Full Transcript

Misty: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Common Ground Arkansas’ podcast. I am Misty Orpin, executive director of Common Ground Arkansas.

Jim: And I’m Jim Hendren. It’s good to be back and do another podcast.

Misty: And so today we thought we’d talk about some of the stuff we’re looking forward to in 2022. We’re looking at the 2022 election season and who’s running for different races.

Jim: Yeah, Misty’s done a great job of putting the information on our website. If you want to go get a current list of who’s running for what office, it’s going to be a great resource for you as you begin to decide which candidates you may want to support and which ones you want to work against. We’re going to put all the information up there and try to make it as accessible for everybody to be well-informed, so the people will actually participate at a higher rate.

Misty: On our website now, you’ll see that we have the state constitutional offices, which are like governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, things like that, but we don’t have any announcements on legislative seats yet. And that’s because of redistricting.

Jim: It’s going to be hard. I think you’ll see some people make an announcement about running for re-election even before the lines are drawn. That’s pretty routine. But it’s going to be really hard and I think somewhat suppressed because so many people will wait to decide whether they’re in somebody else’s district or whether they’re in a district that’s new and doesn’t have an incumbent. So I expect it’s going to be somewhat delayed this year because of the redistricting, which as everybody probably knows it happens every 10 years and has a dramatic impact on the shape of the legislature.

Misty: Yeah, and there’s two different parts of redistricting. So there’s the redistricting that happens for the congressional seats and that is done by the legislature. And then there’s the redistricting that happens for the legislative seats, and that is done by the board of apportionment, which is a three-person commission that consists of the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general. That’s, of course, your uncle, Governor Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and our Secretary of State John Thurston.

Jim: Yeah, and they had their first meeting, and it’s hard to make a lot of definitive decisions until you get the census data back from the federal government, which we expect to be this fall. So I think they’re beginning their preparatory work. The legislature is already made provision to come back into session in the fall after we get the census data, because as Misty said it’ll start in the state agencies committee with recommendations about how the congressional districts are drawn and then, of course, the Board of Apportionment will come up with the lines for the legislative districts. And it’s probably for the best. I think it’s probably good that we don’t draw our own districts or there would be all kinds of chaos. So it’s a good system. We worry about the federal officers, and the Board of Apportionment worries about the state legislative lines.

Misty: Yeah, I definitely would not trust you guys to draw your own seats.

Jim: Yeah, it would be some unusual looking districts, I’m sure.

Misty: Yeah, it would. You mentioned that the Board of Apportionment had its first meeting the other day, and a couple of things that I noted from that meeting was that the Governor said that the census data could be as late as September 30th this year. And if that’s the case they don’t really anticipate that they’ll have them much before December 31st.

Jim: Yeah, and that puts things on a somewhat compressed timeline with not even knowing where the districts are until late in the fall with primaries in the spring. There’s already some talk about the legislature delaying the primaries to try to give more time. I would expect that the legislature’s going to look at what’s in the best interest of ourselves, getting re-elected, and that’s what we’ll do. But it’s going to be a unique year because of the redistricting. People are going to have to be prepared for some last-minute changes.

There’s going to be new districts where there’s no incumbent so it’s going to clearly be a new member of the legislature. And then there’s going to be districts where members have to run against each other, which is not going to be a very comfortable situation. But every 10 years it’s necessary to adjust the lines based on where the population centers are moving in Arkansas.

Misty: Maybe speak a little bit about how you think those lines are going to move. Even without the census numbers being in, we know how the population has shifted somewhat in Arkansas.

Jim: Yeah, we do. And, you know, I was elected after the last redistricting in 2012 so the lines had just been redrawn in 2010. And we’re going to see a very similar situation to what happened then, which was Benton County and Washington County, between the two of us, got a new Senate seat because of the growth in Northwest Arkansas – the Senate and two or three new House seats. The Senate and House districts down in South Arkansas, which are not growing nearly as fast or at all will see their legislative districts’ geography increase because they will have to have larger territory to represent an equal number of people. And that’s what pushes us into a situation where some legislators will find themselves in the same district with each other, particularly in South Arkansas and in parts of the Delta where the population is not increasing. Whereas in areas that it’s growing very quickly, you’ll see additional seats, and you’ll see new seats created out of thin air because of the need to get more representation to the people who are living there.

Misty: Yeah, so we’ll probably see that in Bentonville. We know it’s growing. Rogers has grown a lot. Springdale.

