Brian Chilson

When the 2023 Arkansas legislative session comes to an end, can we all agree to give Rep. Tippi McCullough of Little Rock a few weeks to just ride her bike, read some good books and maybe hide out in a cabin somewhere? The job of keeping House Democrats organized and not demoralized in the face of an insurmountable Republican supermajority would be tough for anyone. An introvert who’s happy to talk with the press and show up to all the mix-and-mingles as long as she gets to occasionally recharge, McCullough is likely in the market for some down time.



When did you first get elected? And what does being the House minority leader entail?


I got elected in 2018, and this is my second time as House minority leader. In some ways, my job is the same as the other representatives. We get together and talk about bills and whip votes if we’re trying to get together on something. We meet pretty much daily.

And I end up talking to the press quite a bit as a spokesperson for the party.


Part of it’s organization, part of it’s political, part of it’s media-related. My role is just for someone to hold us together as much as possible.


What are the Democrats’ goals this year? We’ve known since early on the agenda set out by the governor, with education and public safety and taxes. We’re huge public ed supporters, and our goal, even as far back as the special session [in 2022] has been the RAISE act, with teacher and staff raises. We feel like those are clean bills for one purpose and with no strings attached.

We want a healthier, safer, fairer, brighter Arkansas. Anything we do, it’s to achieve those goals. Whether it’s teacher raises, or Ashley Hudson’s bill to help pregnant teenagers finish school, or Deborah Ferguson’s constitutional amendment to repeal the abortion ban, or Andrew Collins’ election bills, that’s what we’re doing.



What’s a typical day for a state representative? My day starts the night before. When I get home, I look at the calendars for the next day, all the committees and agendas, not just my own. I’ll formulate some questions and talking points.

Between morning meetings and afternoons, groups come in for lunches and presentations, and we have receptions with different groups in the early evenings. So I usually get home around 6-ish and unwind for just a second or two and then get right to working again.

Last night I was at the Capitol later doing a podcast, “The Girl and the Gov,” that’s trying to get young women interested in government and politics.

It’s a really high-energy day where you can feel pulled in a lot of directions. It never becomes easy, but there’s a rhythm to it that you learn.


That unwind time you mentioned, what does that look like? I eat dinner with Barb. [McCullough’s wife, Barb Mariani, is a Pulaski County prosecutor.] Sometimes I’ll ask her about bills she might know about. We discuss our days.

Last weekend, when we got done Thursday we went out of town. Barb had a bike race, and I was going to have some quiet time to read and catch up on calls and texts.

And I read every night before I go to bed.


Does being the only openly gay member of the Arkansas Legislature create extra responsibilities for you? I’m a caucus of one in that respect. But I represent 30,000 people in my district. A certain number of those are members of the LGBTQ community and a certain number of those are allies, but I’ve got all kinds of people and I try to represent all of them. And of course I do feel that I’m a voice and a representative for the LGBTQ community. I’m a lesbian out of those letters, but I’m not trans, I’m not bisexual, so I have to listen a lot to those voices and try to stand up for them.


How could your constituents be more helpful or effective? I want them to know me and reach out to me. … And come up to the Capitol! This should be a place where everybody feels comfortable and everybody understands how it works. When I walk in there, I feel like I did when I walked into Central High School in my teaching career, just in awe of that history. I feel the same when I walk into the Capitol. In the end, my time here will come and go, but it’s always going to be the people’s house.


How do you stay level-headed when you’re dealing with emotional issues and lack of understanding?

My teaching and coaching career prepared me, in a lot of ways, for this. When you’re a coach you develop thick skin pretty quickly or you get destroyed by it. You have to lay your head down every night knowing you’re fighting for the right things and the right values.

We try to concentrate on the bill, and not to be personal.

Sometimes people are doing things because that’s what they believe. Sometimes it’s for constituents, sometimes it’s political. I try to not be too judgmental, I try to listen and not close the door on people. … It’s not always easy. I just found out I’m better off if I listen more than I talk.


Some good books she’s read lately: “These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett, “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, “Dopesick” by Beth Macy, “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver, “Lost  & Found” by Kathryn Schulz


Movie recommendation: 

“Women Talking”


Favorite wheels: We mountain bike a ton, and road bike. I just got an electric mountain bike and I can keep up with Barb on that.


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