It is not often a single former Arkansas State House of Representatives member gets his or her own column in this space.
The exception this week is the list the legacy of the late state Rep. Mike Kenney of House District 97 -- that oblong district (now called House District 87) shared between Southern Washington County and far Western and Southwestern Benton County.
Michael "Mike" Patrick Kenney, a 59-year-old resident of Siloam Springs, entered the arms of his Loving Father after a valiant fight with cancer on December 30, 2019, according to the well-written obituary which shared its own space in the Herald-Leader a week ago.
I must add the Mike Kenney that I knew and covered as a political reporter during his election and the subsequent reelections to the state House seat -- a seat largely covering Siloam Springs. He was indeed one of the "citizen legislators" of which the writers of Arkansas' 1874 State Constitution speak directly when describing the qualifications for the state House members.
He held a full-time job, served faithfully in the state House of Representatives for very low pay -- back in 2002-2008, the three-two-year terms of the days of very short term limits for House members.
Mike was born on Nov. 27, 1960, in Evanston, Ill., but he grew up as an Arkansan. In 1973, the family moved to Siloam Springs from Niles, Ill.
He loved this state and he loved serving the people of what was then House District 97.
I must place, for historical reasons, where Mike Kenney fell in the political realm of yesteryear.
He ran for an open House seat as former state Rep. Jim Holt, R-Springdale, ran for and was elected as State Senator in Washington County. In this 2002 open race, Kenny, a sales executive with Allen Foods, faced Lucas Roebuck, a blogger and former newspaper editor in Fayetteville who had long ties to Siloam Springs and Benton Bandy, a Springdale area candidate.
I first met and interviewed Mike at a Siloam Springs park as he was taking his lunch break. He insisted we meet away from his work and said he would be eating his lunch during the interview.
When I climbed into his company truck for the interview, I said something about his employer. We immediately adjourned to the tailgate of the vehicle to sit outside the truck and conduct the interview. One thing I learned about Mike: he had ethics and was a stand-up guy.
He never failed to return a telephone call or email from me as a reporter.
During that 2002 race, the political rhetoric ranged "hot" by his opponents on all sorts of conservative issues, but Mike remained a steady, moderate Republican. Once during an area political question-and-answer session, Mike had to be out of town on business. His lovely wife Barbara stood in for him. It was at this meeting his two opponents were to play the "sanctity of life card," saying Kenney had been avoiding a direct answer.
Unprompted at the meeting, Barbara talked about her loving husband, their beautiful children and their very personal religious life.
That turned the election for Mike Kenney. He won going away, polling 1,110 votes to Roebuck's 468 and Bandy's 389 in the GOP Primary just weeks away. He had only one other opponent, an Independent candidate, who polled only 51 votes to Mike's 5,709 in the November 2004 race.
He served faithfully in the House, while still working for Allen Canning. The only other state Representatives from NWA can tell you about rising before dawn to drive down old 71, the new I-540 exchange or even Arkansas 59 to get to Little Rock for a 10 a.m. committee meeting. And then driving the nearly 300 miles back home later that day, to go to "work" at your real job the next day.
Mike served in the 84th, 85th, and 86th, General Assemblies. He rose to chair the House Education Committee, quite an honor and, like all others, he was term-limited and turned the House seat over to Jonathan Barnett, who served from 2007-2011.
The current holder of the seat, now House District 87, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, called Kenney, "a true Gentleman," fighting back tears when being told of his death shortly before 2019 ended.
"Mike was a quiet, humble gentleman who served his family first, and while in the House, he cared for District 87. I appreciated his phone calls of support during sessions," Lundstrum said." "He followed the legislature closely and could be counted on as a fellow conservative voice of reason.
Tom and I are proud to call him and Barbara friends"
Political service did not only define Mike Kenney, his service to his community, family and schools told his real life's story.
A 1978 graduate of Siloam Springs High, he attended John Brown University and, while there, he became the announcer for John Brown University Basketball games and Siloam Springs High School Football games at KUOA.
Mike was a member of the John Brown University and Siloam Springs High School golf teams. He graduated from John Brown University with a bachelor of science degree in broadcast and communications. He worked at KUOA as a program director from 1980-1986. He worked at Allen Canning Company for 28 years and Bonduelle for 2 years.
Mike was an avid golfer but found time to coach his children's softball, baseball and football teams.
Today his earthly body lies in Oak Hill Cemetery. His lengthy shadow of public service stretches out for all to see in so many ways in the community.
Rest In Peace, Mike Kenney. Rest In Peace, my friend.
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Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 01/08/2020
Print Headline: Mike Kenney: A real citizen legislator for Northwest Arkansas