Cleburne County Judge candidate Tom Mix waxes sentimental as he remembers growing up in Quitman and all the activities there was to do in Heber Springs around the time of his graduation in 1979. Mix says there’s been an obvious “regression” of activities for families and tourists since that time; remembering when there was a skating rink, putt putt golf, bumper boats, and concerts to attend.
Mix didn’t get into the race for the county judge position for money or title. He says he mainly got into the race for the economy and wanting to revive the community to the way it used to be. He said, “I love this place.”
When Mix saw that no one was going to run against incumbent Jerry Holmes, he decided he would do it. Mix believes there should be choices, that there should never just be one person running for an office.
Mix questions why the community is failing to thrive when it has so much to offer. Looking at how Conway has grown, he says he sees progress all around us, but not here. “There has to be a reason for it.”
Having viewed the county budget, Mix says that no money was spent on tourism advertising that he could see. He stated that tourism was down by about 15,000 visitors last year, yet families still pack up and go to Branson or the beach. He says they go places and travel around…..and spend their money. He sees social media as a viable source of cheap advertising that would hit a whole market of people who could come to the area.
Looking at what Heber Springs has, Mix points out that our downtown isn’t being utilized as well as many other towns that have older business districts, like Fayetteville or Mountain View. He also stated that the town is home to two amphitheaters which would increase hotel, restaurant, and downtown business if used more effectively.
As a lake town, Mix says “If you don’t have a boat, the little beach is all you have.” He supports the Sandy Beach Project and spoke of drag boat races and a fishing tournament. He says it comes down to a “have” versus “have not” mentality with the people who “have it made” not wanting to be bothered with making changes for the ones who don’t have it made.
Mix sees the Sandy Beach Project as a source for potential growth. Besides increasing our population, he speculates it would also help downtown businesses because visitors would park at the promenade and take a shuttle to town where you would be “a captive audience” until the bus returns. During that time tourists would spend their time shopping at downtown businesses that would need to offer unique items not found at WalMart.
The candidate for county judge said it basically comes down to people who want growth and people who don’t want growth. He added, the first step in our economic growth would be to get the people here, then cater to what they want. For example, a concert venue [at the Sandy Beach Project] would not only mean ticket income from each person attending, but would also be income for hotels and restaurants.
Mix wants to see tourism grow. He’s concerned with an increase in property taxes to make up the loss of tourism dollars, saying “you have to make up that loss somewhere.” He went on to say, “Where you had tourism paying for everything, now you have homeowners and businesses” paying for it. “We are centrally located to the median center of the United States” for population…..”people will come.”
According to Mix, statistics show that 16.3% of the residents in Cleburne County are at poverty level. “Lack of jobs equals lack of hope. Lack of hope equals drug addiction. It’s like that all over the world.” Mix continued with, “We don’t talk about our problems here. Everyone knows. You’re not hiding anything from anyone.” We have a big drug problem here that needs to be fixed, and theft goes along with drugs. Referring to Sheriff Chris Brown, Mix said, “Just think, if you had a county judge and county sheriff working together….same focus on the same problem….then you have a team.”
Another major concern for Mix is, “We no longer have an Economic Development Coordinator or an Economic Development Group, as far as I know.” He adamantly believes it must be a priority to get that department back up and running. “If not, the economy will never be where we need it to be.” Mix stated that Saint Jean’s is planning to expand, but not here. “There’s going to be an expansion, but we’re not going to get it. We should be working with everything we can do to get them to expand here and not somewhere else.”
Mix would like to see smaller companies that employ 100 people or so come to our area rather than large businesses like Skil, that left several years ago. He remembers when the power tool company left it “devastated the economy” here. His theory is if smaller companies shut down, it wouldn’t affect as many employees as when a large corporation leaves.
Mix noted that in 2014 Texas became the biggest exporter of high tech in the country because they went to California and attracted businesses to relocate to Texas. He stated that there are many companies wanting to leave California and would like to see a couple of them come to our area.
He envisions that the California companies would be able to offer $25-30 an hour jobs, working in an air conditioned room, wearing a white lab coat. He believes the higher status jobs would “bring everyone up....wanting the better job, wanting the new truck, wanting to do that.” He recognizes that Heber Springs has a lot to offer, like low-priced housing, “especially compared to California,” and training for the tech jobs could be done at the university here.
Mix has stated it’s his intention to only hold the office of Cleburne County Judge for one term, and says he will put that in writing. He said, “Once you get rid of the good ol’ boy political system we have here in the county, you work your tail off to get things done that need to be done and you don’t have to make decisions based on getting re-elected because I took that out of the equation. Now I don’t worry about me, I worry about everyone in the county.” He has also made arrangements with the quorum court to take the state minimum salary for the job because it would impact his military retirement income. His salary would be about $20,000 less than the current administration.
Mix retired from the Army and Army National Guard after 27 years of service. His last job in the Arkansas National Guard was as a budget analyst with a multi-million dollar budget and he has attended management schools. Speaking of the judge’s responsibilities when it comes to the budget, Mix stated that “the quorum court actually does the budgeting. It’s actually about leadership.”
Mix has a son and a daughter, both married, and three granddaughters, 18, 16, and 3. His first grandson is on the way and he is anxious to finally have a boy. Mix says the only thing tying him down is his two dogs, Zoey and Muffin, so he thought this was the right time to run for office.
If elected, Mix believes people should be lined up to run for the office at the end of his term because it would be an open office with no incumbent running. This “election isn’t about Tom Mix or Jerry Holmes…..it’s about Cleburne County and for the first time in a long time actually having a choice [who to vote for].” He added, “It’s just about getting the job done…..I really want to meet the challenge.”