Jim: That’s right. It’s going to continue the trend. Northwest Arkansas, and there’s some growth in Northeast Arkansas and Central Arkansas. I think everybody knows where the growth hubs are in the state. That’s somewhat unfortunate because the areas of the state that are struggling the most are perhaps the ones that need the most attention. But more and more attention and really political power continues to shift to the more populous areas, areas that are prospering. But hopefully, we’ll elect the kind of people who realize that it’s in all of our best interest for the state as a whole to succeed, not just the areas that are experiencing that growth.

Misty: You said something interesting that I literally had not thought of before – that you guys may try to push the primaries back?

Jim: There’s always rumors and talk in Little Rock about that. And believe me, I think that’s already on the table. People are talking about it. You know, that’s one of the things about the legislature coming back into session is we can get into all kinds of mischief. And so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that at least discussed. I think what’s going to be the big determining factor on that is what is in the best interest in the eyes of the legislators for their own political races. Is it to have a rushed primary to limit the opportunity for competition and for challengers to mount a successful effort? Or is it to delay it to give them more time to make decisions?

Misty: I hadn’t thought about it, but that’s certainly an interesting concept. Our primaries are already kind of weird, right? Because in presidential years, now we have our primaries in March. And then non-presidential election years like the 2022 election generally happen in May. So if you guys were to push it back, we’d be looking at midsummer, which wouldn’t give a whole lot of time in between the primary and the general.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right. It would be different. But again, if it is changed, I don’t think it would be changed dramatically. But it could certainly be changed by a month or six weeks to give people time to make decisions based on where the lines actually fall. A lot of it’s going to depend on how smoothly the redistricting process goes. And if it goes smoothly and the decisions are made quickly without a lot of court challenges or controversy, I think that’s less likely to be the case.

Misty: Speaking of whether or not it goes smoothly, another thing that the governor brought up during the Board of Apportionment meeting last month was the nomination of Betty Dickey to serve as the redistricting coordinator. I believe he said they were going to try to have a meeting sometime this month to get somebody in that position, presumably Mrs. Dickey. And that person would be in place by July 15th so that they could really be going on the ground by July 15 working.

Jim: There’s always suspicion that this is going to be done in a purely partisan, self-serving way. I hope that’s not the case. I hope that they really make an effort to draw the lines based on what’s best for the voters instead of the candidates. And I think that’s the governor’s intent, and I would also say I think it’s the entire Board of Apportionment’s intent. But, nevertheless, politics many times has a greater impact on these decisions and we would like.

Misty: Yes, I think that’s a good way to segue into asking people at home to pay attention and to be vocal and give their feedback when these lines are being drawn. One way you can keep up with what’s going on is through the Board of Apportionment’s website. They’ll have their meeting dates posted there. That’s Arkansasredistricting.org. And there’s also a watchdog group called AR Voters First that’s on Twitter, and they have a website arvotersfirst.org. And they are 100% there to ensure fair redistricting.

Jim: It’s been attempted to put it on the ballot before, and I think you’ll see efforts again to try to find a way to prevent gerrymandering, prevent legislators having influence to draw lines, to draw certain people into the district. I do think that it’s time for us to put the partisanship aside. I will tell you as somebody who was a Republican for my entire career, it is somewhat difficult to be so sympathetic to Democrats who now say we want to make this all fair, but there was no need to do that until the Republicans were in the majority party. So it seems what somewhat disingenuous. But the fact is, rather than being petty and saying, you did it so we’re going to do it, somebody at some point’s got to stand up and say, let’s just do what’s fair for the voters and quit worrying so much about payback or partisan advantage. And that’s really been the tendency of both parties for the last 50 years.

Misty: I’ll say if Democrats were trying to draw lines in a way that benefited them in 2010, they didn’t do a very good job as we come out of a legislative session with a supermajority for Republicans.

Jim: I don’t think there’s any way the lines could have been drawn to prevent the tsunami that overtook Arkansas in the last 10 or 12 years. But nevertheless, some of us remember the Fayetteville Finger, and some of the tricks that have tried to be pulled over the years with regard to redistricting. All of us know stories of particular legislators who were drawn into certain districts at the request of other people. That stuff has happened. And I’m certain it will at least happen or be attempted in this next couple of months. But I hope, again, that the process is open. That’s one thing about live streaming adn opening things up like has happened a lot. It makes it more difficult to do those shady deals. So hopefully people will keep their eye on it and hold us to account.

Misty: Yeah, that’s true. That Board of Apportionment meeting, since you mention it, it was streamed on AETN. It was publicly available, and I imagine they all will be.

