Notes from the Campaign Trail: Coon Supper coming January 13

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 712 views 

The annual Coon Supper in Gillett will take place on Saturday, January 13, and 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the southeast Arkansas political event.

It’s also the 6th anniversary of the Pre-Coon Supper reception at the farm shop of former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett. The pre-supper event raises money for scholarships for Arkansas State University students.

“While everyone knows that 2017 was anything but ‘politics as usual’, the Gillett Coon Supper will go on, as it has for the past 74 years” said Mitch Berry, son of the former Congressman. “And with that, the Berry Pre-Coon Supper reception will continue, now in our 6th year. In the past 5 years, we have been able to raise quite a bit of money for scholarships for Arkansas State University students, and we have awarded several to some deserving students in 2017.”

The Marion and Carolyn Berry Scholarship is awarded to a qualifying Arkansas State University student who shows an interest in public policy and public service. This year, Trisha Davis of Mammoth Spring and Allyson Baugh of Jonesboro were awarded scholarships. They interned with Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, respectively.

The pre-supper reception starts at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Berry farm shop. Tickets are $30 each. Sponsorships are available to be a Berry Good Host for $1,000 and Berry Good Friends for $500. All tickets will be available for purchase at the door. For more information about becoming a sponsor, contact Becky Barnes Campbell at 501-375-1100 or Gabe Holmstrom at 479-409-3329.

The 75th Gillett Coon Supper follows at the Gillett School Gymnasium at 6:30 p.m. Tickets to the Coon Supper may be purchased by contacting Larry Bauer at 870-830-4002.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is raiding the office of U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, for an experienced campaign operative. Rutledge, the first woman and first Republican to hold the Attorney General’s spot, has tapped Josh Mesker as campaign manager for her re-election bid in 2018.

Mesker has worked for Hill and former U.S. Representative and current Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock. Mesker is a former Justice of the Peace from Saline County and has worked at the Arkansas legislature on behalf of the Arkansas Family Council.

“I am excited to announced Josh Mesker as my campaign manager,” said Rutledge. “Josh is well-known in Arkansas politics and brings with him the communications, grassroots organizing, and public policy experience we need to run an energized campaign across all 75 counties.”

Rutledge has no announced opposition for re-election.

The new indictment handed down from Missouri earlier this week generated a lot of chatter as it did not disclose the identity of “Person #7,” a co-conspirator in a kickback scheme identified “as a resident of Melbourne, Ark., [and] was an Arkansas lobbyist and former state legislator. Person #7 also was a board member and employee of the charity.”

The charity is Preferred Family Healthcare, which resulted from the May 1, 2015, merger between Alternative Opportunities of Springfield, Mo., and Preferred Family Healthcare of Kirksville, Mo. Speculation and research indicates that the description of Person #7 is likely former State Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne, who once chaired the Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee.

Deeper in the indictment, however, is another curious exchange. Person #4, another unidentified co-conspirator described as a resident of Rogers, Ark. and an executive for company operations, emailed to the identified and indicted Donald Andrew “D.A.” Jones, a New Jersey political operative based in Philadelphia. Other press accounts describe Person #4 as Rusty Cranford, a longtime Arkansas lobbyist. In the exchange, Person #4 and Jones trade these messages:

“On March 24, 2011, Jones e-mailed Person #4, stating:

Last week, I was in D.C. and took the time to reach out to [U.S. Representative #1], [U.S. Representative #2] and [U.S. Representative #3] and [U.S. Senator #1] and thank them for their time and attentiveness to Alternative Opportunities and inform them that the investigation was dropped. They were pleased to hear about the positive turnout.

On May 4, 2011, Jones emailed Person #4, stating:

After much consideration, I strongly suggest that the Alternative Opportunities team make political contributions to the legislators that were key in our recent success.

Of course, since corporate contributions are not acceptable this would require individual contributions to be given. The following legislators were very supportive in our success, [U.S. Senator #1], [U.S. Representative #2], [U.S. Representative #1] and [U.S. Representative #3]. Additionally, I would strongly suggest supporting newly elected (as of January 2011), [U.S. Senator #2].

Especially with [U.S. Representative #1] and [U.S. Senator #2], I wouldn’t be surprised to find that neither have had an African American contributor. Not only would the company be supporting these legislators politically, but I believe that having these contributions provided through me would be poignant and further allow our contribution to not go unnoticed.”

Federal prosecutors did not say if Person #4 and Person #7 were under investigation, nor does it state if the U.S. Representatives and Senators are Arkansas Congressional leaders or from another state. However, the exchange is a clear indication that the investigation may have bigger targets than just Arkansas state lawmakers.

Time for the pre-Christmas update to “The List,” our roundup of candidates for state and legislative offices in Arkansas. There’s been a little activity in the announcement column, mainly the addition of Jared Henderson, a Democratic candidate for Governor.

You can access the most current edition of “The List” at this link.

Jason Tolbert and Trey Baldwin, who spearhead management of “The List”, are still seeking potential candidates to share their announcements with Talk Business & Politics. You can follow Tolbert via Twitter at @TolbertARPX and you can follow Baldwin at @BaldwinAR. You can also email your announcements to [email protected].

Editor’s note: ‘Notes from the Campaign Trail’ is a compilation of various political insider tidbits. It is sponsored by Campbell Ward Consulting|Communications.