Outgoing Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel spoke about his career in state government and provided some clues as to what he will be doing when he leaves office in January.
McDaniel, who spoke to the NEA Political Animals Club, said he plans to open a law firm in Little Rock, Washington, D.C. and Jonesboro, when he leaves office Jan. 12.
He also said a possible run for elective office was definitely out of the question, at least for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t see myself running for office for at least a decade, maybe never,” McDaniel told the group, which met at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce office on Nettleton Avenue.
McDaniel also spoke about how he originally got involved in politics, his work as a police officer in Jonesboro and his runs for attorney general.
McDaniel served one term in the state House before running for Attorney General in 2006. He won the job during a Democratic sweep that year and was re-elected four years later with only minor party opposition.
McDaniel, who is term limited, will be replaced by Republican Leslie Rutledge. Rutledge, a Batesville native, defeated State Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, during the Nov. 4 general election.
REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS – A POLITICAL START
McDaniel said he became interested in politics when he was in junior high at Jonesboro.
He joined the Young Republicans club at Jonesboro High School, a point that he said caused some consternation with his father, lawyer and Democrat Bobby McDaniel.
Dustin McDaniel said he also got involved in politics when then-Gov. Bill Clinton would stay at a home behind his parent’s home in Jonesboro while campaigning in the region.
“He would stay with Dan Pierce and his wife. While he would stay there, me and my friends would play in the state trooper cars. I guess that built my interest in both law enforcement and politics,” McDaniel said.
After college, McDaniel said he first decided he wanted to be a police officer. That work as a police officer led McDaniel to eventually go to law school and run for office.
In law school, he met Mitch Berry, the son of former Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, a life-changing experience that caused him to think deeply about his political beliefs.
“I admire Marion Berry,” McDaniel said, noting Berry’s personality and the politics of personality in Arkansas.
McDaniel said his first campaign – as a Democratic candidate for state representative – started in a Jonesboro drug store, with a push to help people with prescriptions.
There was also a push for support of so-called “Tax Incremental Financing” projects. That effort, to provide capital for projects in blighted and undeveloped areas, helped with projects like the Mall at Turtle Creek, McDaniel said.
“You have to remember that before it was built, it was a cow pasture with a very bad irrigation slope,” McDaniel said. “It was a good thing, but I was beaten up badly about it when I ran for Attorney General.”
McDaniel said the 2006 run was difficult, in part, due to geography and political history.
“It was tough to run from Jonesboro for statewide office,” McDaniel said, adding that a lot of the political power structure in the state is based in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas. “I was trying to become the first Democrat from Craighead County to win a statewide office since Gov. Francis Cherry.”
He said he became a pilot and that helped him get to areas around the state with relative ease, especially during a contested primary that year.
McDaniel said there were two things he was proud of most in his eight years as attorney general – the creation of an Internet Crimes unit in the AG’s office as well as getting the state out of litigation with the Lake View School funding case and the Pulaski County desegregation case.
He said the internet crimes group has been effective in helping arrest suspected child predators, with at least 1,500 years in combined sentences being handed down by judges since the program started.
As for education, McDaniel said he believes the work to get out of court has benefitted the state. However, he said he fears the incoming legislature runs the risk of running afoul of the Lake View decision.
There has been some discussion this year by lawmakers about a study that would look into the 350-student mandate for districts and perhaps grant waivers for districts that meet other criteria like good test scores and finances.
No action has been taken yet, but it is expected to be one of the issues discussed during the 2015 session.
When he leaves office, McDaniel said he plans to remain involved in Arkansas politics in talking about issues and campaigning for candidates.
There had been some talk about McDaniel possibly running for Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court in 2016. He said the announcement Friday may stem some of the talk.
“I don’t see myself running for some time,” McDaniel said.