Notes from the Campaign Trail: The Jake Files special election scenario

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,122 views 

With the resignation of State Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, another open seat will leave voters in a part of Arkansas without representation in the upcoming fiscal session, which begins Feb. 12.

Files, who pleaded guilty Monday (Jan. 29) to federal charges, formally resigned on Tuesday. The process for a replacement begins with Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking the two major political parties if they want to have a convention or special election to fill the vacancy. If a convention is agreed to by the two parties, then the governor sets a date for a special general election to fill out the remainder of Files’ term, which would be through the end of this year. If a primary is requested by one of the parties, then both have to abide by that decision.

Expect one of the parties to call for a special election, which means an election calendar will have to be established for a special primary, run-off and general election. It would likely be this summer before the vacancy would be filled.

Interestingly, Rep. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, had already declared interest in running for Files’ seat, when Files said earlier he would not seek re-election. Pitsch can be a candidate for the open seat election to take place in November, but he’s restricted from being a candidate in the special election to fill out Files’ term due to a constitutional restriction on sitting legislators.

In theory, a non-sitting candidate could run for the remainder of Files’ term and run for the open seat, but a currently-serving legislator can only run for the open seat and not the remainder of the term. Keep an eye on this – could get curious.

One other note: Files’ exit before the fiscal session costs supporters of Arkansas Works another reliable ‘yes’ vote. With the two existing vacancies in Senate seats that won’t be filled until the fiscal session ends, this makes the math very difficult to get a 75% supermajority for the DHS budget, which Arkansas Works is rolled into. More coming on this over the weekend.

With all of the drama surrounding Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump orbit and connections to Russia, the dialogue seems to have strayed in Congress about what tangible policy changes may be put in place to safeguard against foreign interference – successful or not – in the 2018 election cycle.

There have been sanctions dropped (and not renewed) against Russia, but that is not and won’t deter more election meddling in the current cycle. Despite Congressional hearings on many fronts, there hasn’t been any substantive policy advanced to prevent a similar occurrence such as potential voter machine hacking, social media manipulation, fake news generation, money laundering in campaigns, etc. from happening again.

In a recent TB&P interview with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is investigating Russian collusion and interference, told Talk Business & Politics that he expects action to be taken soon:

“First off, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee I can tell you it is still our intent to issue a report, at least on the threat to the 2018 elections, before the primary season begins. In Arkansas, for us we vote in May, but some states vote as early as March. That’s only a couple months away.

“More broadly, it’s very important that states, who are the primary actors in our electoral system, understand the threats that hacking or other kinds of intrusion from Russia, or China, or other adversaries, poses to them. I’ve spoken with the senior leaders of our state about this threat, and about some countermeasures they may take. The simplest thing is just not to have our voting system connected to the Internet. That’s an important message for state leaders, and for county leaders as well. Most states are pretty secure in that regard.

“There’s no evidence so far that there was any manipulation of actual vote totals last year, but we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future as well,” Cotton said.

About a week ago, Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson said she would run for re-election to the high court. She lost a race for Chief Justice in 2016.

On the day she announced for re-election, former 2014 Republican Attorney General candidate David Sterling, said he planned to enter the race for Supreme Court this year. Thursday, Feb. 1, Sterling followed through with that pledge. He officially said he would run for the post.

Sterling says he is “an originalist when it comes to interpreting the Constitution.”

“I will be faithful to the original intent of the Founding Fathers who drafted our Constitution. It is never right for a court to rewrite or amend the Constitution; that power belongs to the people, not the courts,” Sterling said. “My job as a Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court will be to ensure our Constitution is followed and our laws upheld. A Justice is not a policymaker or legislator. I respect the Arkansas Constitution and how it separates powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. I will exercise judicial restraint.”

Sterling currently serves as Chief Counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. His campaign says “at this point, David plans to continue serving the people of Arkansas as Chief Legal Counsel at the Department of Human Services.”

Check out our latest candidate list at this link. Contact Trey Baldwin (@BaldwinAR), Jason Tolbert (@TolbertARPX), or Roby Brock ([email protected]) if you’re jumping in.

Here’s an update on new announcements ahead of the end of the month official filing period.

  • Arkansas Supreme Court, Pos. 3 – Courtney Goodson, Independent
  • Arkansas Supreme Court, Pos. 3 – David Sterling, Independent
  • Senate District 29 – Steven McNeely, Democrat (special election)
  • House District – Rodney Leggitt, Republican
  • House District 27 – Jim Dial, Democrat
  • House District 56 – Ryan Carter, Democrat

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