Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Arkansas’ first female governor.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is sworn in as the 47th governor of Arkansas on January 10th. Photo by Shealah Craighead Photography

Sarah Huckabee Sanders was sworn in as the 47th governor of Arkansas on January 10th.

On the very same day, Leslie Rutledge was sworn in as the state’s first female lieutenant governor. Arkansas and Massachusetts this year became the first states to have women in both governor and lieutenant governor roles.

Sanders is the daughter of Arkansas’ 44th Governor Mike Huckabee and wife Janet. Sanders grew up in Pine Bluff and Texarkana, and graduated from Little Rock Central High School and Ouachita Baptist University. A former political adviser, she made history as the first mother to hold the job of White House Press Secretary from 2017 to 2019 under former President Donald Trump.

And Sanders — wife to Bryan and mother to Scarlett, Huck and George — continues making history as the youngest governor currently serving in the country.

Arkansas’ first gentleman Bryan Sanders with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her parents, former first lady Janet Huckabee and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Photo by Randall Lee

During the first icy week of February, not quite a month into her tenure, Arkansas Living interviewed Governor Sanders about continuing her family’s legacy and creating her own.

Have you processed the historical significance of being Arkansas’ first female governor? What does it mean to you?

It is an unbelievable honor and an exciting time in our state, certainly, to be the first. But as I’ve stated before and pointed out in my inaugural address, my goal is not to make history because I’m the first woman or the youngest governor in the country right now. But it’s to move Arkansas to the top and to make history with what I think that we can achieve together serving the people of our state.

Governor Sanders delivers her inaugural address at the Arkansas state Capitol.

March is Women’s History Month. What woman or women do you most admire?

Certainly, my mom ranks at the top of that list. She’s about as tough as it comes and never backs down from a challenge. She raised my brothers and me in a home focused on our faith. And my mom has certainly played a huge influence on my life and is somebody that I look up to.

You’ve outlined education as a main priority for you. What teacher or what subject in school had the most influence on you?

I’ve had several teachers that had a huge impact at various stages in my life. In high school, I had an amazing American history professor who really made history come to life and made me fall in love with the study of our history.

When I was in college, I had a communications professor who humbled me quite a bit. I turned in a paper thinking that I was going to get an “A,” and he was going to tell me how brilliant I was and how great of a job I did. And instead, he brought it back to me with so much red ink, he probably went through three or four pens and basically told me it was not good. It was so bad, but he had confidence I could do better, he was going to give me the opportunity to try again. He became one of my favorite professors, and I learned an extraordinary amount from him. I was always thankful that he was willing to give me a second chance on that paper and that he put me in my place, as I was probably a little bit of a young, cocky freshman. I think we can all use a little of that every once in a while.

You lived in the Governor’s Mansion during your youth. What has it been like for you returning as governor?

It’s interesting to go back to a place that holds so many memories for me and for my family. I’m pretty sure that’s the place that my parents have lived longer than any other house they’ve been in. We have a lot of really special moments that took place there for our family, both good and bad. And so, it’s very interesting to be back there and to share that with my kids. I hope that their experience there is as good as the one that I had there growing up. It’s an unbelievable place with great history. I’m excited about being back with my family and my kids getting a chance to grow up there.

What advice has your father given you in your new role as governor?

My dad’s really good about not weighing in too often unless I ask him, which I’m happy to do. You know, when you have a resource like that, it would be a shame not to use it. But probably the best advice my dad has given me, both in this role and any other that I’ve had, is just always be yourself. God created each of us to be special and unique in our own way, so don’t try to be anything other than that.

Less than one month into the job, what has been the best part of being governor and the hardest part?

The best part is the impact that I think we get to have on the state. Already, in less than a month, I feel like we’ve been able to bring about conservative reform to the state, signing executive orders, setting the tone, working closely with our partners in the legislature. I think we’ll have a very successful legislative session; we’re off to a really good start. Knowing that the things that we’re working on every day are going to bring about real change and reform, and hopefully transformational change that makes a generational impact on the state — that’s the driver and the motivation and the good part of the job.

The hard part is just the day in, day out and making sure that we’re making the best decisions possible to help the people of the state. With the opportunity that we have, there’s a lot of responsibility, and so making sure we live up to that and deliver is something that I really want to focus on and make sure we’re able to do.

As governor, how do you and your family maintain a “normal” life? What keeps you grounded?

I think being a parent can keep you pretty grounded. We’ve got a 10-year-old, a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. They put us in our place pretty quickly. Kids certainly can keep you humble, and our kids are masters at that. So that helps keep us normal in a variety of ways. Attending their school events and sports events and being part of the everyday rigor of being a parent, I think, helps keep us focused too on everything that’s at stake. And the reason that my husband and I decided to jump into this in the first place is because we want to make sure that the Arkansas that our kids grow up in is the Arkansas I got to grow up in. I want to make sure that we are not taking any of those things for granted. And so, being parents, I think, helps keep our life in perspective and certainly normalizes things. We’re rushing out the door, and picking up messes from our kids and spilled syrup on our counters, and doing homework in the afternoons — just like every other parent in the state. That certainly gives us a very good and regular dose of reality every minute of every day.

The Cooperative Connection

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas provides electricity to more than 600,000 members in Arkansas and surrounding states. Arkansas Living asked Gov. Sanders questions from President and CEO Vernon “Buddy” Hasten about power, broadband and bettering life for rural citizens.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas’ mission is providing reliable, affordable and responsible electric power to our members. We know you are keenly focused on reliability and affordability. What can the cooperatives do to help you with those identical goals?

