State Representative Lindsley Smith is the type of legislator who stops her fellow lawmakers in the halls of the capitol to say hello, but on this particular day January 29, she stops people to say, “Happy Thomas Paine day!”
Aside from being an ardent supporter of the political writer (just ask, and she will quote his famous American Crisis pamphlet), she has also authored a bill for this legislative session that would establish a memorial day for Paine. If passed, the act would not create a legal holiday but would issue a commemorative proclamation by the Governor.
Though the measure passed in the House, it has met opposition and is currently stalled in a Senate committee after some lawmakers questioned Paine’s merit based on his religious beliefs.
As a legislator, Smith, who represents the area surrounding the university, has built a reputation for taking on unpopular causes.
“The first bill I ever filed was a workers compensation bill. It was like stepping on an ant pile,” she said with a quick laugh.
During that same session, she was approached about sponsoring a bill that would add sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act, a cause that no other legislator was willing to adopt, she said.
“Without a thought or a pause, I said, ‘I’ll take it,'” Smith recalled. “There was no way to get it out of that committee…but we had 200 people show up for that hearing, and I think it was really good to have these thoughts at the capitol expressed.”
Smith resists defining her sponsored legislation as unpopular but rather as, “bills that tend to become controversial for reasons that they should never be controversial.”
So, does that make going down to Little Rock an uphill battle?
“No, I like the fact that you can bring a bill before a committee, and you could take the day or you might not take the day, but at least your voice will be heard that day,” Smith said.
Hearing Smith talk about legislation, it’s difficult to not get swept up in her enthusiasm. She speaks with the type of Southern accent that gives Fayetteville a “vuhl” ending, and her speech is animated with an abundance of hand gestures. She often punctuates the end of her explanations with a quick pause and a broad smile.
The bills that she is sponsoring this session run the legislative gamut from an act concerning physician kickbacks to a bill about the selection process for vacant city council seats.
One piece of legislation would alter tax exemption rules. Currently, manufacturers are exempt from paying taxes on packaging materials, but Smith’s bill would only allow the exemption if the packaging material was recyclable and biodegradable.
It would be good public policy, Smith said, for manufacturers to only get the tax perk “if they were good stewards of the environment.”
Smith said her sundry list of legislative topics “come from the people.” And because Fayetteville is one of the most diverse areas in Arkansas, she gets many diverse recommendations for legislation, she said. She currently has seven bills filed, and more on the way.
Smith has lived in Fayetteville since 1992, and aside from serving in the legislature, she is a Research Assistant Professor of Communications at the UA. She has recently had an article published in the American Communication Journal.
She has been elected as district 92’s representative three times, and because of term limits, this session will be her last.
More from Lindsley Smith:
Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to?
Lindsley Smith: I like several types of music, from Ennio Morricone to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
FF: When it comes to voting on legislation, how do you decide?
LS: I look at them with an eye of both the state as a whole and my constituency of how would they decide, and then make the call.
FF: If you were showing someone who was unfamiliar with Fayetteville around town, where would you go?
LS: I would start at our home off Dickson Street and walk them up Lafayette Street to the University and first take them in Carnall Hall and show them the wonderful pictures on the wall and the well-done restoration and then take them up the sidewalk where the oldest part of senior walk is located and tell them about that tradition and take them into Old Main where I would show them Giffels Auditorium and the marvelous stenciling and beauty of that auditorium and show them the old bell. I would then take them to Mullin’s Library to show them it and take them into the basement to show them the Special Collections Department and the great items showcased there. We would make the loop around the University to the Union and then circle around to Kimpel Hall where I would show them where I teach, and then down Dickson Street. I would take them into Sidney’s Emporium at the old movie theatre where they could purchase some great tie-dye items and then check out the window displays at Underwood Jewelry. I’d point out all the shops and highlight those for visiting during their stay, show off the Walton Arts Center and point out where a large cowboy used to grace a store front, run in Rogers Rec for a game of pool, then hang at Dickson Street Bookshop for a while, and then make our way up Dickson showing off restaurants, Doe’s over here, Emilia’s over there, Joses here, 36 Club there, etc. and over toward the square, but first stopping in Hugo’s for a sandwich and fries. Then the square, down past Gaylord’s and to the wonderful Blair Library where I would show them around, including the marvelous sitting area upstairs under the ceiling that parallels the design of an open book. I would then take them to rent a bike, and I would grab mine, and we would head off on the great Fayetteville trails.
State Representative Lindsley Smith on the House floor.