Denise Ennett, an active community member and mother of three, won a special election and a runoff to fill the final term of former state Rep. Charles Blake, who resigned from the House District 36 position in May to serve as chief of staff for Mayor Frank Scott Jr. She’s running against Russell Williams III in the March 3 Democratic primary to keep the District 36 seat.
What has your experience as District 36 representative been like since you were elected in September?
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I’ve had some of my colleagues really help me get acclimated to being at the Capitol. I knew after I won those two elections last summer that I was going to have to run again, I knew that in the back of my mind, but until I actually had to sign up again, it really hit me: Oh, I have to do this all over again. So now, I’m in the throes of working as an elected official and campaigning at the same time.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned about being an elected representative?
Without sounding vain, when I wake up in the morning, I have to have my face on and just have that mindset that I’m going to run into one of my constituents. I’m learning how to always kind of be “on.” I always run into somebody that I know, or somebody in another part of town that knows me, so I always feel like I have to be on. Even with my family.
What have you learned about District 36 since your election?
A lot of my district is rural [District 36 runs from downtown to the county line on the south, below Hensley], and I’ve been really intentional about going to certain areas in Pulaski County and listening to their voices, because they have trains there, they have planes there, they have these environmental things there, and I think for a while, they’ve felt neglected. I get most of my calls and emails from that area. It’s my hope that I can help bridge some of those gaps and help them down there as much as I can.
Are you hoping to fill any of those “gaps” with any specific legislative efforts?
There are some pockets of the county that lack economic development, and that has been a concern with some constituents. “We don’t have this in this area, why can’t we have these things here?” Neighborhoods [are] one of my things: strong neighborhoods, reinvesting in some of these older neighborhoods. … I have parts of Southwest Little Rock, and that area used to be vibrant. And now, I’m not saying that it’s not, but [we need to be] refocusing and revinesting in neighborhoods. We have a lot of renters, and what I’ve noticed, and been noticing for years, [is that] we’re the only state in the nation that doesn’t have tenants’ rights. I’ve spoken with people on both sides, and the realtors will say, “It’s not easy being a landlord when you have people who tear up your property.” And then you have the tenants saying, “Well, [with] your property, there’s mold, I can’t open up the door, the heat doesn’t work, the plumbing is off.” So there has to be some middle ground there.
How do you plan to work with other representatives to reinvest in neighborhoods?
It should be a bipartisan issue. We have the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund that hasn’t been funded in years, so finding a way to fund that … can make housing affordable for people. Jericho Way, they’re building houses in my district, so that’s exciting. They’re leading the way. … So that’s private and public money. [It’s important to] find a way to make that work, because at the end of the day, if you work hard, you deserve a decent place to lay your head. If you have a family, they need to have some stable footing. And if you’re moving around all the time, it affects your school, it affects your education, it affects your employment, it affects your health. And the quality of your life is not good.
You recently stood with Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) and District 34 candidate Ryan Davis at their press conference about an incident with residents in Little Rock’s Capitol View neighborhood. What are your feelings about that altercation?
I was there [on the night of the incident] but I left before that ensued. … Not being there, I can’t fully speak on it, but [I’m] just thinking about how people value other people’s lives. And even if the person didn’t know Vivian was an elected official, it doesn’t matter. How do we value people’s lives? … When that ensued, I thought about my family. I have three kids. I have two boys. I have one with special needs. I’m always worried about [whether] I can just let them roam in somebody else’s neighborhood without them being harassed, or [asked] “Who are you? Why are you here?” I always worry about that. It’s a constant, always. You want to raise your kids to be upstanding citizens, but you know some of the injustices that are out there, so you want to protect them, but I know that I won’t be there for everything. So, I’m sorry that that happened to both of them.
Birthplace: Little Rock
Favorite pump-up song for campaigning: “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
Favorite place to take kids to play: Lorance Creek Natural Area in Little Rock.