Arkansas Senate seat representing Fort Smith draws three GOP candidates

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,515 views 

Sebastian County Republican Party Chairman Gunner DeLay believes a three-way GOP primary for the Arkansas Senate seat representing Fort Smith will garner interest from around the state.

Frank Glidewell, former Sebastian County Judge and former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, filed Wednesday (Feb. 28) for the Senate seat he tried to capture in 2010. Glidewell said he filed to run in the regular election and the special election for the job. The District 8 Arkansas Senate seat was vacated by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith. Files pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to federal charges including bank fraud, and formally resigned on Feb. 9. Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the May 22 primary as the primary for a special election. The special election is set for Aug. 14.

In the 2010 election, Files won a GOP Primary runoff against then Rep. Glidewell with 57.48% of the vote. Because no Democrat filed for the seat, Files captured the seat.

Also entered for the special election is former House and Senate member Denny Altes. Rep. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, is running in the general election, but state law prevents a sitting legislator from entering a special election for another legislative seat. The winner of the May 22 special election between Altes and Glidewell will run unopposed in the Aug. 14 election, meaning they will hold the seat until the winner of the general election in November is sworn in in early January 2019.

The winner of the GOP primary in the regular election will face Libertarian candidate William Hyman in the general election.

Glidewell served two years as Sebastian County Judge, and 12 years as a member of the county’s Quorum Court. He also served 6 years in the Arkansas House, and is a veteran of the Air National Guard. He’s been in the electrical contracting business for 35 years.

Glidewell told Talk Business & Politics his primary reason for entering the race is to “deal with Obamacare.”

“We can’t afford Obamacare, or Arkansas Works or whatever you want to call it. That’s bankrupting the state,” Glidewell said, adding that there are “so many legal problems and kind of corruption” in the Medicaid system.

Glidewell’s opposition to Arkansas Works puts him at odds with Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Originally known as the “private option,” Gov. Hutchinson made various changes to the program under the name “Arkansas Works.” Some Republicans see it as an unaffordable expansion of government. It was funded almost entirely by the federal government until 2017, when the state began picking up 5% of the tab. That number grows over time to 10% by 2020.

Being at odds with Gov. Hutchinson on the issue does not bother Glidewell. He’s supporting Jan Morgan, who is challenging the governor in the GOP primary. She has said she is running because Gov. Hutchinson is not really a Republican. She’s also said she will not endorse the governor if he wins the primary.

“I’ll probably vote for Jan,” Glidewell said when asked if he would endorse Morgan. “Asa is not supporting me. He is looking out for Mat.”

Pitsch, as House Majority Leader, has helped Gov. Hutchinson with Arkansas Works and his other projects.

As to his other platform issues, Glidewell said he is opposed to expanding the sales tax to internet purchases. He’s also opposed to constitutional amendment SJR8 that will be on the November ballot. The so-called tort reform measure would, among other things, cap punitive damages, cap non-economic damages, and allow the legislature to adopt rules of pleading, practice and procedure. Glidewell said he is typically for tort reform, but SJR8 goes too far in that it “takes the jury out of the picture.”

DeLay said he is pleased to see a crowded primary. The party also has set a debate for 7 p.m. on April 26. A location has not yet been confirmed.

“We are fortunate to have three well qualified candidates that have legislative experience seeking the office of State Senator. I think it will be one of the closest watched races in the state,” DeLay told Talk Business & Politics.

Steve Brawner, a freelance reporter for Talk Business & Politics, contributed to this report.