Elected: 2010, 2nd term.
Born: January 22, 1966, Homestead Base, FL
Education: AR St. U., B.A. 1996.
Professional Career: Owner, AgWatch Network.
Religion: Southern Baptist
Family: Married (Stacy) , 2 children
First District Rep. Rick Crawford in 2010 became the first Republican to win this northeastern Arkansas district since Reconstruction. A former news anchor and owner of an agricultural broadcasting business, he keeps an eye out for the region’s cotton and rice farmers.
Crawford was born in Florida on the former Homestead Air Force Base, where his father, a munitions expert, was stationed. Growing up in a military family meant a lot of “bouncing around,” says Crawford, who attended a dozen schools as a child. The frequent uprooting provided a crash course in making friends quickly and adapting to new environments, skills that he says have become second nature. After graduating from high school in Hudson, N.H., enlisting in the military seemed a natural next step. Crawford’s older siblings had already signed up, one joining the Air Force and one the Navy. So he chose the Army. In the service, Crawford was trained as a bomb-disposal technician, disabling suspected live explosive devices, a line of work that was introduced to a mass audience in the acclaimed 2008 film The Hurt Locker. Crawford achieved the rank of sergeant, did a tour of duty in Pakistan, and later served on U.S. Secret Service details for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
When his military service ended, he moved to southern Missouri and enrolled at Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro, to study agribusiness and economics. He competed on the college rodeo circuit until injuries forced him to quit. At the time, he says, he was “grossly under-employed,” and his medical bills and other obligations piled up. In 1994, he declared personal bankruptcy, but he eventually found full-time employment—and discovered he had some skills—in rodeo announcing. He worked some 100 shows a year before returning to school to finish his degree. In 1995, he met his wife, Stacy, on a date orchestrated by their mothers, who were co-workers at the time. Stacy was then a fellow student at Arkansas State, and today she is a licensed social worker and school-based therapist. Working the rodeo-broadcasting gigs helped Crawford land a news-anchor job in Jonesboro after graduation. That eventually led him to agricultural broadcasting and to starting his own business called the AgWatch Network, a farm-news outlet that today broadcasts on 39 radio stations in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, as well as on television stations in Little Rock and Jonesboro.
When Crawford decided to challenge Democratic Rep. Marion Berry for the 1st District seat, national Republicans were at first cool to the idea, hoping to recruit a more seasoned candidate. But Crawford gained traction after Berry announced he wouldn’t run, which made the district ripe for a GOP takeover. Crawford coasted to an easy primary victory over 26-year-old congressional aide Princella Smith, and he launched a general election campaign with the theme that Democrats had lost touch with the region’s rural and small-town conservative voters.
In the general election campaign, Democrat Chad Causey, Berry’s former chief of staff, made an issue of Crawford’s personal bankruptcy, attacking the Republican for failing to release his financial records. Democratic ads also suggested that Crawford would privatize Social Security and Medicare. Crawford, meanwhile, sought to portray Causey as a Washington insider beholden to national Democrats. The national parties jumped in with independent expenditures for ads, and former President Bill Clinton returned to his home state to help raise money for Causey, to no avail. Crawford won, 52% to 44%.
In the House, Crawford got a seat on the Agriculture Committee, where he focuses on ways to protect farmers from what he considers overly burdensome regulations. In August 2012, the House passed his bill to modify an Environmental Protection Agency rule that Crawford said hurt farmers and ranchers because it required costly fuel-storage containers to reduce the possibility of spills.
But he drew more attention for what critics called flip-flopping. He joined other House members in voting to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act but later said parts of it should remain in place. In a creative attempt to break the budget stalemate in 2012, he introduced a measure calling for a 5% surtax on incomes exceeding $1 million— but only if Congress first passed a constitutional balanced-budget amendment. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist condemned the idea, and Crawford told The New York Times that “many conservatives (are) calling for my head … But this does not deter me, because the alternative is economic calamity.” He also urged his party to develop a more flexible approach on illegal immigration than simply seeking tighter border security, arguing that immigrants are an important economic force.
Democrats initially thought they might have a shot at unseating Crawford, claiming that redistricting had weakened him politically. But the national party’s favored candidate, state Rep. Clark Hall, lost the primary to prosecutor Scott Ellington. As a safeguard, Crawford announced that he would skip the Republican convention in Tampa to be at home “making sure farm families are getting the help they need from federal and state agencies.” He won reelection with 56% of the vote.
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