Rapert, ‘I prayed about this decision to run for the senate’.
Arkansas flag cuff links peek from his jacket sleeves as he scrawls his signature across the bottom of a Pro-Life pledge.
His daughter’s crayon rendering of Old Glory draws attention to a shadow box full of campaign mementoes behind him. Books like The American Patriot’s Bible, George W. Bush’s Decision Points, and Newt Gingrich’s To Renew America pepper office 416.
But it’s the black-and-white photo beneath the painting of a fiddle maker that tells the story of the man in the pinstriped suit.
“If you want to know about Jason Rapert, then you ought to know about this man,” Jason Rapert said, while pointing to a photo of his late grandfather.
Those who really know Jason Rapert, know the District 18 senator credits his late grandfather Conway Jarrett for the man that he has become, senator, patriot, humanitarian, family man -- and musician.
Their unbreakable bond began over a fiddle.
I miss you darlin’ more and more every day
As Heaven would miss the stars above
And with every heartbeat
I still think of you and remember our faded love.
“Faded Love was the first song he taught me to play on the fiddle,” Rapert said. “I can’t introduce that song without getting emotional.”
The story of Rapert and his fiddle began at age 10 when he first learned to play by ear with his grandfather’s assistance. Thanks to Grandpa Jarrett, Rapert fell in love with the instrument and became an accomplished fiddle player. He was recently asked to play the state fiddle for the Capitol’s upcoming centennial celebration.
Their shared love of the fiddle paved the way for teaching Rapert greater lessons that transcend music.
“He was a mentor to Jason in life, politics, family, faith and honor,” said Rapert’s wife, Laurie. “Conway Jarrett was not just Jason's grandfather, he was a friend. They enjoyed time with each other whether it was playing fiddle music, coon hunting, fox hunting or talking politics.”
When it comes to politics, the two would have a lot to talk about these days if Grandpa Jarrett were still living. Rapert recently became District 18’s first republican senator since the end of the Civil War, a feat that would make his Grandpa proud. Grandpa Jarrett instilled in his student a love of God and country and the courage to stand up and make a difference even when the way seems impossible.
“I prayed about this decision to run for the Senate,” the conservative republican said. “And I heard the call, saying ‘why aren’t you sacrificing to serve at home when your own country is in trouble?’ I turned on a dime.”
And in the process, he turned heads and caught the attention of his fellow legislators. Princella Smith, director of education for the Arkansas Secretary of State, played a key role in his campaign and saw the instant respect he gained.
“Jason came into this office with a lot of respect simply because he won in a district that was deemed nearly impossible for a republican to win,” Smith said.
Rapert took his oath of office with his wife and daughters by his side. He remembers looking around the Senate chamber and feeling a “tremendous sense of awe and respect.”.
“…And then I looked back at that sign over the (Senate chamber) doors and saw the words ‘In God We Trust,’ and I felt a tremendous amount of comfort.”
Rapert quickly delved into the issues that plague his home state. He learned that Arkansas ranks number two nationally for people living below the poverty line. He also learned that 36 Arkansas counties are losing population.
“The economy is not providing for what it should,” he said. “You’ve got to create environments where people can raise their families. You’ve got to think outside the box.”
One issue that Rapert says worries his constituents is the gas activity in the Fayetteville Shale. They are worried local economies will suffer and jobs will be lost if the industry is forced out. He deemed the industry’s presence a boon to local businesses.
“My constituents are very concerned that some policies in the state are running off jobs related to gas companies,“ Rapert said. “It’s been the savior of some of these counties. There is fear that those industries will not continue to thrive.”
Rapert favors keeping the tax revenues from the gas industry in the county where they originate. But he said there are bills out there that propose spreading the wealth across Arkansas. The senator thinks the affected counties need to keep the money to improve their roads and infrastructure.
“People of those counties deserve to keep those tax dollars,” he said.
Rapert said that some have voiced concerns about the gas industry causing the rash of earthquakes that have rocked parts of Arkansas. He just learned of new developments regarding that issue.
"I have been advised by the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission that though natural gas production and drilling are not related to recent earthquakes, the injection wells used for disposal could prove to have a connection to seismic activity,” Rapert said. “We will be monitoring any new developments."
Rapert acknowledged that some constituents are worried about potential groundwater pollution from the industry. He also knows some have lodged complaints about noise levels from substations and other issues.
“We want to keep the gas industry thriving in Arkansas, but we want them to be good corporate neighbors as well,” Rapert said.
The senator said it will take everyone working together to move the state forward. In one of his Facebook posts, he urged readers to listen to both sides of every issue.
“Measure twice and cut once in the realm of politics so that we minimize the strife and misunderstanding that occurs when misinformation is used as fact,” Rapert posted. “I want the conservative movement to continue in Arkansas and in our nation. For our country and our state to grow and prosper once again, we must be vigilant in the pursuit of truth, quick to dispel rumor and misinformation, slow to accuse others personally and always be willing to listen to opposing views before making judgments.”
Rapert’s legislative colleagues deem the senator a bulldog for his vigilance and courage to stand on his principles. State Rep. David Meeks (R- Conway) said one of Rapert’s most courageous moments came recently when the senator put a hold on the Arkansas Insurance Department’s budget, because it included spending $1 million to set up a health exchange in Arkansas mandated by President Barrack Obama. Rapert vowed to keep the hold on until they agreed “not to spend money on a plan Arkansas does not want.”
