HAWLEY WOODS: With her daughter Elizabeth. Justin Rucker

It has been a good couple of weeks for Democrats and progressives in Arkansas. Fifteen thousand people traveled from around the state to hear Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak at Verizon Arena on a weeknight. Denise Ennett won the runoff in the District 36 special election, bringing the number of Democratic women in the Arkansas House to nine and the number of total women in the legislature to an all time high. Walmart announced the end of handgun ammunition sales and requested customers not open carry in stores. Kroger, Walgreens and CVS soon followed with their own similar open carry policy announcements. William Hanson announced his candidacy in the Fourth Congressional District. And, to the relief of many, Republican Sen. Trent Garner will face an opponent in 2020. Two Democrats, attorney Keidra Burrell and former lawmaker Garry Smith, have both announced plans to run in District 27.

In Northwest Arkansas, women continue to step up. Last week, Rep. Denise Garner (D-Fayetteville) kicked off her re-election campaign to a full house, Rep. Megan Godfrey (D-Springdale) and Rep. Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) both have re-election events this week, and several other women have announced for area races, including Celeste Williams for the congressional seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Steve Womack.

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A new candidate I’m thrilled to see is Hawley Woods, who is running for House District 88, a seat currently held by Rep. Clint Penzo, a Republican realtor from Tontitown.

Woods points out in her campaign announcement and campaign video that her background is not like other candidates’ backgrounds. That is the very reason many women I’ve heard from are excited about seeing her run. The things that set Woods apart from those who, until recently, traditionally ran for office are actually the things she has in common with many working parents in Arkansas. The 37-year-old recent college graduate is a single mother, a small business owner, a breast cancer survivor and a Type 1 Diabetic. She was profiled in the Arkansas Times‘ 2017 cover story ARkids turns 20″ where she described having to deal with Medicaid glitches and how hard it is to get ahead while losing services.

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I recently visited with Woods to get her take on Womack’s bonehead comments about single parents and mass shootings, the frustrations she’s faced navigating the health care system, and what more women in the legislature of both parties can accomplish together.

Woods says every elected representative needs to know that “the epidemic of gun violence is multi-faceted.” She points out that every affluent nation is similar in that every single one “deals with mental health issues, plays violent video games and has single parent households,” but we are the only one with regular mass shootings.

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“Preventing gun violence is a nonpartisan issue. Republican voters want us to act, and Democratic voters want us to act. We know that there are steps we can take to reduce gun violence, including background checks on every single gun sale, disarming domestic abusers and passing red flag laws that will remove guns from people found to be a danger to themselves or others. The vast majority of Americans agree on these issues.”

As to possible fixes necessary to make our health care system easier to navigate, Woods expresses her frustrations that the system feels like it sets users up for failure. She describes having to travel to multiple locations for documentation, needing access to a printer and being at the mercy of people who may not return signed documents back by a deadline. She points out she is lucky because she has a car, internet access and the flexibility in her work schedule to stay on top of things. Woods points out “a lot of people don’t, and it’s often those people in the margins who need care the most.”

“The communication, by mail, in person at the county office and by phone, is extremely difficult to navigate. It takes hours to accomplish small tasks, and the red tape takes you away from work, school and your family. Keeping fraudulent activity at a minimum has to be a huge priority, but the requirements are overly burdensome and there is room to streamline the process. We can simplify it and make the process of getting care more accessible. We all agree that Arkansans should be able to get the help they need, when they need it.”

Woods wants the women and mothers in the legislature to take the lead on issues like breast and reproductive health, access to pre-natal care, universal childcare, access to pre-K, recognition of the disparity in pay for women and career readiness for those who are unable to complete high school. She is particularly interested in bringing her experience as a single mother to Little Rock.

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“It’s really important to have the voices of single mothers, a group that has often been left out of politics. We know the world in a different way. Single mothers understand in ways nobody else does the challenges of education and childcare and the precarious position that many women are left in when they must choose a path for themselves and their children.”

Woods, who kicked off her official campaign earlier this week in Springdale, talks about her appreciation of family and community as what keeps her going and what she will draw from during her campaign.

“My primary motivation is my daughter, Elizabeth, and my gratitude for my community, who helped me carry some of the burdens of single motherhood. I really am in this to empower others in the community who might not have that kind of support network.”