April 11, 2007 Edition

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Thompson using variety
of experiences to serve
LawCo. in Arkansas Senate

Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould checks his computer for business updates before leaving to attend a committee meeting at the State Capitol during this year's legislative session in Little Rock. The 86th General Assembly ended the 2007 session last week.

Lacy Mitchell
Guest Writer

"He knows what he wants and goes after it." This is how Sen. Robert Thompson's mother, Charlotte Thompson, describes her son. Even as a small boy he was very focused with everything he pursued.

At 35, working in public policy is something Thompson, a Paragould native, hopes to do as long as he can.

Thompson represents District 11, which includes Lawrence, Clay and Greene counties, as well as the city of Bono in Craighead County, at the State Senate.

Thompson graduated from the Paragould School District in 1989 and received a bachelor's degree in history at Hendrix College in Conway in 1993. He received a graduate degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he studied history and economics and traveled throughout Britain and Europe.

"My experience in Scotland, in particular, made me really value public education and the idea that we have in this country of providing a public education to all students, because it's not like that in other countries," he said.

"In Britain, the public schools were what I considered to be severely under-funded, and most middle class families, if they could afford it, sent their children to private schools," he said. "It really created in my mind, a two-tiered system, which probably didn't serve the unfortunate students very well."

Thompson said his experiences and the traveling he did in college has allowed him to see things through other perspectives.

"When you travel it really makes you appreciate other cultures. It makes you realize that not everybody does things around the world the way we do them in America, and that's not a bad thing," Thompson said. "A lot of times we tend to think that people who are different from us and live in other countries are bad and that's not always the case."

At the University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville, Thompson ranked first in his class and graduated with honors in 1997. While there, he served as editor-in-chief of the Arkansas Law Review.

In August of that year, Thompson worked as a law clerk for Chief Judge Richard S. Arnold of the United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Thompson said he always knew he wanted to be a lawyer because of his love of history, economics and politics while growing up. Outside of the legislature, Thompson is an attorney at the Branch, Thompson, Philhours and Warmath law firm in Paragould, where he has worked with his dad, Bob Thompson, since 1999.

Aside from commercial litigation, debtor-creditor and bankruptcy law, personal injury and employment law practice, Thompson has had trial and litigation experience in state and federal courts. He also served as Greene County deputy prosecuting attorney for five years.

"He is highly intelligent," his dad, Bob Thompson, said. "He's really a straight-arrow, and has always had a great deal of compassion."

Thompson said his parents always stressed the importance of family, personal thriftiness and the ability to maintain a high level of trust and integrity in politics.

His mother said she thinks her son's public speaking abilities are due to his participation in drama as a teen. Thompson won a best actor award in high school for his performance in "Guys and Dolls." He had a solo where he sang "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," which Charlotte said everyone thought was hysterical.

Thompson enjoys jogging in his free time, and thinks he gets his love of reading from his mother, who was an English teacher and librarian. He said he would enjoy meeting the authors of many of the biographies and history books he has read and to discuss their works with them.

He said being in Little Rock and away from his family during the legislative session is the toughest thing about his job. He met his wife, Tori, in 1997 when she was a senior at the University of Arkansas. They will celebrate their 10th anniversary in August. They have two sons Henry, two, and Cross, six.

"He is the best person I know," Tori said. "We both were very fortunate for growing up in service-minded families."

She said Robert understands the importance of giving back to the community.

"What you get out of life is a lot of what you put into it," she said. "He loves being in the Senate and representing our district. He makes time for our family, and he makes time for the community."

Thompson promotes use of bio-fuels

Thompson focused on the topic of biofuel use in Arkansas during this year's legislative session, which ended last week. He cosponsored a bill, known as the Alternative Fuels Development Act, with Democratic House Speaker Benny Petrus of Stuttgart. Gov. Mike Beebe approved the act, which will provide $20 million in incentives for production and distribution of bio-diesel fuel in the state.

"I would really like to see some national leadership on biofuels," Thompson said. "We need to work on it in Arkansas, but it is a policy that needs national leadership, a lot more that what we are seeing now."

Beebe also approved a companion bill to the Arkansas Alternative Fuels Development Act that will require all diesel fuel sold in Arkansas to contain a bio-diesel blend.

Thompson, who sponsored the bill, said a bio-diesel production industry in the state will help both the economy of rural Arkansas and the environment because the fuel will burn 80 percent cleaner than regular gasoline. It will also make the United States more independent of foreign countries for oil.

"Our global economy is going through a huge change right now," Thompson said. "We're seeing a lot of manufacturing jobs leave our state and our country. I think our economy is completely different."

Thompson said he thinks Northeast Arkansas' agricultural background could meet a lot of the demands of the global economy, especially with alternative fuels.

State Rep. JR Rogers of Walnut Ridge, who has worked with Thompson on several bills over the years, said Thompson is doing a great job as senator. Thompson served as District 78 state representative in 2005 and in that time Rogers said he and Thompson got to know each other. "I think he is a great guy," Rogers said.

Thompson said he loves Northeast Arkansas and has a great love for Paragould, as well as Lawrence County.

"The people are wonderful and open, and hardworking," he said. "Northeast Arkansas has been through some tough times and continues to go through some tough times, but the willingness the people have to innovate and look for new ideas to meet the new challenges of the global economy is inspiring."

(Note: Lacy Mitchell of Strawberry is a journalism student at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. She completed this article as part of her Public Affairs Reporting class.)

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