Political Engagement

JBU Graduates Impact Politics

By Johanna Merwin '12 & Lucas Roebuck '97
6/28/2018 4:47:00 PM


Jonathan Barnett ’77 said he doesn’t share the raw talent of his fellow Boys State attendees Mike Elliot ’77 and Gov. Mike Huckabee, but rather hard work has led to his successes both as a public servant and a political partisan.

Barnett would later serve Huckabee (who holds an honorary degree from JBU) as manager for his early campaigns. Jonathan Barnett and Dough Matayo

Barnett has held a string of political positions – none of them full-time — while running a successful construction business. For Barnett, having one foot in the real world of business has helped him be an effective public servant.

When he was a sophomore at JBU (only 19 years old), Barnett was elected to the Siloam Springs city council. During his junior year, he was a delegate for Ronald Reagan at the GOP National Convention in Kansas City. He served in many capacities for the Arkansas GOP, and currently represents Arkansas on the national level as a member of the Republican National Committee. Barnett has also served the state of Arkansas in many non-partisan capacities as well. He served as one of five Arkansas Highway Commissioners for a decade and also as chairman of the State Building Services Council.

Barnett is also state representative for District 97 (where JBU’s main campus is located). “I am always proud to tell people that I graduated from JBU.”
Even though he is a long-time Republican, Barnett works with Democrats, too.

“I was with Gov. [Mike] Beebe [in May] looking at flood damage and the President of the United States called him on his cell phone,” Barnett deadpanned. “I kept mentioning to the Governor that I wanted to talk to the President, but Obama wasn’t interested in taking my call.”

Barnett believes Christians should be involved politically. “We must get involved to make sure our man-made laws do not conflict with God’s laws.”


For Doug Matayo, ’94, Chief of Staff for the Arkansas Secretary of State and former state representative (2002-2006), public service is a calling.
“It is a [Christian’s] duty to discover what their calling is and then get involved and pursue that calling. Every facet of our culture is redeemable. It is our duty to make an effort to redeem even the political realm,” Matayo said. “I’m not talking about instituting a theocracy. I am talking about implementing so many of the timeless teachings we learn from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus and applying it in the political realm.”

Matayo’s political activity goes back to his student days at JBU. As Student Government Association vice president Matayo learned the impact of politics. “While at JBU I saw how through public service a person can make a difference. One initiative implemented when I was SGA VP was a student-faculty-administration partnership which led to the institution of the Fall Break,” he said. “I learned a great deal about negotiation, service, listening and began learning about the complexities of respectfully advocating a position to authority in a tactful way.”

While in the state house, Gov. Mike Huckabee tapped Matayo to be his house floor leader. Matayo went on to campaign for Huckabee in the presidential primaries.“My past adventures as a leader for Gov. Huckabee and campaigning for him during his 2008 Presidential run were exciting times. Mike Huckabee is a friend and someone I respect a great deal. If he chooses to pursue the Presidency in 2012, I believe he would win.”

Matayo says young people should consider politics. “My encouragement to young people is maintain the right attitude and consider the admonition ‘to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’


Retired Wyoming State Representative and former State House Speaker Bill McIlvainEarly in life, retired Wyoming State Representative and former State House Speaker Bill McIlvain had no ambition for public office.

In the summer of 1968, his desire changed. McIlvain was a teacher who spent summer hours lifeguarding. One afternoon, a sleek black car pulled into the pool parking lot.  Three men in suits approached McIlvain’s lifeguard chair and asked him to run for public office. “And soon, as they say, ‘My hat was in the ring’” he said.

Throughout his 18 years in the House, McIlvain has sought to help people help themselves. “What people really needed was an opportunity to make a good living and provide for their families,” he said.

 McIlvain has also served as Wyo. House Majority Whip, Majority Floor Leader, Speaker Pro-Tem and Speaker of the House. He was chairman of the House Education Committee for three of his nine terms.

