It’s an early, early edition of Notes from the Campaign Trail, but several developments this week warrant our attention to political matters.
First, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, to leave his elected office after Gates pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes and worked out an agreement to pay part of what he owed.
Gates had been charged with not filing state tax returns from 2012 through 2017, but had worked out an agreement with Garland County prosecutors this week to reduce his charges to one count of not filing and paying income taxes.
Gates will pay nearly $75,000 in back taxes, penalty and interest and serve six years of probation. A hearing later this year could add to more payments or charges.
Hutchinson issued a statement late Friday that read: “It is unacceptable for a public official, particularly a state legislator, to continue to hold office after being found guilty of a criminal violation of our tax laws. He should resign or be removed from office.”
Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, told the AP that he thinks Gates should resign and he didn’t rule out pushing for removal from office if a voluntary resignation doesn’t occur.
Gates said he doesn’t plan to resign. He said his legal wranglings are working out a solution and that he’ll continue to serve.
BOOZMAN AND HUTCHINSON SPEAK ON 2022 AND BEYOND
Steve Brawner, a contributor to Talk Business & Politics, writes a statewide column for his Independent Arkansas blog. In a recent post, he gets on the record comments from Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., not up for re-election until 2022, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who will be term-limited in his current office in 2022.
Says Boozman: “If you had to ask me today, I’ve got to talk to my family and all of those kind of things, I’d say yes. … But that’s a long time. It’s not really two years. It’s like three-and-a-half years.”
Talk Business & Politics sources say Boozman is quite interested in running for re-election and has been making moves to plan for it. He also could be in line to be the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee by 2022 as the current chair, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, is not running for re-election. The GOP would have to hold the Senate majority to put Boozman in that position, but it’s a possibility. Ironically, Boozman ousted former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., in 2010, you may recall, when Lincoln was (ahem) Senate Agriculture chair.
Hutchinson spoke to his political future in Brawner’s column, too. He ruled out running against Boozman – a rumor that has been in circulation – and even encouraged Boozman to run again. When asked if he’d consider a Presidential run in 2024, which would likely start two years early as he’s exiting office, Hutchinson said:
“You know, if there was the right opportunity and need there, that option is on the table, but again, you don’t see that in the short term, but we’ll see what happens down the road.”
EARLY JOCKEYING FOR LG
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, tells the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he’s running for Lt. Governor in 2022.
There will be a lot of reshuffling that year in the state’s constitutional offices. Among the musical chairs, these will be open seats due to term limits: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Auditor of State, and Treasurer of State. Secretary of State John Thurston and Commissioner of State Lands Tommy Land are in their first terms in those offices.
So will Tim Griffin, Leslie Rutledge, Andrea Lea and Dennis Milligan run for other offices? We’ll see. Don’t forget that Griffin and Rutledge are attorneys and there will be Arkansas Supreme Court seats that could open during the next few years.
Expect a crowded field in the Lt. Governor’s race. There’s plenty of state legislators who may also look to the statewide post as a springboard for the future.
Rapert’s State Senate seat will be a target for Democrats to try to pick up. While there’s been strong GOP growth in the region, there are “blue” pockets. With legislative redistricting completed by the 2022 election cycle, there’s a good chance that will be a “solid red” district.
Look for one of the strongest Republican candidates who might consider running for the State Senate seat to be first-term Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway. He was impressive in his first term and is well-respected in a lot of circles in the district.