Sarah Edith Sonneman Agee (1946–)
Sarah Edith Sonneman was born in Fayetteville (Washington County) on January 2, 1946, to Gladys Margaret Gosnell Sonneman and Emil Herman Sonneman. Thiers was a prominent Washington County family. The Gosnells of Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) had the only bookstore in town, and reading was a prime concern for the family, which had no television. Her mother, who played the organ for the silent movies at the UARK Theater and Palace Theater and was the organist for more than fifty years at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, was a field representative for the state Welfare Department. The Sonneman family built and operated seven movie theaters in the area, the UARK Bowl, and apartments near campus. Her father owned and operated the Fayetteville Country Club and Razorback Golf Course, supported community projects such as the municipal airport and the City Hospital, and was an avid Razorback booster.
Sonneman attended public schools in Fayetteville, waitressed at her family’s Campus Grill, and was active in Girl Scout Troop 43 and the Baptist church. She graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1964, where she was an honor student, was a member of Quill and Scroll, sang with the Choralettes, and was a maid on the Colors Day Court.
Sonneman enrolled at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, majoring in accounting, but she left school during her sophomore year to marry Keith Schultz. He joined the U.S. Navy and was soon stationed at Pearl Harbor, and she and their two children lived in Honolulu while he was in Vietnam. After their marriage ended, she married Charles Agee; they had two children.
Sarah and Charles Agee, whose family owned a four-store IGA supermarket chain, moved to Prairie Grove and operated Agee Limousin Cattle farm. While their children were in school, Agee was active in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and was elected to the Prairie Grove School Board, serving almost twelve years. She was also appointed to the city’s Police Committee. When term limits created an open House seat in 1998, she was encouraged to run for the legislature by her husband, who had an AM talk-radio show, and station owner Pat Demaree.
Agee decided to run as a Republican for the House District 9 position, which included southern Washington and northern Crawford counties. Her family helped in her campaign, with her sister Mary Kate Arrington traveling from Little Rock (Pulaski County) to help with the door-to-door canvassing. Although a Republican had never held the seat, Agee won the general election with 56 percent of the vote over Justice of the Peace Jack Norton, a Democrat. During her first term, she served on the City, County, and Local; Public Transportation; and Joint Performance Review committees.
Representative Agee expressed her philosophy of representation during her first term: “The one thing that I felt you had to do when you came down here was listen to your constituents. You tell them enough about everything that they may need to know so they can make a decision. If you’re not giving them all the information, they can’t make an intelligent decision. And then if they say, this is the way we want you to vote and it’s a majority you hear from, and you don’t depend on a certain group to tell you, you try to get it from all walks of life, and that’s the way you should vote—whether it was your own personal decision.”
Running for reelection in 2000, Agee faced former County Democratic Chair Ann Harbison. Both candidates agreed on the need for funding rural water systems and increasing teachers’ salaries, but Agee supported the school vouchers that Harbison strongly opposed. Representative Agee won reelection with 63 percent of the vote, and that December she was a presidential elector for George W. Bush. During her second term, Agee served on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, Revenue and Taxation Committee, Rules Committee, and Arkansas Legislative Council. Governor Mike Huckabee named her his deputy floor leader in the House for the 2001–2002 sessions. Having initiated a study by the Interim Committees on Transportation of Arkansas traffic laws in order to make recommendations for legislation, Agee worked with the Arkansas State Police to enact a number of bills to update traffic laws.
Redistricting following the 2000 census resulted in Agee running for the District 87 position in 2002, which was essentially the same territory she had represented in the past, and she was unopposed. In her third term, she was appointed chair of the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the House Judiciary and Joint Budget committees. During the 2003 session, Agee co-sponsored a bill with Senator Sue Madison to set uniform early-voting hours in all seventy-five counties for primary, runoff, and general elections (Act 269 of 2003). In 2004, she was named to the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, Texas.
Being unable to run for reelection to the House in 2004 due to term limits, Agee challenged Madison, a Democrat of Fayetteville, for Senate District 7. She said she was not running against Madison, whom she said was a good friend, but was running for the Senate. Representative Agee lost the race to Madison by 52–48 percent. However, Agee returned to Little Rock in 2005 as one of Governor Huckabee’s legislative liaisons, and then she joined the governor’s staff as Assistant for City, County, and Local Affairs in 2005 and became the governor’s policy advisor for agricultural issues in 2006.
Agee’s bipartisan respect was evident when Charlie Daniels, the Democratic secretary of state, appointed her in 2006 to a committee to review the state’s election software system and make recommendations for improvement. Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, elected that year, chose to keep Agee on his staff, because “she knows her way around the Capitol, and she’s an important part of the work going on to implement the Governor’s vision.” She was a legislative liaison for Beebe, and among her duties after the 2007 session was as the Governor’s liaison to the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority. Agee remained on Governor Beebe’s staff for both of his terms, and she served as his liaison to the Arkansas Workforce Investment Board from 2007 until 2014.
For additional information:
Agee, Sarah. Video interview by Lindsley Armstrong Smith, June 6, 2006. “Women in the Arkansas General Assembly,” University of Arkansas Women’s Giving Circle and Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics & Society project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“Rep. Agee to Seek Re-Election.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Edition, February 19, 2002, p. 11.
Thompson, Doug. “Prairie Grove Foes Address Safe Water, Teacher Pay; GOP Incumbent Faces Democrat in District 9.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Northwest Edition, November 4, 2000, p. 1B.
Upshaw, Amy. “4 State Senators Fending off Challengers for Capitol Seats.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 3, 2004, p. 20.
Lindsley Armstrong Smith and Stephen A. Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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