Democratic newcomers Garner, Godfrey knock off incumbents in Northwest Arkansas House races

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 1,758 views 

Republican incumbents in the Arkansas House of Representatives held off a so-called Blue Wave from Democratic challengers in Northwest Arkansas, but not without a few exceptions.

In her first race for political office, Democrat Denise Garner, a retired oncology nurse from Fayetteville, defeated four-term incumbent GOP State Rep. Charlie Collins on Tuesday (Nov. 6) to win election in District 84, which covers parts of Washington County, including Fayetteville.

The Associated Press called the race in Garner’s favor at a little after 9 p.m. Unofficial results from the Washington County Election Commission showed Garner defeating Collins 7,456 to 6,016 (55.3%-44.7%).

“I am excited and thrilled,” Garner told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Not just for myself, but for this [campaign] team who has worked so hard on a grassroots effort that was an uphill battle, and we did it.”

Collins sent a congratulatory tweet to Garner at 10:35 p.m.

“You ran a great race and beat me,” Collins wrote.

Collins sponsored legislation last year that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law allowing a person with a concealed handgun license to carry at state colleges, some bars and government buildings if they undergo up to eight hours of active-shooter training. A follow-up measure signed into law exempted college sporting facilities from the concealed carry expansion.

Garner said the gun issue was, obviously, a key topic of her campaign.

“I think that Charlie had become more and more extreme and he didn’t listen to his constituents, and we did,” she said in an interview with Talk Business & Politics. “We went around to every neighborhood, we listened to the voters and talked about their ideas and their concerns. And they have strong concerns with the gun law and the confusing aspect of it. That was a big part of it.

“But we had some great ideas, too. I think some of our legislators have forgotten why they were hired. And that is to represent the folks who vote them in. And I think that message resonated.”

Garner was one of two female first-time candidates who won Tuesday night against Republican incumbents. Democrat Megan Godfrey narrowly unseated Republican State Rep. Jeff Williams in District 89 in Springdale by a final vote of 1,857 to 1,827 (50.5%-49.5%).

“I could not be more proud, especially of my campaign team,” said Godfrey, a Springdale native who is co-director of English Language Learning for the Fayetteville School District. “We came out on top because of the days and hours and weeks and months of so much dedicated hard work. We knocked on doors and made thousands of phone calls with a lot of dedicated volunteers who cared so much about this community who are for families and for fairness and for the future. Just like I am.”

Garner and Godfrey will join Nicole Clowney, who teaches classical studies at the University of Arkansas, as first-time Democratic legislators representing Northwest Arkansas, beginning in January. In May, Clowney won her primary race to represent District 86 by defeating Fayetteville city alderman Mark Kinion. Because there was no Republican opponent in the November general election, Clowney’s victory decided the seat for the next two years. Clowney fills the House seat previously held by Greg Leding, a Democrat who won the open Arkansas Senate seat Tuesday in District 4. It is currently held by Uvalde Lindsey, who is retiring.

“We’ve more than doubled our female constituency, I think,” Garner joked. “I think that women have been underestimated for a long time. They tend to be more collaborative, and I am hoping we can work together with the women’s caucus and see if we can’t find some goals that we can work toward and actually govern.”

Garner said her primary goal in Little Rock is to take up Act 562, Collins’ legislation allowing concealed carry on campus.

“We’ve got to make sure that bill is less confusing, and that we add some safety aspect,” she said. “And if not that, then go back to some local control. I hope that we have enough folks that will take a look at this pretty clear message, I think. We’ve got to make sure constituents are listened to.”

Other political newcomers who were running on the Democratic ticket for the state legislature came up short in their respective races in Benton and Washington counties. Republican State Rep. Jana Della Rosa (District 90), State Rep. Jim Dotson (District 93), State Rep. Rebecca Petty (District 94), State Rep. Austin McCollum (District 95) and State Rep. Grant Hodges (District 96) all fended off Democratic challengers from women to win re-election.

Republican State Rep. Robin Lundstrum also won re-election for a third term representing District 87.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial final election results for state House races in Northwest Arkansas looked like this:

District 90
State Rep. Jana Della Rosa – R (incumbent): 7,299 (66.4%)
Kati McFarland – D: 3,689 (33.5%)

District 92
Gayla Hendren McKenzie – R: 8,970 (71.3%)
Chris Birch – D: 3,615 (28.72%)
(Incumbent State Rep. Kim Hendren did not run for re-election)

District 93
State Rep. Jim Dotson – R (incumbent): 6,639 (58.02%)
Gayatri Agnew – D: 4,804 (41.98%)

District 94
State Rep. Rebecca Petty – R (incumbent): 3,956 (56.3%)
Jené Huffman-Gilreath – D: 3,074 (43.73%)

District 95
State Rep. Austin McCollum – R (incumbent): 7,476 (65.44%)
Celeste Williams – D: 3,948 (34.5%)

District 96
State Rep. Grant Hodges – R (incumbent): 5,349 (68.2%)
Christie Craig – D: 2,496 (31.8%)

District 97
Gary Morris – D: 4,137 (42%)
Harlan Breaux – R: 5,706 (58%)
(Incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger did not run for re-election, seeking instead to win a State Senate seat.)

District 84
State Rep. Charlie Collins – R (incumbent): 6,016 (44.7%)
Denise Garner – D: 7,456 (55.3%)

District 87
State Rep. Robin Lundstrum – R (incumbent): 6,640 (70.3%)
Kelly Scott Unger – D: 2,804 (29.7%)

District 89
State Rep. Jeff Williams – R (incumbent): 1,827 (49.6%)
Megan Godfrey – D: 1,857 (50.4%)

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