You guys have hit the nail on the head that the two biggest priorities are certainly making sure we have reliable energy for all of the citizens across the state and also the affordability component. We’ve talked a lot with your organization, Buddy and the co-ops about making sure that those two things are addressed. One of those things we’ve experienced (in early February) were difficult winter storms; we want to make sure we have good reliability. And so, I think one of the biggest and most important things is to have an ongoing relationship and constant communication with all of the stakeholders in providing that reliability and affordability to the people across the state. We have had that and want to continue to make sure there’s constant coordination and communication between the state, as well as all of the stakeholders that provide those services to the people.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas seek to improve the quality of life for our members, rural Arkansans. Do you see areas where we can partner with state government to help us both better achieve that goal?

I think the partnership is key. That partnership is a big piece of the puzzle. And making sure that cooperation and coordination is constant and that there’s a good working relationship, I think, is going to determine whether or not we can really provide reliability and affordability across the state.

Arkansas is challenged from a broadband connectivity perspective, which limits rural Arkansans and puts them at a significant disadvantage. Do you see areas where we can partner better in making Arkansas No. 1 in this category?

Absolutely. My goal is to make Arkansas No. 1 across the board, whether it’s in energy, education or workforce development. We want to move Arkansas to the top and set the standard and be an example for other states around the country. What else would you like to say to our members? I’m hopeful that we can do amazing things for the state. We want to be a great partner across the board and really bring about that transformational change to the people of Arkansas, and we’re looking forward to doing it.

Food and Fun, We asked Gov. Sanders about everything from eating to streaming.

What’s your favorite Arkansas food?

I think that I’m going to have to cheat a little bit and pick two. I think one would certainly have to be duck gumbo. There are very few items I can think of that are more representative of Arkansas; you’ve got duck, chicken and rice, some of our biggest industries. And it happens to be absolutely delicious. I was really excited we got to serve that at the inauguration. And the other one would be Arkansas cheese dip; you can’t leave that off the list. We like to claim that we invented that here, and I know Texas likes to fight with us, but I’m pretty sure we were first.

What’s your favorite Arkansas restaurant?

Oh, that one is hard to narrow down. One of the things I love about the state is every community you go to has a great little local spot. During the campaign, we tried to stop into different places and local restaurants all over Arkansas. … If I picked one, I think I’d get myself into a lot of trouble. But one of my favorite things is certainly finding those good local places that we have kind of mixed in all 75 counties.

What is your favorite thing to cook if/when you have time?

Cooking or baking, sometimes people argue over whether or not those are the same thing. But my kids would certainly love if it was all sweets all the time. I make a pretty good Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie (see recipe on next page) and have even become a little bit famous for the controversy around whether or not I actually made it. But that has to be at the top of the list. It’s something I do with my kids over the holidays and something that’s become a tradition and a really fun thing for us to all do together.

What is your favorite place in Arkansas for a getaway or staycation?

Arkansas is blessed with a lot of amazing outdoor spaces. And so you’ve got everything like amazing lakes and rivers. The Buffalo River is second to none. Lake Ouachita, Greeson, Beaver Lake — all beautiful spots — Greers Ferry. And then we’ve got great mountains, I mean the views at Petit Jean and Magazine and Mount Nebo. My family’s pretty active, and my husband is a big advocate for getting outside and enjoying every bit and piece of The Natural State. We enjoy a lot of different parts and places around the state, but usually something that has an outdoor component to it.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders pauses to pose for a selfie. Photo by Randall Lee

What’s the last show/movie that you streamed?

Let me think about a show that’s not an animated kids show; that is generally what I have time and get to watch! The last really great movie we watched was the new “Top Gun: Maverick.” It’s very rare when a sequel lives up to the hype, and it’s as good as the original. And I have to say, I think they did a pretty great job.

What is your usual coffee order?

Black coffee. Nothing in it. Very plain.

What is your most prized possession?

Pictures. I have lots and lots of pictures, certainly of my kids, early years of marriage. All my photos would be my most prized possession; they’re the one thing I can’t replace.

What are your hobbies?

I love to travel, especially with my family; I love to explore new places. … I like to play tennis. I’m attempting and hoping to get a little better at pickleball, though not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon, given that we’re right in the middle of the legislative session. Maybe after we get everything done this session, I’ll have a chance to pick that back up.

Do you have any useless talents?

No, all of my talents are very useful. I can’t sing. I don’t have any special party tricks or any fun thing like that. So, no, only useful talents that I have, I suppose.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Really hot, salty McDonald’s french fries.

Governor Sanders’ Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 prepared pie crust

Heat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, stir eggs, corn syrup and butter together. Add remaining ingredients one at a time, stirring each as you add them. Pour into pie crust.

Bake on lowest rack for 1 hour. Watch it closely starting at 50 minutes because every oven is different. If it’s browning too much on the edges, you may want to take out early.

Best served warm with vanilla ice cream on top and shared with friends and family!

Gov. Sanders’ notes:

  • Pie crust: Either make your own crust, or you can use frozen deepdish pie crust (it saves a ton of time to just get the pre-made ones!).
  • Bourbon: I typically use Blanton’s, Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve (if you use really cheap bourbon you can tell, so don’t do that!).
  • Vanilla: Try vanilla bean paste if you can find it — so good!
  • Pecans: It turns out best if you put pecans in a Ziplock bag and crush them with a hammer. Less mess than a food processor and a great stress reliever! This is my kids’ favorite part to help with!