Ok, so let’s move on from redistricting, but just keep in mind that that’s why we are not going to be talking a whole lot about state legislative races today. Just because we don’t expect to see those announcements trickling in until later. And let’s talk about those state constitutional offices, which, because they’re statewide, redistricting doesn’t really have an effect on. We’ll start at the top with the governor’s race.

Jim: Well, we might have to get a bigger page on our website because there’s a lot of people apparently running for governor. Not as many as lieutenant governor. That one’s really got a lot of interest. But certainly we’ve got two in the Republican field. We’ve got a couple in the Democrats field. Again, it would be important for people to go to our website to see that because I expect it’s going to change. It’s already changed in the governor’s field when lieutenant governor Griffin left the race to run for attorney general. But it looks like we also have a Libertarian, we have three Democrats, and we have two Republicans. So that’s a field so far that’s not too much different from what we normally see. I think, again, most of the interest is in the Republican primary because the traditional wisdom would say that’s where you’ve got to be if you want to win the overall race. Although Common Ground may change that dynamic somewhat in a lot of races in the 2022 elections.

Misty: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit about the Democrats. They have low name ID. I had to look up each of them, and I follow politics pretty closely in Arkansas. Let’s start with Anthony Bland, who lives in Little Rock. He’s a Little Rock School District business teacher and also a martial arts instructor.

Jim: Well, that could be handy when dealing with the legislature.

Misty: A little Cobra Kai there. And he’s run for office before. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 against Tim Griffin and he got 33% of the vote as a Democrat at that time. 33% is about what we can expect a Democrat to get in a general election if there’s no third-party candidates out there.

Then there’s – I’m going to do my best on her name, and I apologize if I get it wrong – Supha Xayprasith-Mays, who is from Little Rock. And her focus is on inclusion. That seems to be what a lot of her campaign is centered around is inclusion. And I’m guessing that’s a pushback to what we saw in the Trump administration and then with the legislative session in 2021. She’s had a long career with Walmart and other retailers and she launched a number of small businesses. And her husband is Richard Mays, who is a former Arkansas legislator and a former Supreme Court Justice here in Arkansas. Did you serve with Richard?

Jim: I don’t think so. I think he was during the 10 years or so that I was taking a break.

Misty: And then there’s James “Rus” Russell. He’s from Little Rock, and he has a counseling firm. And he markets himself as a progressive with a focus on education, economy, equity, and the environment. There’s been a lot of talk about some other Democrats getting in the race as well, some other names that have been thrown around. But no one else has officially announced yet. But I envision by the time May rolls around next year, we’ll see at least two more names in there, I think. Though some people may drop out as others get in.

Jim: Yeah, it’s hard to say. I would not be surprised to see some more people get in, particularly in the Democratic party side. I’ve heard the same talk that you have – people that are considering it. I think there’s a lot of desire on the part of many in the Democratic party to field a credible candidate, realizing it may be an unwinnable race, but feeling it’s necessary to still continue to try to build that brand and that party. And then on the Republican side, there’s kind of an acceptance of the fact, they believe, that if they win the Republican primary, they’ve won the race. And I think, that’s kind of what Common Ground is about. Many times, that’s what the reality is. It is the winner of one primary, and the race is essentially over in many cases. And in some cases, that’s fine. And in other cases, people may be left with two candidates, neither one of which fit the majority of voters in the district. But nevertheless, we’ll see how it shakes out. I do expect to see some more changes, even in the Republican side. I would not be surprised to see some changes.

Misty: That’s true. Now let’s talk a little bit about the Republicans. Everybody knows Leslie Rutledge is our Attorney General. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of former governor Mike Huckabee and has most recently been Donald Trump’s press secretary. And it seemed like they were both really going for that Trump voter. But Sarah got the nod from Trump for the endorsement.

Jim: Yeah, she did. In fact, even when Lt. Gov. Griffin was in the race, it was really, who can out-Trump each other at many of the committee meetings in attempts to secure the base early. I don’t think anybody was surprised that former President Trump was going to be loyal to Sarah Sanders as his press secretary. We’ll see how that shakes out. Again, I think that’s great for Sarah in a primary. But it also somewhat ties her to the fate of former President Trump, whether it be good or ill over the next six months or so.

One thing I’ve learned about watching politics since I was a kid with my family and everybody else is things change in a hurry in politics.

Misty: That’s true. I hate that we are already acting like it’s a foregone conclusion, and we’re still got a year and a half.

Jim: You can certainly say there are favorites. But I think you must also always recognize the fact that Arkansas has a history of doing independent-minded things. Ask Bill Clinton. It was a foregone conclusion, and a guy named Frank White over the license tag issue said, no, not so fast.

