Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be sworn in as Arkansas’ first female governor and the country’s youngest governor on Tuesday, with intentions to implement a “aggressive, bold, and conservative” agenda that will have a “generational impact” on the state.
In November, Sanders, 40, easily defeated Democratic opponent Chris Jones. She takes over for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is term-limited and cannot run again. He supported her bid.
Sanders follows in the footsteps of her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who led the state from 1996 to 2007.
“It is a pretty humbling thing,” Sanders told Fox News Digital during an exclusive interview ahead of her inauguration. “As far as we know, we’ll be the first-ever father-daughter pair anywhere in the country, and so, you know, that is a pretty historic and amazing thing.”
Sanders, who served as former President Donald Trump’s White House press secretary and on a number of political campaigns throughout her career, said she “always believed” she would work “more behind the scenes” in politics.
“And here I am, nothing like after the last few years,” Sanders explained.
When Sanders departed the White House in 2019, Trump encouraged her to run for governor.
“It was certainly not the road I had envisioned, but it is one that I am really excited and passionate about embarking on,” Sanders said.
Sanders admitted to being “a little biased,” but she believes her father is “probably the best governor we’ve ever had here in Arkansas and one of the top governors in the country.”
“He’s set the bar high, and I have very big shoes to fill,” Sanders said, adding that there is “nobody more hopeful and more helpful in helping me achieve my goals.”
Education reform is at the top of Sanders’ list after being sworn in.
“I’ve made no secret that the biggest priority I have for this session is a large-scale education reform package,” Sanders said. “I am really excited to work with our legislative partners to bring about education reform that, I think, will have a generational impact on our state.”
As a mother of three elementary-aged children, a daughter and two sons, Sanders has an inside look at classrooms and curriculum across the state.
“I am living it every day with a fifth-grader, a third-grader and a first-grader, and I feel the impact of education and what it means and what it means to each kid,” Sanders said, noting they “all learn differently and all need different things.”
“Making sure that we are providing the best pathway and best opportunities to every student in the state is going to be a big priority and going to be very important as we move forward in this session.”
Sanders said Arkansas has “sent a pretty strong and clear message of what they are hoping for.”
“There is a real hunger, not just from the public, but I think also from the legislature here, where we have Republican super-majorities in the House and the Senate, to do some pretty big things and enact some conservative reform,” Sanders said.
Sanders tapped Jacob Oliva, a senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, to serve as Arkansas secretary of education.
“My hope is that states look to Arkansas as a model and as a national leader on how to do it right,” she said.
Other top priorities for Sanders’ administration, she said, is an emphasis on public safety.
“Making sure that our law enforcement officers have the training and the resources and the tools that they need to do their job well, and being supportive of their efforts, and putting some truth into sentencing here in the state of Arkansas,” Sanders said, adding that she will also focus on “making sure that violent repeat offenders aren’t let out into our community so that they can continue to commit crime.”
Sanders has already chosen Capt. Mike Hagar, a 26-year veteran of the Arkansas State Police, as her choice to oversee the law enforcement agency and the Department of Public Safety. Sanders stated that she will appoint Hagar as director of the Division of State Police at the same time.
Sanders also stated that A.J. Gary, the current public safety secretary, has promised to remain as the director of the state Department of Emergency Management in her administration. Gary was appointed secretary of public safety by Hutchinson in August.
Gary is a retired police chief who worked for the Conway Police Department for almost 28 years.
Meanwhile, Sanders has stated that she intends to try to eliminate Arkansas’ state income tax.
“It is not going to happen overnight, but we want to keep chipping away at it,” she said, adding that she also will focus on growing Arkansas’ tourism industry.”
As for federal policies impacting the people of Arkansas, Sanders said that “a lot of the failures of the Biden administration are falling onto the backs of governors.”
“It’s one of the reasons I ran for governor, because I believe that at the more local level, you can truly enact change and do things to help the people of your state,” she explained.
“Washington has gotten so politicized that it is crippled,” she added. “With very little positive coming out of Washington these days, I am especially focused on what we can do to empower our residents, safeguard individual liberties, and offer better opportunities for every Arkansan.”
“Some of that is focused on policies that empower our residents here at home,” she added, “but a lot of it is focusing on pushing back on the out-of-control federal government.”