“One of my goals by entering into the political arena is to do things differently.
I hope to set an example white at the same time realizing there is a limit
to what a politician can get done during a term,” Greg Leding.
By Larry Burge
He got involved. He paid attention. He got a taste of what political campaigning was like. Now, political newcomer Greg Leding, 31, has fixed his sight on the District 92 Arkansas House of Representatives seat.
Surrounded by supporters, Leding publicly announced his candidacy under sunny skies Saturday on the Fayetteville Square. He is the first candidate to announce a run for the seat, which will be decided next year.
Running as a Democrat, Leding said his top priorities are: education, ecology, equality and the economy.
The Springdale native is a 1996 Springdale High School graduate and a 2001 University of Arkansas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He currently works for the Fayetteville School District.
Bitten By The Political Bug
Using his own ideals as his platform, Leding believes the key to his decision to seek the Democratically held House seat was getting involved in the 2008 electoral campaign cycle. Leding credits his experience as Walt Eilers’ campaign manager in Eilers’ unsuccessful bid for mayor of Fayetteville as what spurred his desire to run for office.
After taking a good look across the district for others to run in the 2010 election, Leding said he realized that he had gathered valuable information during the 2008 election on state issues, the issues that he would want Democratic candidates for the District 92 post to pursue.
He looked at each of the soon-to-be-vacant congressional seats and pondered who might be the best person to fill the positions and the people who would help move their bid along the campaign trail.
“After the last election, I knew I wanted to get more involved in 2010,” Leding said.
Then he realized: “Why am I looking for somebody else to run, when I’ve got these issues? I’ve got a handle on these issues. After last year being out there and talking to people, I’ve got issues I want to pursue. ‘Why don’t I run?’”
Moving the idea of his 2010 campaign around in his head, Leding said he at first sensed it a little silly, mostly because he likes being a private person and sees himself somewhat camera shy. But before he decided to run, he did his homework.
“I began talking to people I knew about the idea,” he said. “I talked to friends and family. I felt humbled, but also encouraged by their positive responses to my running.”
One person Leding talked to was the current District 92 Rep. Lindsley Smith D-Fayetteville, who is term limited. Leding met Smith on the 2008 campaign trail.
“I was working on the Lioneld Jordan campaign,” Smith said. “He (Leding) was working on the Walt Eilers campaign. When you’re standing on the street holding signs with a bunch of other people, you talk. That’s how we got to know each other, holding signs on the street for opposing, but friendly candidates.
“I think Greg is somebody who is compassionate about the greater good. I think he’s finely tuned with the district. He knows it, and he would be able to provide us a good solid voice of the district in Little Rock.”
Smith’s husband, University of Arkansas professor Stephen Smith, introduced Leding Saturday when Leding announced his candidacy.
Leding was born during the 1978 fiscal year when Arkansas’ general revenue surplus reached about $42 million. The state’s population was estimated at about 2.1 million and the state’s Democratic leaders included then-Gov. David Pryor and then-Attorney General Bill Clinton. As a child, Leding remembered paying only slight attention to politics until Clinton’s Presidential bid in 1992.
Leding, who is from a family of five, grew up playing the role of big brother for his two younger sisters, Juliana and Sarah. Jerry Leding, his father, grew up in the Altus wine country and his mother Kathy in Many, La. The couple met one summer when she came to Altus to visit her uncle, a grape grower, and Jerry and Kathy were both cutting grapes off vines.
Six years after a long-distance romance, Jerry and Kathy married three days after her 20th birthday. Jerry had been working for Wiedeker Winery and in the 1970s, they moved to Springdale, to start a small business. Greg Leding remembered the business as the Ozarks Wine Shop at 2008 N. Thompson St. When Chicago-based Wal-Mart supplier Decorel hired Jerry as its key account manager, Jerry and Kathy closed the wine shop. Jerry retired recently from Decorel and does a lot of baking these days. “He makes an incredible grape pie using grapes only grown between Altus and Ozark,” Greg said.
“Our parents were always very active in our lives and education. Mom became active first as the PTA president. They always helped as band parents and at fundraisers.”
Leding said his mother began working at Elmdale Elementary when he started kindergarten there in the 1980s. “She enjoys being part of the community.”
Sarah now lives in Manhattan, where she is following her passion for acting.
“Greg was a great older brother,” Sarah said. “He has always been there for me. He still checks on me and makes sure things are going well regardless of what he has going on or how busy he might be. He listens well to everyone. Shy at the onset, but in a day or two it’s like you’ve known him forever.”