Misty: Are you taking us back to 1980?

Jim: That tells you how old I am. I still remember seeing the tv commercial with the license tag going ding, ding, ding as the price went up and up and up. Because basically, that one issue of raising the cost of license renewal for your car was just hammered home so hard that it ended up sending somebody packing. But that’s just illustrative of the fact that Arkansas is an independent minded state and they can make up their own mind. I think they’re not going to be as easily painted into a corner as many would like to say.

Misty: Yeah. Fair points. Then, finally, in the Governor’s race, we’ve got Ricky Dale Harrington, who is running as a Libertarian. And he ran in 2020 against Tom Cotton for the U.S. Senate, and he came away with 33% of the vote. Which again, there’s that 33% that we keep seeing that’s basically the non-Republican vote, right? It’s the people who can’t bring themselves to check an R, so they’ll check an L if there’s no D in the race.

Jim: That’s right. The conventional wisdom is you look at these races and you see a candidate who people have never heard of getting 33-35% of the vote against the overwhelming favorite. What the Republicans want to say is that means 65% of the people in Arkansas are Republicans. And I just don’t accept that. I think what it means is, as you said, Misty, that there’s about 35% of the people who are not going to vote for Republicans regardless. And then there’s this big swath of people in the middle who are not happy with either choice and who are, perhaps, less happy with one choice than the other.

Misty: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, sometimes we lack the type of candidate that would motivate people to get out to the polls to vote. Arkansas had the next to lowest turnout in the county in 2020 among its eligible voters. We know that Arkansans are not feeling motivated to go to the polls right now, and I think that comes down to a lack of voter choice.

Jim: I agree. People are going to go and vote for people that they respect and that they want to see in positions of leadership. People are going to support people that they think are going to make the state better. And right now, unfortunately, the system that we have tends to drive both parties to the extreme. And the extremes come and vote. And the people in the middle are just staying home. And it’s just making it worse instead of better.

Misty: Alright, let’s move on to the Lieutenant Governor’s race. This is a race where no Democrats or Independents or other parties have announced except for the Republican party, which so far has four names in the hat.

Jim: It does, and I’m friends with all four of them. The Republicans have got a very competitive primary with four candidates that bring some credibility to the race that are each going to carve out their own niche. It’s going to be an interesting primary to watch. It really is. To see how the candidates behave. As you’ll recall, one of the things that frustrated me during this last election cycle was some of the dirty tricks that were used in the primary and general elections. When you have that many candidates in a race, I know there’s going to be a temptation to go that route. And I certainly hope that voters don’t accept it.

Misty: Well, let’s talk about them a little bit one by one. We’ve got Greg Bledsoe, who is from Rogers. He’s the current surgeon general and, of course, a physician, and your seatmate, I believe, is his mother in the Senate.

Jim: His mother, Sen. Bledsoe, is really the reason I ran for the Senate. She and I have known each other for 30 years, and I’ve known Greg almost that long. I’ve known the family forever – an absolutely quality family. Greg is a well-respected physician and has done a good job as surgeon general. They’ve been active in Republican party politics for many years. And I think he was the leader in fundraising in the first report. So Greg’s not to be taken lightly even though he’s not held an elected office before.

Misty: And then we have Sen. Jason Rapert from Conway, who is, I believe, a minister and a financial planner. But he, I mean, he’s pretty much a career politician at this point.

Jim: Well, I think that’s a pretty wide swath. Almost all the legislators, it seems like, now are career politicians. But I’ve known Sen. Rapert since I’ve been in the Senate. So I guess it’s been about 10 years now. And while Jason and I don’t agree on every issue, I do respect his passion for what he believes in and he’s certainly willing to fight for what he believes in. He probably has the best name ID of those in the race right now. That may be for good or for bad depending on why people know who he is. But nevertheless, in a republican primary, it’s going to be primarily the type of people who are sympathetic to the name ID that Jason Rapert has. So he’ll be a formidable candidate as well. I think that he’s already campaigning hard. He’s raising money. He’s got a lot of endorsements. So I think you’ve got some very competitive candidates in that primary.

Misty: I’m looking to see the last time he faced a primary opponent – if he has ever faced a primary opponent. He’s had general election opponents. But I don’t see where he’s ever had to face a fellow Republican in an election before. Yeah, going back to 2010, it doesn’t look like he’s ever had a primary opponent.

