Notes from the Campaign Trail: 75th annual Coon Supper brings out the politicians

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 728 views 

The January 13, 2018 Gillett Coon Supper dinner brought out a slate of state and local candidates who will be running for re-election in May and November. It was the 75th anniversary of the famed dinner gala held in the tiny southeast Arkansas community.

The Pre-Coon Supper, held at the farm shop of former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, held its sixth annual event. The pre-supper event raises money for scholarships for Arkansas State University students.

Gabe Holmstrom, a former aide to Berry and one of the pre-supper organizers, said both events were a huge success.

“We had our largest crowd yet at the Pre-Coon Supper reception. Congressmen Westerman and French Hill, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and Sen. John Boozman, were all there. Candidates from all corners of the state also showed up,” he said.

Others in attendance included Rep. Rick Crawford, Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson, and former Secretary of State Charlie Daniels.

Since 2012, the event has now raised more than $90,000 for the Marion and Carolyn Berry scholarship at ASU.

“The scholarship provides money for students interested in public service to offset living expenses when they are awarded a public service related internship. Scholarship winners have interned for Senator Boozman and Congressman Crawford, and other elected officials and agencies in both Washington D.C. and Arkansas,” Holmstrom added.

“We were all very pleased with the turnout. Thanks to everyone who made the drive to Gillett to support the event, we look forward to seeing everyone again in 2019,” he said.

Christmas and New Year’s didn’t lend themselves to too many new announcements, but there were several, including the significant development that Jan Morgan will challenge Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the GOP primary. Morgan previously operated with an exploratory committee, but made it official that she’d get in the race on New Year’s Eve.

In addition to Morgan’s announcement, here are four more races to add candidates:

  • Governor, Jan Morgan, Republican
  • U.S. Congress, District 3 – Michael Kalagias, Libertarian
  • House District 55 – Gary Tobar, Republican
  • House District 70 – Andrew Hawkins, Democrat
  • House District 70 – Michael Wendell, Democrat
  • House District 87 – Kelly Scott Unger, Democrat

Trey Baldwin and Jason Tolbert are keeping up with the D’s and R’s who are putting their names on the ballot. Drop them a line or email [email protected] to get your candidate’s name added. You can view the most recent list of candidates here.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, was tabbed to be the next House Budget Committee chairman, a prestigious post that has its fair share of headaches. Womack will be at the center of the universe on this week’s efforts to avoid a government shutdown.

He said last week, “I don’t think there will be a government shutdown… My guess is what will happen absent a catch deal, is that we will end up with another two or three weeks CR [continuing resolution] to punt for a couple of more weeks.” We’ll see.

We had some follow up questions regarding Womack’s ascension to Budget chairman. His press secretary, Heather Neilson, provided us answers.

Q: Will Congressman Womack get additional staff for his Congressional office with this appointment?

A: Womack will not get any additional personal staff because of his role as Budget Chair.

Q: How big is the House Budget committee staff that he will chair in terms of employees?

A: To be determined. We are still in the early stages of this process, but I will let you know when the committee is fully staffed.

Q: Does the committee have a spokesperson or will you handle all those duties in your current capacity?

A: Yes, the committee has their own press shop. Right now, that is run by Sarah Corley (Sarah.Co[email protected]). Additional press staff will be added soon.

Q: Will the Congressman keep his other committee appointments?

A: Yes, Congressman Womack will keep his spot on Appropriations. He serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittees.

FYI, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., added the Senate Budget Committee to his assignments. He will remain on the Intelligence and Armed Forces committees.

Last week’s roiling controversy over alleged comments made by the president towards immigrant nations had its fair share of Arkansas angles. Sen. Cotton was at the White House during the meeting. He first issued a press release that he did not overhear the remarks that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., claimed. Over the weekend, Cotton changed his tune and said that the president didn’t say what was alleged.

Rep. Womack was asked by a local TV station for his thoughts and wound up defending the president with this statement.

Said Womack, “I try to look beyond the exact words he uses. I wish he would choose his words differently and more carefully and vet those. What I think the president is saying is that if you’re only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that’s the element that you’re appealing to, and of course a lot of those folks are wanting to come to America and pursue the American dream, then he feels like that we should make the same or a better appeal to people from other European countries etc. that can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it and do the kinds of things that will make America a prosperous nation.”

That set off a round of responses from Democratic Congressional challengers Josh Mahony (Third District) and Paul Spencer (Second District).

Mahony said, ”Northwest Arkansas is home to a growing and productive immigrant community. Today, Steve Womack basically defended Donald Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants from ‘sh**hole countries.’ Womack piled on by calling those countries ‘depraved’ and that we should make better appeals to European countries, which is code for ‘less brown and more white immigrants.’ Steve Womack is trafficking in racists comments and playing dog whistle politics.”

Spencer’s statement read, “Qui tacet consentire videtur (silence gives consent) has been a maxim of the law for hundreds of years. For officials to not repudiate or to not condemn President Trump’s horrendous, racially motivated and ignorant statement concerning Haiti and African nations is to condone it. This condemnation of the President’s racist language cannot be about politics, but about honoring basic human dignity.”

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