Sen. Joyce Elliott Bids Farewell After 20 Years of Service

Colleagues honored nine lawmakers who will not return to the Arkansas Senate next year.

State Senator Joyce Elliott

On International Women’s Day, Sen. Joyce Elliott spoke from the well of the Arkansas Senate chambers and reflected on her two decades as an Arkansas lawmaker. 

“I always wondered how I would feel when I came to this point and I tell you, it’s not sad at all because I do know it was such a privilege to do this for all of these years and I’ve done what I came to do — my dead level best,” she said.

While legislators still could be called upon to do more work, Tuesday was the last scheduled meeting. Legislators will return to Little Rock to formally adjourn the fiscal session Mar. 15. President Pro Tempore Sen. Jimmy Hickey took the opportunity to honor his departing colleagues with a plaque and allowed them to say a few words.

“The amount of knowledge that we’re about to lose here is unimaginable, what they bring, the things they’ve taught us,” Hickey said. 

Nine Arkansas lawmakers are leaving the Senate because they’ve decided not to seek reelection, are term-limited or they are running for another office. In addition to Sen. Elliott, lawmakers bid farewell to Senators Colby Fulfer, Matthew Pitsch, Trent Garner, Jim Hendren, Keith Ingram, Jason Rappert, Larry Teague and Cecile Bledsoe.

Sen. Elliott is one of three Black women, all Democrats, currently serving in the Arkansas Senate. Senators Linda Chesterfield and Stephanie Flowers are both seeking reelection. Sen. Chesterfield is running unopposed while Democrat Sen. Flowers will face Libertarian David Dinwiddie in November’s General Election. Sen. Elliott is leaving office because of term limits. She served 14 years in the Senate and six years in the House. 

“She’s all of our friends and we may disagree at every level, but there’s not a person in here that cannot go and hug her neck and we love her for that and we’re going to miss her,” Hickey said.

Born in Willisville, Elliott earned an undergraduate degree in English and speech from Southern Arkansas University and a graduate degree from Ouachita Baptist University. She taught high school juniors and seniors for 30 years. 

She was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2000. After serving three terms, she was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 2008. In 2020, she ran for the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat, but lost to Republican incumbent French Hill. Arkansas remains the only former Confederate state to not send a Black candidate to Congress.  

Throughout her career, Sen. Elliott said she’s been accused of tilting at windmills, a reference to the book Don Quixote. In response, she argued it’s important to do the work to try and achieve things people say are impossible.

“That’s where you find the good in us, if we have the courage and if we have the will to keep tilting until the dream is realized,” she said. “It’s been an honor serving with you. Keep doing the work.” 

Sen. Elliott plans to continue being active in the election process. She recently launched Get Loud Arkansas!, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to register, engage and mobilize eligible voters in Arkansas.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.