Jim: Well, and that’s an interesting thing. It’s an entirely different dynamic campaigning against a fellow Republican as it is a Democrat. It’s not going to be the same issues that you can use as a wedge and to galvanize your base in a primary against your fellow Republicans because most of them are going to have similar views on a lot of those issues. So it will be a different dynamic and a different type of race for Sen. Rapert. But again, he’s a hard worker and a hard campaigner. He’ll be very competitive.

Misty: Then we have Doyle Webb, who is from Benton. He’s a lawyer and the former head of the Republican party.

Jim: Yeah, he’s been the chairman of the party, and he’s really been a fundraising machine for the Republican party to help them secure the dollars necessary to build the new headquarters right down from the Capitol. He served in the Senate. I don’t think I was in the legislature, in the House, when he was in the Senate. But he served in the Senate for several years, so he’s very familiar with how the Senate works. And I think it’s important to remind people that the Lieutenant Governor position, in addition to just waiting to be governor if something happens, you also have the responsibility to preside over the Senate. So it’s helpful to have some experience, at least some legislative experience. And certainly, Doyle has that.

He’s certainly also going to have probably the broadest connections across the state. As party chairman, he’s more than likely been to every county committee and knows people in every single county. And remember, this race is primarily viewed – in fact, there’s no other opponents in the race except Republicans, though that may change. But it really comes down to a contest of who can win a Republican primary, a former Republican party chair is certainly going to have some ability to generate some support. He was elected by the state committee, which is representatives of every county committee and legislators across the state to be the party chair. And most people would say he did a pretty good job as the chairman.

Misty: And then we have Joseph Wood, who is the county judge for Washington County.

Jim: I don’t know Joseph as well as I do the other candidates. But I’ve met him a few times, and I know he’s highly respected. I believe I read that he was the first Republican African American elected county judge in Arkansas. You could say that because of Sen. Bledsoe’s ties to Northwest Arkansas, he and Greg Bledsoe really could be battling for the Northwest Arkansas Republican vote. The vote is concentrated in a Republican primary in Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas, and also somewhat in Northeast Arkansas. But numberwise, if a person can do well in Northwest Arkansas, it certainly makes it much easier to have success statewide.

Misty: So I think that even though we’ve got four Republicans in the primary right now, I don’t think it’s done. I think we’ll see some more enter by the time it’s over. What do you think?

Jim: I think it’s very possible. A lot of people say, why is there so much interest in being lieutenant governor? There’s lot of theories out there. The fact is, when I was in the House, I saw the lieutenant governor who was Sarah Sanders’ dad, Mike Huckabee, become the governor, because of the resignation of the person who was governor. So, there is some theory that if Sarah Sanders is successful in her race and if she were to take a job in DC, the lieutenant governor could become the governor, de facto, within even four years. So there’s that. Many people view it as a constitutional office that’s a safe place to stay until you get a better opportunity. As you look at these races, you see a lot of people making lateral moves and sliding from one position to another. And the lieutenant governor is in many ways viewed as one of those positions. You can be there if you’re needed and the opportunity comes to be governor, but also position yourself in a good place to run for higher office if it becomes available.

Misty: Well, then let’s talk about the lateral move then. We’ll go to the Attorney General’s race, where the current Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin is in the Republican primary, though he didn’t start there.

Jim: No, he started in the Republican primary – I think he was the first to announce that he was going to run for governor. And traveled across the state trying muster support and raise dollars and did raise some significant dollars. But I think following some polling and the entrance of Sarah Huckabee Sanders decided that he would go to the attorney general’s race and felt like it was a much more winnable race. So, it’s a somewhat lateral move, though I think the attorney general certainly has a larger staff and more responsibility than the lieutenant governor’s office. Lt. Gov. Griffin is an attorney with some experience in the JAG. He’s qualified as far as his background and experience. He’s got a primary with Leon Jones, who I’ve known and is an outstanding man and has some very good credentials as well. So I don’t think it’s a ‘gimme’ race, but certainly most people would view Lt. Gov. Griffin as the favorite right now. But that could change as we’ve seen it change already.

Misty: You mentioned Leon Jones Jr. He’s from Little Rock. He’s been the director of the Arkansas Department of Labor and the Fair Housing Commission, and of course, he is an attorney. That will be an interesting primary, but Tim Griffin definitely has better name recognition and more money.

Jim: He does. He’s a former Congressman, and I think he raised about a million dollars or so, which there’s some debate about whether or not that’s really transferable to raise it for a governor’s race and use it for an attorney general’s race. But I’ll let the courts or the ethics commission figure all that out.

