Vince Insalaco, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, announced in an email Thursday (Dec. 15) he will not seek a third term as chairman of the party. He has held the post since 2013.
“When I agreed to chair the Party, I necessarily had to put on hold or compromise parts of my life that I hold dear,” he said. “For that reason, it was never my intent to stay as chair more than two terms; however, many of you are encouraging me to seek a third term. And I appreciate your support more than you will know. But I believe it is time for me to move on to a new chapter of my life, so I will not seek a third term.”
House Minority Leader Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, has said he is running for the unpaid position. H.L. Moody, Democratic Party of Arkansas spokesman, said Gray is “the only serious candidate who’s come forward so far.” The next officer elections aren’t until the first quarter of 2019, but they will likely be moved up. Moody said Insalaco is working off the assumption that the party’s state committee will call for new elections in March when it meets on Saturday.
Officers serve four years. When Insalaco first was elected, terms were two years. Moody said Insalaco has told him he never intended to serve more than four years.
In his email, Insalaco said “the last few years have been difficult for all of us.” Since 2008, Arkansas has flipped from a Democratic to a Republican state. In 2008, Democrats controlled five of the state’s six congressional offices, all seven statewide constitutional offices, and 102 of the 135 seats in the Legislature. Republicans now occupy all six of the state’s congressional seats, all seven statewide offices, and 102 of the Legislature’s 135 seats – 76 in the 100-member House and 26 in the 35-member Senate.
The GOP has made significant gains at the county level as well. According to the Republican Party of Arkansas, Republicans now control almost 39% of all partisan offices in Arkansas, excluding surveyors and constables. In 2010, they controlled 11%.
Insalaco pointed to progress that has been made. Those include paying off one 10-year-old debt and another $309,000 debt from the 2014 campaign; instituting new rules; and rebuilding county committees from 27 to 60 in less than a year and increasing the party’s membership from 400 to 2,100. He said the last three annual Jefferson Jackson Day Dinners were the party’s most successful ever.
In an interview in November, Gray said the party needs a fresh point of view and a new approach and must focus on kitchen table issues versus more controversial and cultural “coffee shop issues.” He said Gov. Mike Beebe easily was re-elected six years ago, and Democrats must connect with voters at the community level.
“There was a whole era of Roosevelt Democrats that understood that at the end of the day, we might argue about X, Y or Z, but Democrats had the best interest of the man or woman that was working daylight to dark trying to give their kids a better future than they were living, and I think we’ve got to go back to inspiring that kind of hope within the party,” he said.
Gray said reversing the state’s sharp turn toward the Republican Party will not happen overnight.
“I don’t think it will take decades, but I don’t anybody expects it to happen next week, either,” he said.
Doyle Webb, Republican Party of Arkansas chairman, said this about Insalaco’s announcement: “I have enjoyed working with Mr. Insalaco and appreciate his offering himself for public service.”