless policies have driven up the cost of groceries, housing, and fuel. But in Arkansas we’ve put money back in people’s pockets through lower taxes, worked to make their communities safer, and put parents in control of their kids’ education. I love telling people about that contrast. 

OA: You’ve also been an outspoken supporter of eliminating our state income tax; a lot of people say it can’t be done. What say you?

Rep. Ray: I’m really not all that interested in the people who say we can’t. I’m more interested in working with the people who agree we can do it. This is a long-term goal, but if we continue to pursue it aggressively each time our revenue situation gives us an opportunity to lower our rates, we’ll find ourselves within striking distance of zero state income tax somewhere between 12-16 years from now. The keys will be (1) keeping spending growth in check, (2) lowering rates every time revenues and economic growth will allow us to, and (3) reforming state government in ways that save money and return those savings to the taxpayers.

This article is part of a series of interviews with Opportunity Arkansas award winners about the historic 2023 legislative session and what's ahead. To read more stories in this series, click the hashtag below.

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