Early voting begins for House District 36 special primary

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 272 views 

Early voting began Tuesday (July 30) for the special Aug. 6 primary election for State House District 36, the legislative seat left empty after former House Minority Leader Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, resigned to take a top position on the staff of Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

According to the Pulaski County Election Commission, which is responsible for conducting the special election, polls will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the county’s main voting site at 501 W. Markham in downtown Little Rock, from July 30 to Aug. 5. Offsite early voting will also be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at polling sites in central and southwest Little Rock respectively, at the Sue Cowan and Dee Brown public libraries. Early voting at those sites will end on Friday, Aug. 2.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for the special primary election for the vacant District 36 seat to be held on the first Tuesday of August. Blake resigned his seat on May 16 to take a position as chief of staff for Scott, the city’s the first African American elected to lead the state’s largest city.

On election day, polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 16 precinct locations across the district. A run-off election, if needed, will be held September 3. None of the five candidates, who all have filed as members of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, have ever held public office. They include:

• Denise Ennett, a homemaker
• Phillip Hood, a law clerk at the State Workers’ Compensation Commission
• Darrell Stephens, a local businessman
• Roderick Talley, a local barber and businessman
• Russell R. Williams, III, a local college student

No Republican candidates filed to run before the June 7 deadline for the vacant District 36 position, one of the state’s 100 House of Representatives seats. The winner of the Democratic primary will serve out the remainder of Blake’s term of office, which runs through end of 2020. Another election will be held In November 2020 to determine who will serve during the 93rd General Assembly that begins in January 2021.

Angel Burt, spokeswoman for the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association, which hosted one of several candidate forums for the five neophyte political candidates on July 23, said the new representative for the district will have to represent constituents on several key political, social and economic issues. One of those issues includes the new federal Opportunity Zones, which were part of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, she said.

Burt said District 36 covers a large swath of one of the census tracts in Arkansas that Gov. Asa Hutchinson designated in April 2018 as one of the state’s 85 Opportunity Zones, which are aimed at boosting economic investment in low-income communities across the U.S.

Eligible zones in Arkansas are based on U.S. Census tracts, and governors of each state were able nominate up to 25% of eligible tracts for approval. Benefits for investors include a temporary tax deferral for capital gains, a step-up basis for capital gains invested, and a permanent exclusion from taxable income of capital gains from the sale or exchange of an investment in a qualified opportunity zone fund if the investment is held for at least 10 years.

Nationwide, the U.S. Treasury Department has approved a total of nearly 8,700 OZs across the U.S. It is estimated that potential capital eligible for reinvestment in the zones will generate $6.1 trillion in new economic development. Out of the 337 qualified tracts in Arkansas, the state Economic Development Commission (AEDC) have said those 85 “zones” nominated by Hutchinson were chosen based on their potential for economic success and ability to attract investment. There were eight Opportunity Zone census tracts in Pulaski County approved by Gov Hutchinson and the AEDC, including three that are touched by House District 36.

“Since one of these candidates will be our representative to the Arkansas General Assembly, that is one of many key issues facing our district because we have not been fully represented when it comes to jobs and economic development,” said Burt, whose neighborhood group is holding an Opportunity Zone forum on Aug. 3. “This is a very important election, so I hope people get out and vote early.”

The sprawling House District 36, which includes about 30,000 residents, includes parts of downtown Little Rock, east Little Rock, and southeast Pulaski County. Pulaski County election officials will begin opening, canvassing and counting absentee ballots on election day, a week from now.

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