 McIlvain represented Wyoming on international trade missions to Taiwan. He has met several world leaders including President Lee of Taiwan, the Sultan of Ajman, and the Queen of England.

He has advocated legislation for competitive education through homeschooling and charter schools. He started an internship program for university students to work with legislators and learn legislative processes. Dick Cheney and Bill McIlvain

And through it all, he has formed friendships with a few of Wyoming’s national legislators: Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynn Cheney, Al Simpson and Mike Enzi.
McIlvain credits JBU for his trajectory after college: “JBU instilled in me a sense of community and civic responsibility to make the world a better place.” 


Carolyn Pollan’s political career is historic. She is the longest serving Republican and woman in the Arkansas state legislature – and she was the first woman to be named House Associate Speaker Pro Tempore. Her records of longevity Carolyn Pollanare unlikely to be broken because of term-limits.

She served 12 consecutive terms in the State House from 1975 until 1999. Later she served as a legislative director for Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Pollan said she worked to pass legislation to help “those who could not make it” in society. Her top legislation passed focused on protecting children, particularly against child abuse. She also championed adult education programs for those “who could not read or write” in addition to providing for alternative schools for at-risk students.

Pollan said she tried to stay above the fray in politics, avoiding back-room deal making and instead focusing on writing good legislation.

Pollan also served on JBU’s Board of Trustees from 1981-2008.


After his tenure as JBU’s third president, John Brown III became one of the most respected legislators in the Little Rock state house. In 1996, Brown was elected to the State Senate, where he served two four-year terms. In 1997, Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed Brown to be his Senate floor leader.

Brown served as chairman of a number of committees in the Senate. He also authored bills that made instrumental changes in long-term healthcare, education, and public employee protection in Arkansas.  In 1999 and 2001, Brown was elected Minority Leader by his colleagues.

Brown also earned the respect of President Bill Clinton through the various interactions they had while Clinton was governor. Clinton attended Brown’s investiture as president in 1979. Brown, a Republican, recounted a time when President Clinton came to address the Arkansas legislature in 2001. “He greeted me with a hearty handshake and hug,” Brown said with a smile. “My Democrat colleagues were shocked.” 

Brown proved to be an effective legislator. “Pragmatically compromise happens, but you never compromise your principles,” he said. John Brown III and Mike Kenney


Mike Kenney, who served on several municipal boards and as a state representative in the Arkansas House, believes more Christians need to be involved in politics.

“We need to be salt and light to a world that is increasingly growing dark,” he said. “The principles found in the Bible should be our foundation for showing people that we can make a positive difference in our communities.  We must also stand for the truth, and the integrity that Christ called us to follow in our lives every day.”
Kenney said the highlight of his three terms in the state house was as Chairman of the House Education Committee. “I asked the committee to always ask ourselves: are we adding to the cost and are we improving our schools in a positive manner?  I tried to discourage unfunded mandates and more needless regulations.  We passed legislation encouraging more charter schools, access to school choice, and merit pay options for school districts.”

When Kenney was a JBU student, John Brown III was his law professor; later he was a mentor to Kenney as legislator. “His example helped me to strive to do my best.”


Jim Sheets haJim Sheetss never been afraid of a challenge. He begins with little and ends with global impact.

In 1958, enrollment at JBU totaled 250 students. Nine years later, recruiting had reached 775 students when Sheets was active in admissions.

Sheets was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1966. He was the first Republican from Benton County to be elected to the State House. During his term, he served with only two other Republicans in the House and spoke on behalf of Gov. Winfield Rockefeller.

When Sheets returned to JBU working for University Advancement, the campus witnessed the completion of the Cathedral Group and a wing-addition to J. Alvin Brown Hall.

During 1982-1998, Sheets served the Kiwanis International Foundation as Executive Director. He raised $100 million for the foundation’s Iodine Deficiency Project. Iodine deficiency was a significant catalyst for a number of health and psychological problems in children and adults across the world.

“We got iodine into almost every country in the world,” he said. Reflecting on his life, he remarks, “I’ve loved everything I’ve done. I attribute it to the Lord’s blessing and his leading me through my life.”


