Nearly 100 local leaders and legislators came together on Thursday night at the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce’s second annual “Dishin’ Up Democracy.”

Reminiscent of an old-fashioned political gathering, the boots and blue jeans-style event welcomed lawmakers from the city, county, and state levels and provided an opportunity for chamber members to interact with officials and candidates seeking office in the upcoming election.

Hosted by the Chamber Governmental Affairs Committee, Dishin’ was held at the Farmer Cooperative Warehouse in Van Buren. The evening featured traditional favorites including fried catfish, chicken, and hushpuppies, from Bruce Terri Catering, as well as an array of festive desserts from Stirred Catering in Van Buren.

While dining, guests also enjoyed listening to music provided by the group “Breaking Bread.”

This year’s event was proudly presented by Blue Ribbon Sponsors AT&T and Five Rivers Distribution.

The evening kicked off with a welcome by Van Buren Chamber of Commerce Chair Lyn Miller and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Steven Keady.

Keady thanked guests for their support of the second annual Dishin’ before turning the microphone over to Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman for the introduction of the keynote speaker, Congressman Steve Womack.

Womack was elected to represent Arkansas’s 3rd Congressional District in 2010 and sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee. Prior to his election to Congress, Womack served as the mayor of Rogers for 12 years and in the Arkansas Army National Guard for more than 30 years, retiring at the rank of colonel.

In introducing Womack, Freeman expressed his appreciation to the congressman for his many of years of service to both his community and country.

During the program, Womack talked about community development and the importance of planning for the future. He cited examples from his time as leader of Rogers and discussed his “mayor after next” principal. “Too often we get caught up in what we need today. Decisions we make today should be visionary enough that they not only take care of us … but, will take care of those a generation from now and benefit not just the mayor now, or the next mayor, but the mayor after next.”

Womack also commented on the current political climate, in regards to the November elections.

“Our country is deeply divided, incredibly polarized,” he said. “We all have to do our part to lift ourselves out of this…and work on solutions to the challenges we face. Despite all this, this is still the best country on the planet.”

As “the voice of business” for chamber membership, the Governmental Affairs Committee launched Dishin’ in 2015 as a way to connect lawmakers with their constituents in a casual setting. The group works to support and communicate with local legislators about issues affecting the area, as well as provide opportunities to engage and inform citizens.

Tuesday, the committee will host a candidates forum at the Van Buren Public Library. The event will feature Crawford County Justice of the Peace District 5 candidates Johnny Ragsdale and Raymond Harvey and Van Buren clderman candidates Max Blake and Tyler Wood.

The forum is free and open to the public. It will begin at 6:30 p.m.