opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Expecting big changes for the Arkansas General Assembly down in Little Rock after the 2014 elections? Well, think again.
The spate of filings for the May 20 preferential primaries as well as the November general election ended last week, showing a few mixed results could occur in the 100 member House. But few changes, if any, are coming to the state Senate. The GOP holds sway there and the 2014 results will not change the political make-up of that upper chamber.
Will any changes be enough in the lower chamber to upset the GOP’s narrow 50-49 edge in the House? Some folks think so. And it is not just Democrats. Some of these handwringers about the swing of power are from the majority-clinging Republicans. So who are these flies in the mix to thwart a repeat for the GOP to maintain an edge in the lower chamber?
Yes, that pesky “other political party” may foul up this delicate balance of GOP control against the Democrats for 2014. Seven Libertarians have filed for various House seats in the upcoming election cycle. Could these seven individuals, elected at their party’s convention overturn this narrow edge in the House? These Libertarians candidates do not have the albatross of having to raise a $3,000-$3,500 filing fee. None had to go door-to-door or stand on a cold street corner to collect signatures to be on the ballot. They in fact, got a free ride to the ballot – all the way to November.
Two of these seven Libertarians filed against GOP members who had no Democratic challengers. State Reps. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren and Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, are first termers and were certain to repeat, especially since the local Democrats did not mount any hint of challenging this pair.
But Rep. Fite, however, now faces a youthful Taylor Watkins of Prairie Grove in November. Rep. Bragg also faces a relatively unknown foe in November, Wayne Willems of Traskwood.
Only one Democrat, state Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, faces Roger Paxton of Marion, a Libertarian candidate in the November General Elections.
The GOP did not field anyone against Ferguson after her first term in the House, so her free ride, like those almost guaranteed to Reps. Fite and Bragg, are now in play on the November General Election ballot.
Other races featuring Libertarians include Michael Kalagias of Garfield taking on Democratic candidate Tom McClure of Rogers who has no in-party opposition. Both men will see who emerges from the GOP primary scrum of Grant Hodges and Damon Wallace in May. This was the open GOP held seat held by Rep. Les Carnine, R-Rogers, who is term limited.
State Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, already facing a stiff GOP challenge in Dane Zimmerman of Bella Vista in May, but the winner of that primary contest will then face Eddie Moser of Bella Vista, the Libertarian nominee in November.
Likewise, first-term state Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, escaped a GOP primary challenge. He now faces Democratic candidate Clea Hupp of Little Rock, plus Libertarian Greg Deckelman of Alexander who jumped in the mix.
Could there be an early December runoff contest in this race?
The same run-off scenario may be in play for state House District 20 where state Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, will feel the heat from Democratic candidate Chase Busch of Mena, and a Libertarian Marc Rosson of Gillham. Could Rep. Bell be in a runoff? It’s possible.
For the most part, Democrats held their own, as 24 Democrats are unopposed in holding their current seats. Only three Democratic primaries are set for House candidates. While nine Republicans will face primary opponents from within their own party.
There are 28 Republicans in the House with no opposition. Only 7 Republicans incumbents will face a November challenge from upstart Democrats. But 13 of the seats held by Democratic legislators will be challenged in November by the GOP.
Everyone is still clicking the beads on the abacus and crunching the number. These Libertarians have thrown a kink in the plans of both parties. Thank goodness, no Green Party folks filed for legislative races. Imagine what that would have done?