Bob Bethel was ready for a new career challenge in the early 1980’s. The change of pace changed his life.

Bob Bethel took a job as a nursing home administrator in Peabody, Kan. Bethel grew frustrated with the state of the healthcare system. Politicians, according to Bethel, were creating laws without understanding the patients’ needs or service provider’s agenda.

Bob BethelHe began to think about getting involved in politics. “We needed people who knew about the care that they needed on the law-making side of things,” he said.
Bethel was elected to the Kansas State House in 1998 and still serves today. Part of quality healthcare requires difficult legislative decisions. The biggest challenge has been reconciling issues of government funding for Medicaid.

“It takes a lot to get an idea that comes from my involvement in the industry to become a bill that people will somewhat agree on,” Bethel said. But this has not hindered his success. He has both passed and advocated numerous healthcare and education bills during his years in the Senate.

“There’s still work to be done to provide best quality of care for people who need it,” Bethel said. He works hard to represent those in need. “My time at JBU helped me understand where my priorities lie and what [God] has put before me to do,” Bethel said. He considers 1 Timothy 5:8 to be his life mandate as a politician.
“If we deny caring for our relatives and our immediate family we have denied our faith,” Bethel said.




Former JBU President Lee Balzer, Janet Huckabee and her husband, Gov. Mike HuckabeeAs the First Lady of Arkansas for ten years, Janet Huckabee is no stranger to rough-and-tumble politics. Later, as the wife of a top presidential contender, Huckabee has shown personal strength under the pressure of the national spotlight.

“Campaigning is campaigning whether for a high school student council or President of the United States. You have to be yourself, work hard and give up a lot of personal time. I found myself in places like Alaska, Montana and Wisconsin meeting people for the first time, but building relationships that last forever.  Obviously, running for president of the United States is much larger, Arkansas times 50, and so the work is harder but also more rewarding.”

But it should be no surprise that Huckabee is made of stern stuff. The star high school basketball player, spinal cancer survivor, two-time marathon runner and mother of three has no problem bungee jumping — or even parachuting out of an airplane. Newsweek Magazine describes Huckabee as “a straight-talking, independent-minded good ole gal with a daredevil streak and a passion for the outdoors.”

Before entering politics, her husband Mike was also a pastor, so Huckabee has seen first hand the fusion of faith and politics.“Why not have Christians in politics?  We were never supposed to avoid politics and as Christians I feel that we should be involved in all aspects of life,” she said. “If we are to be the light of the world then we need to shine in all areas of Janet Huckabee graduates from JBU.our life.”

Huckabee graduated from JBU’s Advance program in 2003 with an honors degree in organizational management. She also served on the JBU Board of Directors from 2004-2007.

“JBU has offered many students the opportunity to excel in all areas of life,” Huckabee said. “The students are perfect examples of how the university teaches leadership skills, relationship building and provides each student with all the necessities to go into the world. I thank JBU and all of the staff for the incredible education that I received and for the leadership they show throughout the state of Arkansas, this country and the world.”


Sarah Kropp For Sarah Kropp ’03, a typical day-in-the-life ranges from coordinating press conferences to updating websites and social networking feeds; but whatever the case may be, she is never bored. As the communications director for the National Association of Evangelicals, Kropp participates in the organization’s work to affect positive change in areas like energy efficiency, prison laws, immigration and abortion.

 The NAE recognizes that evangelicals possess an incredible opportunity to shape public policy for the health of the nation, she said.  On Oct. 8, 2009, the organization released its position on immigration reform to the public, including a copy to White House staff.

 When President Barack Obama gave a speech on immigration reforms in July of 2010, it reflected NAE’s position, particularly in points of securing the border, maintaining the family unit, establishing a process to earn legal status, and advocating fair labor and civil laws.

Watching the Presidential speech, Kropp said, “I was overcome by the way in which God works through his people, particularly when united with one voice, to influence society.” 

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