Arkansas Republican who wanted to suspend funds to libraries suing state confirmed to library board

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, presides over a Senate committee at the state Capitol on March 14, 2018, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

A former Arkansas lawmaker who has proposed suspending funding to libraries suing the state over restrictions on materials was confirmed by the Senate Monday to a spot on the state library board.

The majority-Republican Senate confirmed by a 22-10 vote former Sen. Jason Rapert’s appointment to the board, which administers state and federal funds to libraries around the state. Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month named Rapert to the panel.

During his time in the Legislature, Rapert sponsored multiple abortion restrictions and was the lead sponsor of a measure allowing a Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. Rapert is also the president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, a group that has advocated for abortion bans and restrictions on transgender youth.

Rapert’s appointment places an outspoken conservative on the panel at a time when libraries are facing increased challenges from Republican lawmakers to limit access to materials that include sex or LGBTQ+ themes.

“Appointing Jason Rapert to the state library board is like igniting a fire for the libraries in the center of the culture war in Arkansas,” Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker said after the vote. “I just don’t understand that.”

A federal judge earlier this year blocked the state from enforcing a new law would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing what it considered “harmful” materials to minors. A coalition that included the Central Arkansas Library System is challenging the law.

Rapert has said he wants the board to consider suspending funds to any libraries that sue the state.

“It is a bit difficult when you have one of those libraries or multiple libraries turning around and suing the state of Arkansas trying to overturn a law that was duly passed by the state Legislature and signed by the governor of the state of Arkansas,” Rapert said.

Sanders’ office said the governor was pleased with Rapert’s confirmation.

“Part of the stated responsibilities of the Board is to provide effective leadership to improve public libraries, which the Governor believes her appointees will do by working to protect and educate kids, not indoctrinate them,” Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning said.

Rapert’s appointment was confirmed without any debate on the floor, with all six Senate Democrats and four Republicans opposing him.

“He’s a little bit too radical for me, has too many things to say,” Republican Sen. Jane English, who voted against him, said after the vote.

Rapert was the only appointment the 35-member Senate voted on separately after approving dozens of other appointees to state boards and commissions. Those included Shari Bales, who Sanders named to another spot on the board.

Rapert’s appointment to the board ends October 18, 2029.