North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays has been at the center of the political rumor mill for several months.
The central Arkansas mayor, who has served for 22 years, still enjoys popularity with his constituents after more than decades, and lately, his name has been floated as a possible Congressional challenger to Second District Rep. Tim Griffin (R) or for an open State Senate seat that will be a very competitive race between Democrats and Republicans.
Hays, 64, who serves in the non-partian mayor’s post, is a long-time Democrat and once served a term in the Arkansas House of Representatives under the Democratic banner. A former practicing attorney, he also briefly pursued a U.S. Senate bid in 1998, but dropped out in the early phases of the campaign cycle.
Hays tells Talk Business that he won’t make a decision on his political future until later this year.
"My first hurdle that I’m going to deal with is to see if the citizens of North Little Rock would be interested in me serving another term," Hays said. "My first threshold is my obligation to this community. I’m very proud of the tenure I’ve had."
Hays will have 24 years of mayoral service under his belt by the end of his current term. With no term limits, he could seek another four-year term. Hays says that the speculation about other political options is "flattering," but "no decision is a foregone conclusion."
He cited his 3 young grandkids as an inspiration to both run for higher office and not run for higher office. "They inspire me to stay here and they inspire me to serve," he said of his mixed emotions for considering a possible Congressional run.
Hays said he has not spoken directly with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), but he has been approached by local Democrats encouraging him to challenge Griffin, who is in his first term.
Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), also a North Little Rock resident, has been coy about a potential challenge to Griffin. Last month, a spokesman for Halter gave an ambiguous answer to a Washington, D.C. political magazine that speculated on Halter’s prospects of entering the race.
No other Democrats have made much noise about a potential Congressional run.
Hays has candidate appeal to Democrats because of his perceived strength in northern Pulaski County, a key to victory in the Second Congressional District. There are multiple swing districts in the territory north of the Arkansas River that any winning candidate needs to perform well in to have a chance. Pulaski County will likely be more influential in the next election cycle since the district lost rural Yell County in this year’s decennial Congressional redistricting process.
For now, Hays seems content to wait until later this year to make any decision. He emphasized again that his first priority would be to talk to North Little Rock constituents about the direction the city is going. After that community conversation, Hays said he’ll think about his future in politics.
"I’m not ruling anything out as I’m not ruling anything in," said Hays.