Notes from the Campaign Trail: Medical marijuana proposal moves forward, SCOTUS debate heats up

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 198 views 

Editor’s note: Notes from the Campaign Trail is a compilation of various political insider tidbits and is sponsored by Little Rock-based Capitol Advisors Group.


After two previous attempts, the third time is a charm. Little Rock attorney David Couch has received approval from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to pursue a ballot issue to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas.

The AG has certified the popular name and ballot title for the constitutional amendment known as “The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016.” Couch tells Talk Business & Politics that he is formatting his petitions for signature gathering and will have a professional canvassing firm in place by primary election day on March 1.

The measure will need just under 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Another medical marijuana proposal, supported by the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is also collecting signatures in an effort to make the general election ballot.

Couch said he has significant financial backing from several Arkansas liquor store owners, national groups tied to the physician pain management industry, and at least one wealthy individual based in Arkansas who supports the effort. In short, Couch said he has initial commitments of $1.5 million to push a campaign.

Couch’s polling is not far off from a TB&P-Hendrix College poll last year that showed support for physician-prescribed medical marijuana topping 80%.

“I have polled it… I’m at near 70% of the voters. I’m 90% certain we’re going to win,” Couch said. You can read the proposal here.

Democrats who are looking for their Senate candidate to differentiate himself from incumbent GOP Sen. John Boozman can look no further than the current debate over filling the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. On Wednesday, Boozman released a statement:

“After carefully considering the constituent feedback I have received it is clear that Arkansans overwhelmingly want a say in choosing Justice Scalia’s replacement through the presidential election. Arkansans want the Senate to wait until the next President is sworn in and I intend to adhere to their wishes. The fact of the matter is that it has been eighty years since a candidate nominated in an election year has been confirmed. Now is not the proper time to break this precedent.”

Boozman’s assertion of an 80-year precedent was the subject of a recent SCOTUSblog post. Read more here.

Former prosecutor and U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, who will be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, disagreed with Boozman’s stance (although Eldridge’s position came out before Boozman’s). Eldridge said “the President and the Senate should fulfill their constitutional obligations and work promptly to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court with a judge who puts the Constitution over politics and is both fair and impartial,” in a news release.

“Not filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court because of partisan politics is just another example of what’s wrong with Washington. Leaders in both parties should work together, put country over party, and do their job. End of story,” he added.

For the record, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, also opposes Obama filling a successor to Scalia. Cotton said: “The choice of Justice Scalia’s successor should not belong to a lame-duck president, whose mandate is stale, and whose disregard for the constitutional constraints on his office are well known. The choice should belong to the American people. Voters deserve the chance to factor in the future of the Court as they cast their ballots in November. They deserve a say on a lifetime appointment that may change the balance of the Court and dramatically alter the direction of the nation.”

Former Gov. Mike Beebe (D) was front-and-center on Thursday (Feb. 18) in a fundraising letter for Democratic Senate nominee Conner Eldridge.

Eldridge faces the winner of the GOP primary between incumbent Sen. John Boozman and his Republican challenger Curtis Coleman. Beebe writes in an email to supporters:

“Washington could learn a thing or two about how we do things here in Arkansas. Like the rest of the nation, I am extremely frustrated by the gridlock and dysfunction in Congress. It’s time for a change, which is why I’m writing to ask you to join me in helping to elect Conner Eldridge to be our next United States Senator.

“I know Conner well, having worked with him when he was a prosecutor, and being impressed by his work ethic and stalwart character. Whether working for Democrats or Republicans, Conner has always been committed to fighting for the rights of the people, enforcing the law, and defending the Constitution. That’s the kind of common sense and focus he’ll bring as our next Senator in Washington.”

Beebe is also a special guest at a fundraiser on Thursday night for Eldridge, according to an email sent to invitees. The event will take place in Little Rock at the home of Chip and Cindy Murphy.