“He’s a statesman and not a politician,” Meeks said. Senator Rapert is a conservative, a champion, and a leader who will fight for family values, the Constitution, and a more business friendly environment here in Arkansas.
Rapert has a vested interest in the future of his beloved state. The devout family man says his daughters Grace and Olivia, 8 and 11, are the very reason he fights hard to secure a better tomorrow for future generations.
“As it stands now, my children are not assured a better life than what I’ve had,” he said. “If our economy and social fabric doesn‘t change, it won‘t be better. I have faith it’s not too late to turn things around. The future of our children is critical.”
Building that better tomorrow means sacrificing some of his family life. Rapert must spend long hours at the Capitol. He admits that Grace and Olivia miss their daddy.
“As much as I love my daughters, I’d rather sacrifice my time with my children now than for my children to face an America that is hobbled. The children of this state and this nation deserve that sacrifice.”
Rapert‘s wife supports his mission. Married at 18, the Raperts experienced their share of financial hardship.
“I didn’t grow up rich,” Rapert said. “When we got married, all I had was a couple hundred bucks and an old gray Oldsmobile car. My first dinner in our rented apartment was served in a cardboard box with a towel thrown over it.”
Rapert said he pitched boxes for UPS and his wife worked at Wal-Mart while they worked their way through college at the University of Central Arkansas. Paydays couldn’t come soon enough.
“We lived paycheck to paycheck. We understand what work is and what it is to struggle,” he said. “A dollar is a still a dollar to me.”
There were other trials and tribulations., but Rapert can’t bring himself to talk about them. It’s just not in him.
“It’s hard for me to articulate my struggle,” he said. “ I was raised with those Arkansas values. You just get up and do it and don’t complain about it.”
The Raperts held on to hope and began to see better days. They eventually made their home on a farm near Bigelow and are now engaged in their passions. The senator is a financial adviser and co-owner of Rapert and Pillow Financial in Conway. Wife Laurie is a certified teacher and invests her days in home schooling their children.
He never stopped believing that things could get better.
“I have faith that you never give up,” Rapert said. “I always have hope that things will work out.”
Grandpa Jarrett taught Rapert all about hope and faith and giving back. Rapert has tried to pay it forward in his role as humanitarian. As president and founder of Holy Ghost Ministries, the senator makes annual treks to Ghana West Africa to minister and spearhead projects that include fresh water wells, toilet facilities and malaria net distributions. In 2006, he helped commission the first fresh water well for a small, impoverished village.
“My travels have made me learn not to take the small stuff for granted,” he said.
Rapert proudly displays in his Senate office a small corked bottle of water that he brought back from that 2006 project. Ask him about it, and his sudden silence and watery eyes will tell you that he also learned lessons about love and loss. In Nov.2006, Rapert’s dear friend, Mike Pike, died just hours before the two were set to fly to Ghana to commission the first water well. The two were colleagues in Rotary International and had traveled to Ghana together on two different occasions.
Pike was 43.
“The news of Mike’s death, and Jason’s quick departure made that morning one of the most difficult of (Jason‘s) life,” his Holy Ghost Ministries website said.
In Pike’s memory, Rapert spearheaded an effort to establish the Mike Pike Orphanage in Ghana. Prior to his death, the engaged Pike had planned to adopt a baby from that impoverished nation.
Pike’s death still tears at his heart.
.“You need to love people the best you can and let them know every day,” he said. “Life is too short.”
Rapert continues to draw inspiration from the time he spent in Africa with his friend. He recalls an old African proverb that illustrates how far he’s willing to go to as a legislator to take a stand for Arkansas and future generations.
The dog keeps barking, but the caravan still passes by.
“I don’t care how loud they bark,” Rapert said. “You’re not going to stop me once I set my mind to it. Sometimes, you’ve got to be willing to stand alone if it’s the right thing to do.”
His wife believes it. She said Grandpa Jarrett left a void in her husband’s heart that no one can ever fill. But that void makes him fight harder and stand stronger in his convictions.
“Jason has the courage to stand up for what he believes is right, no matter the odds or whether he stands alone,” Laurie said. “I have heard him say many times that he credits his Grandpa Jarrett for exhibiting this trait and instilling that courage in others.”
Smith has heard it, too. She believes Rapert may be the spark that creates change and brings back hope to the people of Arkansas.
“Jason has spent almost his whole life getting people to work together for a cause that is greater than themselves,” Smith said. “When you are led by a higher purpose -- when the very base and substance of who you are is that you want to make a difference in the world, then you will.”
In the words of singer Roseanne Cash, the senator said he “just wants to matter.” He will consider himself successful as a legislator when he can look back years from now and say that, above all else, he maintained his integrity and left the place a little better than he found it. It won’t be his greatest victory. He’s already achieved that.
.“My single greatest accomplishment is coming to the knowledge of my Savior Jesus Christ and knowing that there is a God greater than all of us,” Rapert said. “You put your faith in Him and you can do marvelous things.”
Time will tell what kind of impact he will make with God as his guide.
“Jason's close walk with the Lord will allow him to maintain the integrity, honor, and wisdom that has gotten him to where he is today,” Smith said. “ Jason is determined to see the world become a better place.
“And because of him, it already is."
If only Grandpa Jarrett could see him now…