LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was sworn in as Arkansas governor Tuesday, becoming the first woman to hold the office in the state and portraying herself as part of a new generation of leaders.
Sanders took the oath of office as the state’s 47th governor in the state House chamber before a joint session of the Legislature, ascending to the post her father held for more than a decade. Sanders was set to be formally inaugurated on the state Capitol steps Tuesday afternoon.
“A turning point in the history of Arkansas will usher in a new era of good jobs, great schools, safer streets and stronger families,” Sanders said in a roughly 15-minute speech after taking the oath. “The people of Arkansas, in their vast wisdom, have entrusted a new generation to lead. This is our moment. This is our opportunity.”
Sanders, who served nearly two years as White House press secretary, won the governor’s election last year after focusing heavily on national issues and her time working for former President Donald Trump. But she’s mostly avoided weighing in on the former president since the election and has said she wants to focus her attention on Arkansas.
During her speech in the Legislature and her formal inauguration address later Tuesday, Sanders did not mention Trump or President Joe Biden. But she made clear she planned to use the office to take on conservatives’ favorite targets, including the federal government.
“As long as I’m your governor, the meddling hand of big government creeping down from Washington, DC will be stopped cold at the Mississippi River,” she said during her 22-minute inaugural address on the steps of the state Capitol.
Sanders said she also planned to sign an executive order to prevent the “political indoctrination” of students, though she did not elaborate on what would entail.
“As long as I am governor, our schools will focus on the skills our children need to get ahead in the modern world, not brainwashing our children with a left-wing political agenda,” she said.
Sanders has said she would support a measure in Arkansas similar to Florida’s law banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade. Critics, who dubbed Florida’s ban the “Don’t Say Gay” law, say such a restriction marginalizes LGBTQ people by excluding them from classroom lessons.
Sanders has also said she supports banning the teaching of critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.
With her inauguration, Sanders becomes the most well-known former Trump official in elected office. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served as Arkansas’ governor for more than a decade.
Sanders’ victory came in an election where Republicans expanded their supermajorities in the state House and Senate. Republicans also hold every statewide and federal office in the state. The Legislature kicked off this year’s session Monday.
In her speech Tuesday, Sanders offered few details on an education reform measure she’s said is her top priority. Sanders said the measure will expand pre-kindergarten, improve literacy rates and prepare students for the workplace. She also indicated it would include some form of using public money to pay for private schooling or home schooling.
‘”Let’s give parents a greater role in education, including the right to choose the school that’s best for their child, whether it’s public, private or parochial,” she said.
She also said she’d sign legislation raising teacher pay, though she did not give a specific amount.
Sanders also called on lawmakers to cut income taxes and enact public safety measures. She takes office with the state sitting on more than $2 billion in reserves and with Republicans in the Legislature having expanded their supermajority in the November election.
Sanders is succeeding Asa Hutchinson, who leaves office after eight years due to term limits. Hutchinson, a Republican, is considering running for president. He has said Trump winning the GOP nomination again would be the “worst scenario” for his party.