Poverty Is a ‘Personal Choice:’ Arkansas Lawmaker Apologizes after Backlash from Tweet


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Twitter roasted a Republican state representative following his tweet that “being poor in America is a personal choice.”

Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, has since apologized for his wording of it. 

“If anyone took it wrongly, I do apologize,” Meeks said. “That was not my intent.”

Meeks sits on the House Education Committee, which met Monday afternoon. Over the weekend, he took to Twitter to try to teach a fellow Arkansan about the American Dream but ended up getting an education himself. 

“There was a lady on Twitter who said the reason why she was poor was because of government,” Meeks said. 

The Springdale woman, Diana Kalapala, tweeted, “The government wants to keep people poor. That way, they can control them.” 

Meeks’ response went viral. He replied, “Being poor in America is a personal choice, unless there are mitigating circumstances. A homeless man can go to school, get a job driving a truck making $70,000 per year and in 20 years, become a millionaire. In America, you can work hard and change your future, if you choose.” 

Meeks said he was referring to a man who called in to a radio show he was listening to a couple weeks ago.

“Who knows,” Meeks said. “In 20 years, he could be running the company. Those things are still possible in America.” 

Meeks said he deleted the tweet because “things got out of hand.” The post had more than 8,000 responses and many more reactions from across the country questioning his logic.

Kalapala replied, “Being poor is not a personal choice by most people. And I am fairly certain no child gets up in the morning and says, ‘I hope I am poor today.'” 

Other Arkansans got in on the debate. 

Irvin Camacho, a 2016 Democratic candidate for House District 89 and ACLU of Arkansas board member, tweeted, “My now deceased father was a truck driver for over a decade and even then, we were living in Housing Authority apartments in California because we were barely making it by. So get out of here with your false, wishful thinking.” 

Camacho called Meeks a coward for deleting the tweet and temporarily making his account private. 

Jesse Gibson, the president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, tweeted that Meeks’ post was “the most tone deaf, insensitive and clueless statement imaginable.” 

News outlets across the country, like Raw Story, Political Dig and The Inquisitr, picked up Meeks’ tweet. 

Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, tweeted, “Apparently being a completely moronic and out-of-touch representative is also a personal choice.”

“I still believe in America that opportunities exist and a person can change their own destiny if they so choose,” Meeks said. “Unfortunately, people took it from there and before long, I hated the poor, I didn’t understand.” 

Meeks argues he does understand. The district he represents is rural and middle class. He said he has heard why some cannot get out of poverty, whether that’s health or family issues or something else, but he also emphasized he has heard way too many stories, even from close family, about how they made it happen.

For those still in doubt, Meeks tweeted again, “I sent out a poorly-worded tweet expressing my belief in the American Dream. Based on the response, there are a lot of people who believe the American Dream is out of reach. That is something we need to change. I apologize to anyone I offended. That was not my intent.”

Meeks maintains he was just trying to encourage Kalapala and all Arkansans to take advantage of resources the state offers. He mentioned how schools offer career education programs that allow students to graduate from high school with certificates in fields like computer programming, welding and auto mechanics. 

Side note: Meeks has also made headlines for his weekend job, delivering pizza for Papa John’s.

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