Misty: Then over on the Democratic side for Attorney General, we have two candidates there as well. We have Jason Davis and Jesse Gibson, who got in more recently. So, looking at Jason Davis, he’s from Little Rock. He is a former Republican who became a Democrat, which you don’t see a whole lot of that happening in Arkansas. And he has a law firm called the Davis Law Firm in Little Rock. And then we’ve got Jesse Gibson, who is from Lead Hill, Ark., but he now lives in Little Rock where he has Gibson Law Firm. And he just put out an amazingly good ad this week.

Jim: I agree it was a very well-made ad, and I think it had a good message. It is going to be very interesting to see the difference in messaging coming from the two Democratic candidates versus the Republican candidates. You just watch. They will be 180-degree opposite messaging. And I think you’ll see that’s why we’ll come to a general election, regardless of who wins those, with two choices that are very far apart. Now, if one of the Democrats is able to actually mobilize the center to say it doesn’t have to be that extreme, it could make it more competitive. That’s, I’m certain, what their strategy is. But there’s certain core issues that when they’re made an issue, which candidates can choose which issues to make an issue, will make it more difficult. Believe me, I’ve been through campaigns and you don’t get to set the tone and you don’t get to necessarily get to pick the issues that are going to be made the centerpieces of campaigns. Your opponent has a vote in that as well. And depending on how many dollars and how much money they can bring to bear, you may have to respond to things that you’d just assume not respond to. And that’s what you’re going to see happen in these general elections once the Republican gets past the primary.

Misty: Yeah, those are going to be interesting races. There’s not an Independent or a third-party candidate in the attorney general’s race, but it is good to see that it’s one of the constitutional races that has competitive primaries both on the Democratic and the Republican side. And the only other race like that in the constitutional offices is the governor’s race. So attorney general and governor’s races.

Ok, then we go down to the Treasurer’s Office. And the only person running for that office right now from any party is Sen. Mat Pitsch, who is running as a Republican.

Jim: That’s right. And I’ve served with Mat. He’s a respected Senator from the Fort Smith area. He’s got a business background. I think he’ll be a formidable candidate. I haven’t heard of anybody else planning to jump into that race, but I would be surprised if there’s not another person or two. Mat’s already working hard. He’s been traveling the state talking to the county committees, trying to build up his base. And it is getting to the point, particularly for a primary race, when you cannot afford to just continue to let somebody else get that far ahead of you. So what I would say about Sen. Pitsch is, if anybody else is going to get in, they’re running out of time quickly. Because Mat’s a hard worker, he’s a good candidate, and he’s working hard everyday. It’s one thing to run as an Independent in the fall of 2022. It’s another thing to run in a primary race that’s coming up next spring. Time’s getting short.

Misty: And we should note that there’s no incumbent in that race because the current Treasurer is term limited. That’s Dennis Milligan, and he is making a lateral move over to Auditor. We’ll talk about that in a minute. What’s interesting about Sen. Pitsch running for Treasurer is that we know that will open us his Senate seat, which is in Fort Smith. So it will be interesting to see who fills that Senate seat.

Jim: That’s right. And the same with Sen. Rapert. We’ve got two seats there we know are going to be empty. We also know Sen. Bledsoe’s is going to be empty because of term limits. Again those are some of the things that at Common Ground we’re looking at. There’s a lot of opportunity to get good candidates in some of these positions. But, as Sen. Pitsch has declared his candidacy, that means that somebody is going to be able to fill that seat in the Senate.

Misty: So, let’s move on to the Secretary of State, where we do have an incumbent. Current Secretary of State John Thurston, who is a Republican, already has his website up. He’s running for re-election, and I haven’t seen anyone – Democrat, Independent, third party – announce yet. Though I have heard rumors of a Democrat getting in there and who’s certainly acting like he’s getting in there, but he has not announced yet.

Jim: Yeah, and I’ve gotten to know Secretary Thurston pretty well over the years. We’ve worked together mostly on trying to get several million dollars for new voting equipment in Arkansas. And we had several counties that just could not afford to purchase it. There was a cost-sharing requirement from the state on the voting machines. And even though we put it at 75% state and 25% county, some of these counties couldn’t come up with $80,000 or $100,000, but they desperately needed new voting equipment. And I will tell you that Secretary Thurston in his office was very determined and spent a lot of effort to make sure that the funds were secured and the equipment was bought. And that’s one of the reasons I was proud after the elections in 2020 that Arkansas had its returns in fairly quickly in the evening in most cases. There were a few isolated incidents where the races were very close and there may have been some mistakes made by some election commissions. But overall, I think Secretary Thurston did a good job of trying to improve election integrity. I was somewhat skeptical of the voting machines until we got them up here at Gravette and Sulphur Springs, and I got to vote on them the first time. You see how much of an easier experience it is, and how much quicker and more accurate it is. I think that’s part of the reason you don’t see a lot of people, at least on the Republican side, stepping up to challenge him. He’s got a lot of things to point to as progress that he’s made in that area.

