Democrats challenge Washington County seats held by Republicans

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 1,310 views 

Several Democrats have challenged Republican incumbents for county positions in Washington County. Residents will vote May 22 in primary and school board elections, and the general election in November. The candidate filing period ended March 1.

In the general election Nov. 6, Washington County Clerk Becky Lewallen, Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Emily Sledge. Lewallen took office in 2013, and the first electronic poll books for Washington County were installed under her watch that year, she said.

“This technology has paved the way for the implementation of vote centers across the county. In the past you would have to go to your assigned polling place and sign a paper poll book. If you had an address change that moved you to a different precinct you would be sent to a different polling place,” said Lewallen, who started working in the County Clerk’s office in 2002. “As it is now you can show up at any polling location in the county and vote wherever you are.”

Lewallen said she’s also worked with the Quorum Court to cut the office’s general budget each year.

Sledge, an associate product manager at Tyson Foods of Springdale, said she was prompted to run for office for the first time because she “felt empowered” participating in local women’s marches that tapped into nationwide events. She chose to run for county clerk because it is the record keeper of the county – “a central hub for what people need, whether it’s voter registration, a marriage license or certificates for small businesses.”

Sledge holds a master’s degree in operations management and at Tyson works in process optimization. She believes her experience in looking for ways to better utilize resources would improve processes at the County Clerk’s office, resulting in a smoother experience for residents.

Also in the November election, Republican and incumbent County Treasurer Bobby Hill will face off against Democratic challenger Zane Chenault. Hill has served as treasurer since 2015. Before that, he was chief deputy and deputy treasurer and has more than two decades of experience in the Washington County Treasurer’s Office, he said.

“I know every facet of my office, from writing receipts to transferring money, to projecting revenue for a $68 million county budget,” he said. “In my three years as treasurer, interest returns have almost tripled. I’ve done this while keeping most of our taxpayers’ money in banks located within the county. … I continue to keep my office budgets below 2014 levels.”

Chenault, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, has never run for office before and is choosing to do so now because the county is facing dwindling reserves and a budget shortfall, he said. These are issues he believes he would be able to address because of 20 years’ experience in the private sector managing “multimillion-dollar budgets.”

“During the final seven years of my private sector career, I was a vice president, responsible for over $250 million in IT services revenue and managed a staff of over 2,000,” Chenault said. “My area of expertise includes forecasting, budgeting and cost controls.”

Also in the general election, Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester, R, is being challenged by attorney Adrienne Kvello, D.

Sylvester was elected circuit clerk in 2012 and started in 2013. Within that time, Sylvester said the office has cut the budget by more than $895,000, did away with fees to view and print court documents online and created a new position in the office, a domestic relations specialist, to assist individuals in applying for orders of protection.

Sylvester also serves on the executive board and legislative committee for the Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association and in 2017 was appointed by the Arkansas Association of Counties to the Opioid Task Force. Prior to becoming circuit clerk, he was a law enforcement officer in Northwest Arkansas for more than two decades.

Kvello said it is the first time she has run for office. “But it is something I have wanted to do for a long time.”

“In high school, I attended Arkansas Girls State and was elected attorney general. I was also selected to attend Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. This sparked my interest in politics and government and led to my decision to attend school at Georgetown University.”

While in college, Kvello interned with U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.

She initially wanted to run for state representative, but pivoted to the county race because it lacked a Democratic challenger, while the state representative position already had a Democratic candidate, and because of a change in family finances and her daughter’s health that made a local job more attractive, Kvello said.

As a lawyer with experience in three states and two U.S. Courts of Appeal, “I know what systems and practices make life easier for attorneys, judges and citizens,” she said. “Right now, Washington County lags behind other counties in technology and efficiency. … I have the knowledge and experience to address those inefficiencies and make our courts run smoothly.”

County Collector Angela Wood, R, County Sheriff Tim Helder, D, and County Coroner Roger Morris, D, all incumbents, are running unopposed.

Also in the November election, County Judge Joseph Wood, R, will face off against Jim House, D, and County Assessor Russell Hill, R, is being challenged by William Chesser, D.

The Justice of the Peace for District 13 is one seat that will be decided in the primary election, with Republicans Willie Leming and incumbent Justice of the Peace Joel Maxwell each vying for the seat.

In District 5, Denny Upton and Patrick Deakins, both Republicans, will face off in the primary, and the winner will compete against Democrat Dana Reynolds in the general election.

Republican incumbent Justices of the Peace Harvey Bowman, District 3, Bill Ussery, District 4, Lisa Ecke, District 6, Robert E. Dennis, District 10, and Butch Pond, District 15, are being challenged by Democrats Andrew Gaber, Judith A. Yanez, Jessica Stone, Andrea Jenkins and Quinn Childress, respectively.

Democrat incumbent Justices of the Peace Sue Madison, District 12, and Ann Harbison, District 14, face opposition from Republicans Todd Crane and Jim Wilson, respectively.

Other contested Justice of the Peace races are in District 1, between Shari Reed, D, and Lance C. Johnson, R; District 2, between Margaret Lyndsey Strange, D, and Susan Cunningham, R; District 7, between Coy Bartlett, D, and Sam B. Duncan, R; Shawndra Jones, D, is running unopposed for District 8.

Incumbent Democrat Justices of the Peace Eva Madison, District 9, and Joe Kieklak, District 11, are unopposed.

There are contested school board races in Lincoln, Springdale and West Fork, to be decided May 22.

Oleta Conner Danforth and Dax Moreton are competing for the Zone 4 position in Lincoln School District. Jefferson Miller and Nick Emerson are competing for the Zone 2 position in Springdale School District. Randall Coker and Mark Edward Findahl face off for the Position 1 seat in West Fork School District.

Uncontested school board races include Jeffrey Barnett for Elkins School District, Position 1; W. Travis Warren, Farmington School District, Position 1; and Keaton Smith, At-Large Position 2 at Fayetteville School District.

In Greenland School District, James Miller is running unchallenged for Zone, 3, Candy Reed for Zone 6 and Patricia Morris for Zone 7. Tera Thompson is running unopposed for Zone 1 in Lincoln. Bart Orr is running unopposed for Zone 4 in Prairie Grove.

Michelle McCaslin cook is running unopposed for At-Large Position 2 in Springdale. Brian Bowerman is running unopposed for Position 3 in West Fork.