I try to be rather judicious in making public endorsements on races. Although I have strong personal opinions which I offer freely on this blog, I save an actual endorsement for when (1) there is clearly one candidate that is the best choice and (2) I feel my endorsement might actually make a difference.
The Republican primary for state treasurer fits these criteria. After the mess left by former Democratic Treasurer Martha Shoffner, it is imperative that Republicans nominate someone with the experience, judgment, and ethical compass to fill this job. It is crystal-clear that State Rep. Duncan Baird is this candidate.
Baird has a wealth of experience to qualify him both in the private sector and in state government. He has worked for Arvest Bank – one of the largest banks in the state – dealing with the type of institutional investments that would allow him to understand and oversee the investments of the state treasurer. An adequate understanding of investments – particularly the bond markets – can result in savings of millions in tax dollars by making prudent decisions. He holds a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Arkansas, a Series 7 brokerage license, and is working on becoming licensed as a Certified Public Accountant.
In the state house, he is currently the House Co-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, which is the key House member dealing with our state’s budget. This position has allowed Baird to perhaps be the most knowledgeable House member on the inner workings of Arkansas state government funding. He certainly spent the most time making all the funding pieces fit together properly.
Baird also is well-known and respected as perhaps the most ethical member of the Arkansas House. Colleagues from both sides of the aisle have praised him for this characteristic. He was the first legislator to self-impose the so-called Wal-Mart rule – not even taking a cup of coffee from a lobbyist – long before it became fashionable to do this. His example has inspired other state lawmakers to now employ the same high standard. His leadership in this area allowed him to help pass ethics legislation, such as requiring more stringent travel policies for lawmakers as well as a cooling off period before lawmakers and state agency heads and directors can become lobbyists.
In short, Baird is qualified, well-respected, understands state government, has the investment experience needed, and most importantly has the high ethical standards that inspire trust. He is clearly the man for such a time as this.
His opponent, Dennis Milligan, is well-versed in state politics having previously served as the director of the Republican Party of Arkansas. He currently serves as Saline County Circuit Clerk. Throughout Milligan’s political career, he has demonstrated the ability to bring embarrassment to his position and his party.
Most recently, Milligan attempted to bully Baird out of the race through an odd, clandestine meeting at the Krispy Kreme in Little Rock. Milligan has maintained that he was warning Baird that some undisclosed third party would release an embarrassing video of him at the state capitol late at night if he stayed in the race. The story for his intent has changed as more information trickled out on the timeline pointing increasingly to Milligan’s involvement, but most recently he did admit in an interview with the El Dorado News-Times that his “his comments could be construed as extortion,” although he still says the meeting was taken out of context by Baird. I can’t imagine what context would be a good one, and I have reviewed the entire recording of the event provided by Baird.
This event is not an exception for Milligan, but rather his standard operating procedure. Although Milligan did pick up early on the voters trending toward the Republican nominee at the county level, his campaign for Saline County Circuit Clerk was centered on hammering his incumbent Doug Kidd for hiring former prosecutor Dan Harmon who had been convicted of racketeering, extortion and drug-related convictions.
His days as Saline County Circuit Clerk have not been without controversy. His hiring practices have been questioned particularly in the early days. One employee sued him for wrongful termination claiming she was let go after publicly supporting his opponent with a post on Facebook. In another case, Milligan actually sued a former employee to try to get a racing form back (Milligan is a race horse owner) that he claims the employee stole off a fax machine at the clerk’s office.
There are more down these rabbit holes and I have not even touched on his bullying practices and embarrassing comments as the GOP chairman but you get the picture. In contrast to Baird, Milligan has demonstrated the ability to bring embarrassment rather than restore confidence.
The recent poll from Talk Business/Hendrix College shows that the race is wide open with 3 out of 4 likely Republican primary voters undecided in this race. Amazingly to me, Milligan has a slight lead among the handful of voters that have made up their minds.
I hope voters will educate themselves between now and when they cast their primary vote. I believe an objective observer will find that Baird is clearly the best choice in the race, and I ask you to vote for him for State Treasurer in the Republican primary.