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Establishing roots

County government gives State Auditor Andrea Lea strong base of experience ByChristy L. Smith

AAC Communications Coordinator

difficulty planting roots in Arkansas. She has now lived in Russellville for more than three decades and is leaving her mark on the community through public service. A graduate of Arkansas Tech Univer- sity with a bachelor’s degree in emer- gency management and administration, Lea served three terms on the Pope County Quorum Court, one term on the Russellville City Council, three terms as a state representative and is in her first year as the state’s auditor. She said she sought a seat on the Pope County Quorum Court in 1996 because she wanted to get involved. “I had been involved in the commu- nity in other ways and saw [the quo- rum court] as an opportunity,” she said. “When I studied local government, that seemed to suit me best.” Once sworn in as a justice of the peace, Lea hit the ground running. “Something that was important to me was to understand each person’s job, and so I spent time in the courthouse learning what they did. I spent time with the am- bulance crew, the road crew … I wanted to learn all aspects of it,” Lea said. She also was appointed chairman of


fter spending her childhood moving from base to base with her military family, State Auditor Andrea Lea had little

the Pope County Jail Renovation Com- mittee, which managed to remodel the county jail without incurring debt. “We built the jail with no bonds and

did not go into debt. We paid cash for remodeling,” she said.

sums of money away in a fund over the course of several years, in order to ac- complish this. And they tackled the proj- ect with an eye toward future expansion. “We built it with the future in sight so if they ever come up with the money, they can drop another pod in very easily. To me, that was significant,” Lea said. During her tenure as a justice of the peace, Lea also initiated the annual Pope County Cleanup. Ten in 2002, Lea ran for and was elected to the Russellville City Council. On the council she continued her bud-

putting large 30

Lea said the committee carefully planned and budgeted,

geting work.

Ten after a two-year hiatus from poli- tics, in 2008 she waged a campaign for the District 68 seat representing Russellville and Pottsville in the state House of Rep- resentatives. Te seat had been vacated by Michael Lamoureux, who did not seek re- election in 2008 but won a special elec- tion in 2009 to fill the District 4 seat in the state Senate. He now serves as chief of staff to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. During her three terms in the House,

Lea served on the Budget, Revenue and Taxation, and Rules committees. She was a member of the Arkansas Legisla- tive Council and chairman of the House State Agencies and Governmental Af- fairs Committee. In addition to many other legislative

efforts she was a part of, she co-spon- sored legislation to require photo identi- fication for casting a ballot in Arkansas, and she co-sponsored an amendment to state income tax rates. She said she also proudly served as a mentor to newly elected legislators. “I spent my time encouraging and helping other legislators as they got their feet wet,” she said, noting that fresh- men legislators spend much of their time learning about the law-making process. “I was fortunate that I had a person who chose to do that with me. I saw others that didn’t have a mentor flailing. I kind of committed to being a mentor and helping other people.” Lea said serving as a county elected official was “one of the best training grounds” for becoming a state legislator. “It’s very similar, very similar processes,” she said of the way the quorum court and the state legislator operate. “You under- stand what it is to work with other people to get things done. It’s an easy transition from quorum court to state legislator.” Lea said the relationships she forged with

county officials while she was on the quo- rum court served her well while she was a state representative. She said she never hesi- tated to ask county elected officials about issues she was considering in the House — and she encouraged other legislators to do the same.

“Tis is something I tell people when I am mentoring them: go talk to your

county officials. You have a question about elections? No one can answer that better than your county clerk. You have a question about roads? Go talk to your county judge … your county judge knows more about roads than anyone,” Lea said. Toward the end of her third term in the state legislature, Lea was ready to “go home.” Her husband, Phillip, had retired and her family is important to her. Lea’s father was a native Arkansan who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force dur- ing World War II. Te family had many duty stations over the course of his mili- tary service, but settled in Southern Cali- fornia, where Lea met her husband. Te Navy man also had family ties in Arkan- sas. When he retired from the military, he knew he wanted to return here to work at the nuclear plant in Russellville. Te couple has three children — a daughter and two sons — and three grandchildren. Tey have lived in the same house in Russellville for 30 years, and they enjoy relaxing evenings on their back deck. However, Lea said, several people ap-

proached her about running for state Au- ditor, a position being vacated by long- time public servant Charlie Daniels. “I struggled, and then I decided, ‘Ok,

I’ll run.’ Te worst thing that could hap- pen is I would lose, and I would be re- tired with my husband, and that would be fine. But I won,” she explained. Lea was sworn into office on January 13, 2015, along with the state’s other constitutional officers. Her mother at- tended the ceremony. Her father passed away years ago, but the American flag that draped his coffin has a prominent position atop a bookshelf in Lea’s office. “Mom came when I was sworn in and saw that I had the flag up there. She burst out crying. She said that dad would have loved to see this day, to see [me] elected,” Lea said. Now Lea splits her time between Little

Rock, where she keeps a small apart- ment during the week, and her home in Russellville.

See “AUDITOR” on Page 54 >>> COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2015

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