Juliana married one of Greg’s best friends, Cable Davenport, the son of state Rep. Monty Davenport D-Yellville.
Leding said it was helpful to have someone in the family who had run for public office.
“When I started talking about this (running for office), he (Rep. Davenport) thought my running for office a good idea. There’s some inspiration.”
Learning The Ropes
It was the 2000 Presidential election that stirred Leding to become politically involved. The election inspired and distressed him. He wonders how different the past eight years might have been if Al Gore had become president.
“(It was) a very unique and pivotal moment in U.S. Presidential political history,” Leding said.
Leding began paying more attention to the political scene and became politically active.
“In 2006, I decided to start networking more and became more involved in the midterms (elections),” Leding said.
He knew he needed to reach people outside his immediate friends and family. One way to do this was through social networking.
“That was when I cofounded the Fayetteville chapter of Drinking Liberally,” Leding said. “I used it as an informal way to get together with people of like and unlike minds to talk about politics.
The Fayetteville chapter that Leding organized is the only chapter in Arkansas. There more than 300 chapters in 50 states.
According to the Drinking Liberally Web site, the organization is “an informal, inclusive progressive social group. It began in New York City in May 2003, when it felt as though the politicians, press and public were giving conservative cons a free pass. We began as one-part support group and one-part strategy session, playing with slogans and ideas we thought Democrats needed to be saying.”
After organizing the local chapter of Drinking Liberally, Leding next became involved in local politics.
“I knew going into 2008 elections, I wanted to get more involved, to help the Democratic Party in general. As it turned out, in January of ‘08, Walt Eilers announced his candidacy for mayor.”
Leding invited Eilers and another mayoral candidate to speak at a Drinking Liberally meeting.
“While there, I interviewed them and put their responses on the Liberal’s blog.”
From that meeting, Eilers asked Leding to become communications director for his campaign. A few months into the campaign, Eilers’ campaign manager resigned and Leding moved into that position.
“It (being campaign manager) was inconvenient at first, because I had never done such a thing before. He (Eilers) said he had never run for office before either. I believe we ran a very good and positive campaign. I learned how to run a campaign, and that watching “West Wing” on TV certainly wasn’t enough to guide me through the process.”
This experience was an education for Leding. He came to realize that it takes getting out and doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning and talking with people to understand the issues that affect their day-to-day lives.
“I’m good at listing to what people have to say,” Leding said, “But talking about me has taken some getting used to after the election.”
The Road Ahead
The realistic Leding seems to believe that neither life’s successes nor its failures are permanent and therefore he accepts change easily.
Only time will tell if politics is Leding’s true calling. Finding his true calling in life seems important to him. He is determined to take on his political opponents and voice his ideas to make a change in the political landscape. His courage seems to come from a kind of moral grit based on strong values and simple common sense.
“I believe you have to have courage in your convictions,” he said. “I respect that you might have a different opinion. So, let’s sit and talk about places where we meet instead of hurling insults and attacks at one another.
“One of my goals by entering into the political arena is to do things differently. I hope to set an example while at the same time realizing there is a limit to what a politician can get done during a term.”
Entering into state politics as somewhat of a greenhorn might seem risky and foolhardy to some. But Leding is not reckless in his approach to the task. Grabbing the opportunity might seem daring, but also quite shrewd.
Leding believes his decision to run is not risky, because his early announcement and the organization he has built have prepared him. He said although he loves his independence, he promises to love a political career just as much.
Although somewhat shy — a family trait — Leding said his missionary-like zeal could galvanize others to join his cause.
He believes he has done his homework. He loved the time he spent as a political intern and if he wins the House seat, he says he can make a difference for others.
Like any good warrior, Leding knows his limitations. He recognizes that blind egotism or a belief in his own infallibility could prove fatal.
His plan to implement his ideas, he believes, will carry him through the political system. The road to the seat that will allow him to implement his ideas is a long one. But Leding likes to run.
“I’ve run nine marathons. I’m in training to run that tenth one. I want to hit double digits at least. I also have some designs on running some ultra marathon races.”
The ultra marathon he wants to run is the 135-mile long Badwater Ultramarathon, which is held each July in Death Valley, Calif.
No doubt, Leding likes to challenge himself both physically and mentally.
The race for the house seat looks as though it is shaping up to be a challenge. Bill Ramsey, who recently retired as head of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, has said that he also plans to run for the seat, which he previously held for nine terms.