out getting into politics. “I’m thinking to myself, you’ve got to be nuts,” Kerr said.

“She came to me and said you need to go down to the Quorum Court, which is the county legislature, basically,” he said. She wanted him to go to a court meeting and tell him what he thought.

“So I took her up on it and before that meeting was over I thought my head was going to explode,” he said.

The county’s budget was in such bad shape that it “had actually shut down our county jail and started turning prisoners loose back into the community. And, of course, being in the insurance business, I’m thinking, oh my god, my loss ratios are going to go up; people are going to start breaking into houses. You’ve got all these career criminals that they’re turning loose because of a budget situation,” he said.

Kerr realized he had the skills to help the county turn its money woes around, so he ran for a seat on the Quorum Court and won by a landslide against a two-term incumbent.

“One of the first things I did when I took office was I sat down with the comptroller and had him put together a spreadsheet for income and expenses,” Kerr said. The other members of the court “had never seen a spreadsheet. They’d give them these great big old budget books for each department and of course these folks they’re not going to read that thing. So they were dependent on these department heads to tell them what was there.

“I had it put in a form where they could see it at a glance. Money in, money out,” he said.

Eventually, it was discovered that tens of thousands of dollars of the county’s money was missing. The county’s manager/comptroller had been taking money from the county, diverting it to another account and keeping a mistress on the side, Kerr said.

Kerr then ran for budget chairman on the court and was elected to that position even though he was one of three Republicans on the 15-member Quorum Court. “When I took that over, we were $5 million in the hole. When I left that office, just two years later, we were $15 million in the black.”

At that point he was encouraged to run for state representative to replace a member who was term limited.

“I ran as a Republican to show the state of Arkansas it could be done and we could win. From that point on we started building the Republican coalition. The year I won state representative, out of 100 positions, there were only about 21, 22 of us that were Republicans. This term, this last election, we took the majority, in both the Senate and the House.”

Kerr is term limited – his term ends in 2014 and he plans on sitting out the next election cycle. “I don’t like primaries you’ve got to say something terrible about your friends that are running against you. And they’ve got to say something terrible about you. Something about that, my character, I don’t really like that.”

Kerr said his father, a veteran who served in World War II, told him that “everybody needs to give back whether it’s serving in the military or serving your country or state in some way. This was my way. This was kind of my service,” Kerr said.

At the same time, he said, his time in public office has been valuable for his business. “We’ve reaped quite a bit of, quite a few rewards out of me being in politics,” Kerr said.

When you’re in public service, “people know more about you,” he said. “They know they can trust you if you’ve got a good record. They know how you vote on public matters. And like minded people like to do business with people who think like they do. So we’ve had a lot of folks just walk in off the street and say ‘hey I heard you on the radio. I like your politics; I’d like to look at my insurance.’”

Kerr said there haven’t been any issues so far in his political career that he perceived as conflicting with his business interests. “Had I run across that I certainly would have recused myself. … Anything that would have affected me financially I would have recused myself, whether it be insurance or not.”

There have been several highlights during his time in public office, Kerr said. One of them is “winning an election that no one expects you to win.”

But one of the biggest rewards of service is just to be able to be part of something larger than one’s self, Kerr said.

“Every time a session starts and you walk into that chamber and you see your name light up on that board, that is just a feeling that I wish everyone could experience once because it is awesome,” he said. “Once your name lights up on that board, you are part of history. Your name is going to be in all of those history books, in all of those bills that you worked on, that’s you. And that’s a permanent record and can’t nobody take it away from you.”

Listen to a podcast interview with Arkansas state Rep. Allen Kerr on IJTV here.