The Democratic Party of Arkansas will choose a new chairman at its March 25 state committee meeting, the current chairman announced Tuesday.
Vince Insalaco had announced in December his intention to leave the post this year. He had previously served one two-year term and been re-elected to a second two-year term. After that election, the party changed the length of the terms to four years, but the State Committee voted in December that the rules as written meant there would be no election until 2018.
Insalaco announced in an email Tuesday that he along with the party’s first vice chair, Sen. Joyce Elliott; vice chair of counties, Dawne Benafield Vandiver; vice chair of auxiliaries, Janet Johnson Henderson; and secretary, Karen Garcia, will be resigning at the close of business of the March 25 meeting, which will be at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock. Treasurer Tyler Clark is the only officer remaining in office.
Democratic Party of Arkansas spokesman H.L. Moody said the party’s leadership decided to resign rather than seek a rules change affecting only this election. To his knowledge, none of the officers will seek election after they resign.
House Minority Leader Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, is running to succeed Insalaco. He said in an interview that the unpaid job “is a part-time, full-time position to be effective and do it right.”
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.
Gray declined to criticize Insalaco for serving as chair during much of the party’s downturn, saying, “It was a tough time to be a leader of our party. It’s Republican waves. Anybody that put the time and effort he’s put into this, you have to give him the credit for that. Our party owes him a debt of gratitude for that. It’s just that it’s a new day, and it’s time to move forward.”
Asked how the party can bounce back, Gray said, “Public opinion being public opinion and national politics being national politics, but what we need to do in the state of Arkansas is recognize that whether you live in Fayetteville or Texarkana or Augusta or Magnolia, there are issues in each town, and we really need to concentrate on making life better for people in Arkansas.”
Political consultant Drew Pritt said in a Facebook post December 5 that he also is running for the chairmanship.