story by Aric Mitchell
Republicans appeared on track for a shutout in most of the contested legislative races in the Fort Smith region during the General Election (Nov. 6).
Going into Tuesday night, Republicans were anticipating control of one or both houses of the Arkansas Legislature for the first time in almost 140 years.
Prior to the election, the Arkansas legislature had the smallest margin of Democratic rule since Reconstruction. House Democrats outnumbered Republicans 54-46, while the State Senate had a 20-15 Democratic advantage.
Arkansas Republicans needed to gain only five new seats in the House and just three in the Senate to capture numerical control of the respective chambers.
Republicans gained four House seats and two Senate seats in the Fort Smith region alone.
Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, helped towards those totals by capturing the Senate District 9 race against Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith. Holland received approximately 54% of the vote with 7,806 votes to 6,524 for Pennartz (46%).
“This was a different race for me this time,” Holland said. “Two years ago all I had to worry about was the general election opponent, but this time, I was starting over with a new district and a primary opponent. It was tougher, and a little different with the negative campaigning about my driving. I wanted to respond but decided I would stay on the high road, and I think it paid off.”
On Jan. 24, Perry County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Byrd and the Ola Police Department stopped Holland after what Byrd said was a more than 20-mile chase with Holland reaching speeds of possibly 110 m.p.h.
Holland, driving a 2003 Nissan 350Z, was released by Byrd and the Ola officer when they learned he was a State Senator. In an interview, Byrd said at the time he was under the impression that legislators could not be arrested or fined. However, a 2003 opinion from then Attorney General Mike Beebe said legislators may be ticketed or arrested for alleged criminal behavior.
Holland issued a statement saying he was “truly sorry” for the incident. “No one is above the law, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Holland’s statement concluded.
Pennartz ran an ad referencing the incident, which Holland was referring to when he spoke to The City Wire of “negative campaigning.”
Pennartz was asked to respond to the statement Tuesday night, but said she was “not ready to make statements on that.”
“I’m ready to move forward. If he’s the senator for District 9 — and we don’t have the final vote totals, but what we do know at this point in time of the night is that he’s ahead by 1,500 — if he does win this race, I wish him the very best, and if there is anything I can do to assist him, I will. I will also continue with my State Representative duties until my term expires until the first of January.”
Pennartz said she is “looking forward to taking time off to be with family.”
“This has been a great experience, and I’ve been much blessed to be able to talk to people in Senate District 9,” Pennartz added.
When The City Wire spoke to Pennartz on Tuesday night, she had not conceded the race, but did not appear optimistic, acknowledging that she would “make the appropriate call” to Holland if needed.
The race was decided by similar results in Senate District 6. Rep. Gary Stubblefield, R-Charleston, captured the position with approximately 56% of the vote compared to 44% for candidate John Paul Wells (D).
Fort Smith regional House races also broke heavily for Republicans.
In District 74, Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, claimed about 72% to 28% for challenger Daniel Wall (D). Charlotte Douglas (R) appeared on track to take District 75 with 55% against 45% for candidate Steve Breedlove (D).
Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith, claimed 57% against challenger Doris Tate (D) for the District 77 seat.
“It’s hard to express what a big honor it is to continue representing the people of District 77. This is also my third term, and it’s hard to believe it already is. It’s just been an honor and a huge overwhelming feeling. I’m very appreciative to everyone in the district for putting their faith in me, and I’m going to continue working on the same issues I’ve been working on.”
Malone added that bi-partisanship is a necessity for the 2013-2014 General Assembly.
“I’ve always prided myself on the bi-partisan efforts. I’m the highest ranking Republican female, and I will continue to reach across the aisle. That’s the only way anything gets done. You have to. And it’s up to those of us who’ve been there — the second and third-termers — to do that or else it just gets deadlocked.”
Republican challenger Bill Gossage was well on his way to unseating Rep. Leslee Post with 68% in District 82.
Reports for the District 80 race between Charlene Fite ( R) and Jack Norton (D) had not been released by the Arkansas Secretary of State as of 2:45 a.m. Wednesday. However, in the Washington County portion of the district, Fite had 53.9% of the vote. Crawford County was one of 15 counties that had not reported results as of 3:30 a.m.