Five-Oh-Ones to Watch 2024: Nic Horton, Opportunity Arkansas

A profound life event, coupled with a desire to make a lasting difference, led Nic Horton to take a very bold leap last year, as the 35-year-old Searcy native launched a public policy think tank Opportunity Arkansas.

“My dad passed away really suddenly, really tragically, in September of 2021. He was 60 years old,” Horton said. “My dad was my best man at my wedding, he was my best friend. To go through something like that, it really makes you stop and think not only why am I here on Earth, but why am I here in Arkansas? Why did the Lord place me here and what does He have for me to do here, specifically?

“It felt like the time was right to jump out and do something like [Opportunity Arkansas]. It’s a scary thing to do with a young family and now trying to help take care of my mom as well, but we’ve been very, very fortunate.”

Horton’s nonpartisan organization focuses on several areas of public policy with education reform, foster care reform and tax reform primary among them. Horton chuckles at the term “think tank”, admitting it’s a wonky, inside-the-beltway kind of label, preferring to describe the organization as a problem-solving entity.

“I tell people we’re all about our mission, which is simplifying government and solving generational problems in Arkansas,” he said. “We partner with state policymakers to try to make that mission a reality, and that can take a lot of different shapes and forms.

“We’ll talk to voters. We’ll do polling to see if [a proposed idea or legislation] is something the public would support. Then we’ll sit down with state policymakers and help them take ideas from creation to implementation.”

Horton said while some of the flak politicians get for being ineffective in office is warranted, many officials are simply unprepared for the job of lawmaking, especially newcomers.

“Politicians are great at getting elected, and a lot of them have good ideas when they’re campaigning,” he said. “But then they take office the first week of January, and they go right into legislative session, where they have 90 days [of session] for their first two years in office. They don’t have legislative staff, they don’t have very much of a support structure around them at all. They’re dependent upon, a lot of times, state bureaucrats, special interest groups and lobbyists to tell them what’s best. We feel like it’s important to be another voice in the room and try to help guide them.”

Along with his wife, Leah, Horton is the proud parent of 6-year-old Clark and 3-year-old Clara, who inspire him daily in his work.

“At the end of the day I’m an Arkansan, my kids are Arkansans, hopefully to grow up, live and die here. I want to make sure that this is a really, really great place,” he said. “It’s already a great place, but there are some things we could do to make it even better for the next generation.”