COLUMN: "New Year, New Session"

Lt. Governor's Colum

By Lt. Governor Mark A. Darr

Hello friends, I hope that you all had a good Christmas and New Year's. Kim and the kids and I had a great time together and with extended family. We are excited about what the new year holds in 2013.

This Monday, began an historic legislative session in Little Rock. The new members of the Senate and House were sworn in with the first Republican President Pro Tempore and first Republican Speaker of the House since the Reconstruction Era. I hope that legislators of both parties will work together to get good legislation passed for the people of Arkansas. There are serious financial, economic and policy issues that need real solutions. As Lt. Governor, it is a privilege to preside in the Senate as these issues are debated and voted on.

At the desk where I sit in the Senate, there is a large, rather old Bible. The cover reads, "Presented to the Arkansas State Senate, for its guidance, by Colonel T.H. Barton. Barton served in the Army and became an early leader in the oil industry down in El Dorado as president of Lion Oil Company. Inside the cover of the old Bible, he wrote an inscription, "To the Arkansas Senate with the hope that this book will always guide you, T.H. Barton, February 25, 1943." With a response below it, "Accepted with deep appreciation on behalf of Arkansas Senate, Fifty-fourth General Assembly, J.L Shaver, Lt. Governor."

I appreciate that my predecessor accepted this Bible and that it still sits on the desk in the Senate. It is a good reminder to me and all of the Senators of our nation's religious heritage and of the moral compass that exists within its pages.

I have a Bible in my office as well. It sits open in a glass case on the coffee table. My father was a Baptist preacher and it's the Bible that he used to preach from and study. It's got his handwritten notes all through it. I was sworn in on this Bible and keep it in my office as a reminder of my father and of my faith. My faith is an integral part of who I am and it keeps me focused on what's important.

A while back, I had a delegation in my office visiting from China. They were surprised to see an open Bible displayed in a public office. They said that in their country, such a thing was unheard of. It made me glad to be an American and that we are blessed to live in a nation that grants its people religious freedom and that freedom is even written into our Constitution. It was motivation also that we must protect and defend that freedom in order to maintain it. People all over the world have had that liberty taken from them.

When I visited China myself, I was asked what would make Americans have a better view of the Chinese government. I told them straightforwardly that if they granted religious freedom to their citizens, it would have a big effect on how Americans view their government. Unfortunately, they haven't taken my advice.

As this legislative session unfolds, many things will take place in the Capitol. Some will be good, some not so good. When this General Assembly leaves and another one comes, that Bible will remain on the Senate desk. I pray that it will continue to guide the Senate as Colonel Barton intended and that we would all be better for it.

"But the Word of the Lord remains forever..." (I Peter 1:25)