Notes from the campaign trail: Senate Republican Caucus states policy on member indictments

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 837 views 

Editor’s note: It’s post Labor Day and we’re headed into the official start of the 2018 campaign season, so it’s time to renew our biennial “Notes from the Campaign Trail” column. This weekly compendium of political nuggets will include items happening that could influence the 2018 federal, state and local elections. Send your tips from both sides of the aisle as well as third party info to Roby@talkbusiness.net.

SENATE REPUBLICANS STATE POLICY ON MEMBER INDICTMENTS

For months (years really), there has been swirling controversy around the FBI investigation of state lawmakers and their dealings. Already, former State Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, and former Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, were indicted on charges related to alleged kickbacks related to GIF funding. Neal has admitted guilt, while Woods is fighting the charges.

GIF stands for “General Improvement Funds.” It is a category of surplus funding that legislators and the governor can direct to specific local projects, such as community centers, boys and girls clubs, parks, and special one-time projects.

A little over a week ago, Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, admitted in a Democrat-Gazette article that he was the subject of an investigation related to GIF money that he advocated to be directed to a sports complex in his hometown. Later, a company Files was a part of received the bid to do some of the construction work on the project. There was plenty of local controversy over the unfinished project, but the FBI investigation has added a further wrinkle.

Files had this to say about the media coverage: “I was recently contacted by law enforcement officials who are investigating allegations of misuse of funds from a GIF grant. I was fully cooperative, and I will continue to be. But I want to make it clear that I have not been charged with any crime and continue to deny the claims that have been alleged. I am confident that when all the facts are brought to light I will be cleared of any appearance of wrongdoing.”

The brouhaha sparked an increase in social media and conservative radio conversation for Republican leaders to call for Files’ resignation, although he’s not been charged with any crime. The Democratic Party of Arkansas also called for Files to step down saying, “That dog won’t hunt. Any elected official willing to engage in this level of corruption and fraud should not be allowed to remain in office one day longer. It is not enough to simply say you may or may not seek re-election.”

After days of blistering attacks, the Arkansas Senate Republican Caucus, led by Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, issued a statement near midnight on Wednesday night. It reads:

“The Arkansas Senate Republican Caucus is committed to ensuring that the people of Arkansas have confidence in the Arkansas State Senate and the integrity of its members. Because of recent revelations that jeopardize this confidence, we believe action is needed. All Americans are entitled to the presumption of innocence until convicted of a crime, however, we realize that certain events greatly compromise a colleague’s ability to serve. Where to draw that line is not an easy task, but a clear, unbiased standard must be established.

“We will formally request that any member who is indicted by a grand jury or officially charged with a felony crime related to the abuse of public trust relinquish all committee assignment(s) and leadership assignment(s). We want to emphasize that this is not to presume guilt or in any way influence the administration of justice, but is to ensure that legislative business can continue without distraction. We believe that this formal request will send a clear message regarding future action by the Arkansas State Senate as a whole.

“It is clear that greater accountability is needed regarding the utilization of General Improvement Funds. Our Caucus is committed to the introduction of legislation that will increase the oversight of surplus expenditures. Constitutionally, legislators have a fundamental role to play in the distribution of tax dollars. Legislative efforts over the past two sessions to place these tax dollars into accounts which require both executive and legislative review and agreement, will serve as the foundation for these changes.

“The Arkansas Senate Republican Caucus believes these actions are the beginning of our efforts to improve the citizens of Arkansas’s trust in the integrity of the Arkansas State Senate. We will not allow the actions of a few to continue to cast dispersions on the institution as a whole.”

Twenty-six (26) of the 35 State Senators are Republican, while nine are Democrats.

On another note related to this saga, sources report that there has been some polling conducted in Fort Smith related to Files’ ordeal. According to numbers seen by TB&P, 42% of respondents said Files should resign now, while 35% said he should await any legal conclusions. 43% said the GOP should call on him to resign, while 23% said they should not.

DACA GETS THE CAMPAIGN TREATMENT

While the responses to President Trump’s call for Congress to end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program generated plenty of heated reaction from the public, it also elicited responses from all six of Arkansas’ federally elected officials as well as Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

A few Democratic Congressional hopefuls sprung into action on the divisive issue. Paul Spencer, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the Second District, issued this statement:

“Today, our country failed 800,000 of our immigrant brothers and sisters. By discontinuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Trump has forsaken our country’s foundational documents that ensure a dignified life for all who live here. Our congressional representatives and our state Attorney General in Arkansas must take action to protect the over 10,000 children, students, and workers who have only ever known our state as home.

“Ending the program neglects the expert opinions of countless economists, who have noted that these immigrants contribute to our economy, and it goes against the majority of our citizens who support DACA. If our Congressional representatives and Attorney General fail to support these children, they expose this callous action as merely a political maneuver, devoid of compassion and patriotism.”

Gwendolyn Combs, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for the CD-2 seat, has been actively promoting a petition web site to protect DREAMers. Combs, whose bio says she is a veteran, educator and community organizer, was very active in some of the grassroots efforts to oppose ending the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.

THE RETURN OF DREW PRITT

Political gadfly Drew Pritt says he will once again run for office, this time challenging first term State Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, in the District 38 seat. The Democratic challenger said he wants to be a “balance” for the GOP-heavy majority in the Arkansas statehouse.

Pritt’s bio highlights some of his previous campaign work and it’s one of the more interesting self-descriptions you’ll find from a candidate:

“This is not Pritt’s first time in elective office politics. He made an abortive bid in 2006 for Lieutenant Governor as a Democrat, making him the first openly gay individual to run for statewide office. He subsequently lost bids for Little Rock School Board in 2007 and Justice of the Peace in 2014. For almost three decades, Pritt has advised a number of Democrats who have run for office from the Presidential to the local level. Pritt used to be a daily writer and columnist for the now defunct Saline 24/7.com news organization and drove a van for railroad crew members, previously. Pritt has worked since near the beginning of the year in the Fraud & Dispute Department for Fidelity Investments.

“Pritt lives in the Tanglewood part of North Little Rock with his two cats, Anna and Evylyn. He is an active member of Christ Episcopal Church. He is a cancer survivor, which has shaped his views on the continuance of the Arkansas Private Option for the ACA. When not working, Pritt has a variety of interests including playing poker with an area neighborhood group that plays for points as well as collecting vintage campaign political buttons.

RUN SISTER, RUN!

The Progressive Arkansas Women PAC is sponsoring its second annual fundraising dinner on Sept. 13 to raise money for, well, progressive women running for office. Dames, Dems and Drinks will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. Get your tickets here. Last cycle, the PAWPAC supported 10 women running for office.

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