June 1, 2024

By Delta Informer Executive Editor Wesley Brown – May 15, 2022 – As the 2022 political season gets jump-started with the May 24 Democratic and Republican primaries, keeping up with the Jones will be on a lot of people’s minds in the Pine Bluff region.

In a twist that takes causes some heads to turn in both Democratic and Republican circles, Pine Bluff natives and brothers Chris and Leon Jones Jr. are running for the state’s two highest offices and seeking to make history on several fronts – albeit on different party tickets. On June 15, 2021, the younger Chris Jones kicked off his candidacy as the Democratic Party’s leading candidate and fundraiser and the first Black aspirant for chief executive at the State Capitol.

By now, his bio is well-known. Over a year ago, the younger Jones resigned from his role as executive director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. An expatriate Arkansan, Jones also was formerly executive director of the community development nonprofit the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston and formerly a principal at Newark, N.J.-based BCT Partners, where he led executive on numerous multimillion-dollar federal projects.

After graduating from Watson Chapel High School in Pine Bluff in 1995, Jones attended Morehouse College in Atlanta on a full scholarship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He later earned his bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics.

“The last few years have shown how much political division can tear us apart. The reality of this moment in our nation’s history is that if we want our politics to be different, we have to be different. Other candidates may try to divide us in this election. But I’m not running for governor to fight a culture war or to go on cable news. I’m here to bring Arkansans back together with a campaign that brings out our best,” Jones said nearly a year ago after announcing his decision to run for public office for the very first time.

Although he has more political bona fides as the former director of the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission and the state’s first Black agency director of the Arkansas Department of Labor under Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Jones is running in the GOP primary against Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. A past congressman, Griffin dropped out of the race for governor and put in a bid for the AG’s post after fellow Republican and the former spokeswoman of ex-President Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sander, decided to run for the state’s highest office.

Jones Jr., 50, was one of the earliest candidates to announce plans to run for statewide office on March 6, 2021. The GOP primary winner will face off against Democrat Jesse Gibson and write-in candidate Gerhard Langguth in the fall election. The eventual winner will replace current AG Officeholder Leslie Rutledge, who is term-limited and running for the Lt. Gov’s seat after saying earlier that the part-time job was not a future consideration.

If either or both are elected, the Jones siblings would ascend to the highest level in Arkansas state government by an African American in either party.

Also, the Jones brothers are making history as the first two Black candidates to make a primary run for the state’s two highest elected offices. In Arkansas, there have never been two Black candidates, much less two brothers, running for the state’s highest elected or congressional offices. Gov. Hutchinson and his brother, Tim Hutchinson, ran and won for respective congressional and Senate seats in Northwest Arkansas in 1996.

Nationally, although there have been several cases of brothers or siblings running on the same ticket for top state or congressional officers, such as the Hutchinson, Kennedy, and Rockefeller families, there have never been two Black brothers or siblings running for top state or congressional offices at the same time, according to congressional archives.

In addition, the Jones brothers’ candidacy would also make history by having two siblings competing for top elected offices from different parties. Leon Jones is a longtime Republican appointed by Gov. Hutchinson to lead the state Department of Labor in 2015, the first Black person to lead this cabinet-level agency in its 100-year history. Four years later, Hutchinson appointed his former aide as executive director of the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission. Jones resigned from that post earlier this year to announce his run for attorney general.

The younger Jones is a longtime Democrat who had close ties to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick during his nearly 20-year stint in the Boston area. Patrick was the history-making first Black governor of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015.

Either way, if the Jones brothers end up in the Democratic and Republican primaries leading up to the November 2022 election, both will uphill battles in their races. First, the winners of any Democratic primary will still face insurmountable odds to win any high-level office in Arkansas, where Republicans hold every elected state and congressional office and enjoy a supermajority in the state House and Senate.

Although Chris is considered the top challenger for the upcoming Democratic primary against four opponents with little or no funds raised, he will likely face a Pro-Trump, MAGA-inspired Sanders with a campaign budget that has already set all-time state records on every level.

According to monthly campaign filings with the Arkansas Secretary of State office, Sanders spent more than $834,000 in March and reported having nearly $7.4 million on hand. Since she launched her campaign in early 2021, the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has raised more than $14 million, an all-time record for a governor’s race in the state. Sanders’s lone primary challenger is former local conservative radio host Francis “Doc” Washburn, a late March entry into the gubernatorial race.

Among Democrats, Jones has raised over $1.5 million since jumping in the race last June. More recently, Jones raised more than $120,000 in March and spent more than $213,000. Following a 75-county traipse this spring to touch every corner of the Natural State, Jones budget coffers have seen a huge decline with less than $100,000 in campaign funds on hand.

Still, the Pine Bluff-borne nuclear scientist still has a huge cash lead on the primary competitors, which includes businesswoman Supha Xayprasith-Mays, Little Rock native James “Rus” Russell, former state Rep. Jay Martin of North Little Rock, and Anthony Bland, another Hot Springs-based Black candidate who ran for Lt. Governor in 2018. None of those candidates have raised any significant funds for the race and all have less than $15,000 on hand, mostly from personal contributions.

In Leon’s case, after pulling out of the governor’s race and announcing he was not running for the AG’s position over a year ago, Griffin already has key endorsements from top Trump officials and has raised over $575,000.

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