Seasoned political veterans and first-time filers packed the state Capitol rotunda Thursday (Feb. 22) on the first day of the 2018 filing period.
When Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin gaveled in the start of filing at high noon, scores of candidates and hundreds of their supporters snaked through tables arranged for the orderly processing of party filing fees, registration, and headshot photographs of each person running for federal, statewide, district and legislative offices.
John Brummett, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Talk Business & Politics contributor, has been covering the filing process since his early days as a cub political reporter in 1980. It’s still an event that stirs anticipation.
“This honors our civic process, and I think that’s great,” he said. “It is an homage to tradition and there always could be a surprise. Someone could walk off that elevator, and around that door that we would not expect and not heard anything about as a potential candidate. It’s exciting.”
On the ballot this year, voters will decide the office of governor and six other constitutional officers, four Congressmen, 100 House members, 19 state Senators, and one state Supreme Court seat. A large number of judicial and prosecuting attorney races will also file over the next week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s re-election bid will be one of the most-watched races of 2018. He faces a primary challenger in Jan Morgan as well as general election opponents Democrat Jared Henderson and Libertarian Mark West. Hutchinson, who first ran for statewide office in a 1986 challenge to Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers, filed on the first day of filing. He remembers not garnering much media attention in 1986 when Republicans were a small minority party and his candidacy in opposition of the legendary Bumpers was deemed a long-shot.
“You know, it’s a little bit nostalgic, but it’s also exciting about the future, and that’s what going for a second term is all about, what we want to accomplish,” Hutchinson told reporters.
Republican and Democratic Party representatives were busy during the first few hours as many current legislators used the lunch break from their fiscal session agenda to file for re-election.
“The first day of filing is always fun,” said Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta. “We’ve got a lot of new candidates who are excited. They’ve driven down today with groups and family members. It’s a group of new people that otherwise haven’t been political that are just ready to go make their communities better and to make their communities have a role here in Little Rock.”
His counterpart, Republican Party of Arkansas chairman Doyle Webb, a former State Senator from Benton, said the GOP is energized and is looking to make gains to its supermajorities in the legislature and grow at the county level.
“We’ve seen this energy building for the last two or three weeks,” he said. “We could win some races in all corners of the state. We have some challengers to some Democrats that I believe could win. I also think you’ll clearly see growth in the counties. We’ve had some county officials calling us and wanting to switch parties. Our door is open and the welcome mat is out.”
Besides Hutchinson’s filing, there were several other notable statewide and Congressional incumbents and candidates who filed on Thursday, including:
- Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, R, Attorney General
- Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston, R, for Secretary of State
- Rep. Trevor Drown, R, Secretary of State
- Auditor of State Andrea Lea, R, Auditor of State
- Treasurer of State Dennis Milligan, R, Treasurer of State
- Tommy Land, R, Commissioner of State Lands
- U.S. Rep. French Hill, R, U.S. Congress, District 2
- Gwen Combs, D, U.S. Congress, District 2
- Paul Spencer, D, U.S. Congress, District 2
- Rep. Clarke Tucker, D, U.S. Congress, District 2
- Josh Mahony, D, U.S. Congress, District 3
- U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R, U.S. Congress, District 4
- Randy Caldwell, R, U.S. Congress, District 4
- Hayden Shamel, D, U.S. Congress, District 4
- David Sterling, I, Arkansas Supreme Court, Pos. 3
There were plenty of novice candidates nervously taking part in the filing process for the first time. Celeste Williams is a Democrat running for House District 95, a seat currently held by GOP Rep. Austin McCollum that covers Pea Ridge, Bella Vista and other parts of Northwest Arkansas. A nurse practitioner, she says people struggling with health care is the main motivation she’s in the race, but other issues abound.
“There’s certainly a lot of energy right now,” said Williams. “Anywhere we’ve gone, we’ve put out a questionnaire as to people’s concerns and it is really interesting that health care, food insecurity, and education seem to be the biggest concerns.”
Senate District 5 in Northwest Arkansas could see an epic primary match-up and will be on reporters’ radars due to two heavyweight personalities. Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Huntsville, is seeking the Senate seat that appeared to be opening up earlier this year, but incumbent Republican Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, decided recently to seek re-election. Ballinger said he hopes to take his conservative values from the House to the Senate.
“I think one of the biggest issues we’ll be dealing with is implementation of Issue 1, which was SJR 8 – the tort reform amendment. I think that’s going to be something we’ll all be looking at and working on so long as it passes in November. Outside of that, we’ve got a $180 million tax cut thrown out on the table. How do we make that happen?” Ballinger said.
Filing period continues daily during weekdays through Thursday, March 2 at noon. The party primaries are May 22, 2018 and the general election will be held on November 6, 2018. You can access a complete list of candidates who have filed for office or who have announced they will file at this link.
Editor’s note: Trey Baldwin contributed to this report.