Misty: Well, he’s in a position of power right now, being on the Board of Apportionment. He’s in a good position. I think the Secretary of State is actually one of our more powerful state offices because elections are so huge and you have your hands in so many different pies around the state. It’s a very powerful office.

Jim: Including the administration of the Capitol building and grounds. During the Covid pandemic, he had a lot of work to do to make sure that the Capitol stayed safe. A lot of people would say he did a pretty good job on those issues and managing the Capitol grounds and the Capitol itself.

Misty: Let’s move on to Auditor. We mentioned earlier that Dennis Milligan, who is currently Treasurer, is running for Auditor. He’s the only announced candidate, and he’s, of course, running as a Republican. No Democrats, or Independents, or third parties have yet announced. And that seat is open because the current Auditor, Andrea Lea, is retiring.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right. And I’ve known Andrea for many years and whoever follows, whether it’s Dennis Milligan or anybody else, they’re going to have some big shoes to fill. She’s worked very hard to improve her operation and the operation of the Auditor’s office in general. Dennis is making a lateral move. He has the same network in place that he would have had for his last statewide election, which makes him a formidable candidate and may be one of the reasons that you haven’t seen other people step up to run. So, we’ll see.

I think in a lot of these races, you have very little competition and very little dollars spent. But as you said, they have some very important functions. And it’s kind of unfortunate that they don’t get more attention than they do.

Misty: We’ll move on to the last constitutional office that we’re going to look at, and that is Land Commission. And the incumbent for that seat, Tommy Land, who is a Republican, has announced that he’s running again in 2022. And does anyone dare step up to run against a guy running for Land Commissioner whose last name is Land?

Jim: I mean, there’s two things about him. Tommy is a very nice guy, and his name is perfect for that race. So, yeah, I think if you’re going to pick a race, that one would be a tough one to step into because he’s well liked, well respected, and has done a good job, and, of course, as you said, Tommy Land. It doesn’t get any better than that for a Land Commissioner.

Misty: Ok, so that wraps up our state constitutional offices. And that makes 12 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 1 third-party candidate who have announced for state office so far.

So, let’s move on to federal offices. And we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time on these. But I do want to note that Steve Womack in the 3rd District has a challenger. Lauren Mallett-Hays of Farmington announced, I think last week, that she’s going to run against Rep. Womack. She’s a Democrat, even though she does not say that anywhere in her announcement video. I couldn’t find it on her website either where she calls herself a Democrat.

Jim: Well, that’s probably not a bad strategy in the 3rd District, because if there’s a district that is overwhelmingly Republican, it would be 3rd District up here in Northwest Arkansas. I don’t know much about her. I understand she’s Ryan Mallett’s sister.

Misty: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Jim: I think that’s true. We’ll see how it goes. It’s an uphill climb in Northwest Arkansas to unseat a federal office holder in the Republican party. And that may change somewhat depending on how the lines are drawn, more so in the other districts probably than in the 3rd District.

Misty: If we look at the 2020 race, Steve Womack had a good Democratic challenger, Celeste Williams, who is in the health profession. I can’t remember if she was a doctor or a nurse, but I thought, in Covid, maybe that would come to bear. But he still got 214,000 votes to her 106,000 votes. So he pretty much doubled her vote total.

Jim: As you said, she was a credible candidate, and this district is overwhelmingly Republican. I would also contend that they’re overwhelmingly right-wing Republican. I still believe there’s a big swath in the middle that is voting what they consider to be the one that they have the least problems with.

Misty: So, sticking with federal races, Sen. John Boozman, who, I think there was a lot of speculation whether or not he was even going to run for another term, and he announced that he was indeed going to run again in 2022. So in the Republican primary, John Boozman has three challengers so far – Michael Deel and Heath Loftis, who have very low name recognition. I think Heath Loftis is a pastor from Stuttgar and Michael Deel is a corporate analyst from Fort Smith. And then, of course, we have Jan Morgan.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right. Jan Morgan ran against Gov. Hutchinson, won a couple of counties, but was really not much of a force. And I kind of expect to see the same thing in the race for Sen. Boozman’s seat. He’s not done anything to really draw the ire of the base. And to lead the kind of revolt that Jan Morgan will try to lead against one of their own incumbents is just not going to have success.

Misty: And in the Democratic primary for Boozman’s seat, we have three that are declared – Jack Foster, who is a former Pine Bluff alderman who actually served time in prison for extortion while he was alderman; Natalie James, who is a realtor from Little Rock; and also in this race is Dan Whitfield. He was disqualified from the 2020 Senate race against Tom Cotton, so he’s trying again in 2022 against John Boozman. He’s running as a Democrat this time. He was trying to get on the ballot as an Independent in 2020.

Jim: I mean, no chance. There’s just no change. Again, I’m all for fighting the good fight. But the Democrats still have not come to the table with a candidate that can be any kind of a threat to Sen. Boozman.

Misty: Yeah, I mean I’m all for choice and getting people on the ballot and being able to check whatever name you want. But that one seems like a bit of a stretch.

Alright, well, this has been a fun episode. Please let us know if we missed anyone running for office. We’ll update that on our website. So you can find all of the candidates running for office at commongroundar.org under a very easy to find heading called Who’s Running. And we’ll keep that updated. We’ll be adding to that with the state legislative offices as that gets closer, and we’ll be adding federal offices on there soon as well.

Jim: I’d also like to say that at some point we’re going to have some of these people, I hope, on our podcast to visit with us and talk about some of these races as well as some other people that you’re going to find interesting. Misty’s done a great job of putting together a website that can be your resource during an election season because it changes. We’ve already seen people changing from the governor to lieutenant governor, and more people jumping into the lieutenant governor’s race. As you’ll see, it’s going to change weekly. And that’s going to be the place to go to stay informed. So, Misty, I appreciate your hard work on putting that together.

Misty: Well, thanks. But it’s just phase one. We’ve got phase two that is way cooler. It’s going to be way more fun and interactive.

Before we go, we have a little Common Ground news that we need to announce as well. We just announced today, which is Thursday, June 3, the make-up of our board of directors.

Jim: It’s been hard to keep it a secret because we’re so proud of the group that’s come together to engage in this effort to try to move Arkansas forward. We’ve got a group that is incredibly experienced from all parts of the state, diverse in so many ways and just really good people. It’s been great to get to know these people better. We have a former brigadier-general. We’ve got a former Speaker of the House. We’ve got people from major corporations. We’ve got people who have been involved in farming for generations in Arkansas. We have attorneys who have incredible experience in elections and getting issues on the ballot. We’ve got people involved in the banking industry and manufacturing. We’ve got former legislators, a mayor from Fort Smith. It’s just such a great group of people, all with one cause. We don’t all agree on every issue. In fact, this group will disagree on many issues, but we all agree that it is time to put partisanship aside and to start electing people who want to move Arkansas forward. You’re going to be getting more details about each of these members in the coming weeks but you can see the names on our website. I hope that you are as proud of this board and this group that we put together as Misty and I are.

Misty: Yeah, I think one of the reasons that we love this group of people so much, like you said, is because they’re so different. Like, they’re ideological diversity, the spectrum that we cover is very wide, and we don’t agree on issues. And that’s what we expect from Arkansans, that they’re not going to agree on issues. But what this group does is they’re committed to cooperating, to being civil, and using our differences of opinions as a strength to try to find better solutions. And that’s something that I feel like, as you’ve talked about on the podcast before, used to be the norm. But it’s just not anymore. And people see differences of opinions as a reason to hate someone instead of as a reason to try to find a better solution.

Jim: That’s exactly right. It is so enjoyable to sit down with members of this board who have disagreements on issues and to hear their perspective and why they have that view and for them to hear mine and to have that kind of dialogue. And both of us leave thinking about many things that we haven’t thought about in a long time with regard to these issues. And that’s what we’re missing in Little Rock, the ability to have dialogue, to have conversation, and to quit demonizing people just because they disagree with us. We all agree in that common goal and I think you’re going to see us make some good progress that way.

Misty: As Jim said, you can find a full list of the names on our website, commongroundar.org. And then each week we’re going to be highlighting a different board member on our social media accounts. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and soon to be Tik Tok. You’ll be able to see short videos about each of our board members each week. We started with Jim.

Jim: Yeah, I’m excited about it. I hope you’ll check it out. Great things are happening at Common Ground.

Misty: Alright, well thanks for sticking around with us, guys. This has been a fun podcast. We’ll be back soon with another one.

Jim: Thanks, Misty.