The Libertarian Party of Arkansas nominated candidates for next year’s U.S. Senate race and two U.S. House of Representatives races Saturday (Oct. 26), assuming a court of appeals allows those candidates to appear on the ballot.
The LPA nominated Ricky Harrington, 34, of Pine Bluff, to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Democrat Josh Mahony is also running for that seat as is Independent Daniel Whitfield.
Libertarians also nominated Michael Kalagias to run for the 3rd District U.S. House seat against Republican Rep. Steve Womack. Democrat Celeste Williams is also contesting that office. It nominated Frank Gilbert to run for the 4th District U.S. House seat against Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman. William Hanson is running for that seat as a Democrat and Raymond Redmond, also a Democrat, has filed paperwork for a possible run.
Kalagias won 2.57% of the vote seeking the 3rd District congressional seat in 2018. Gilbert won 2.79% running for lieutenant governor in 2018 and 1.92% running for governor in 2014.
In addition, the party nominated Judy Bowers to run in the special election and regular election for the District 22 Arkansas House seat left vacant by the Legislature’s expulsion of former Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs. Gates had pleaded no contest to a charge of not filing or paying his taxes.
Other Libertarian nominees for state House races are Wayne Willems for House District 15, currently represented by Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan; Stephen Edwards for House District 77, currently represented by Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith; and Kevin Vornheder for House District 100, now represented by Rep. Nelda Speaks, R-Mountain Home.
Willems won 15% of the vote against Bragg in 2018. Edwards won 3.42% in a three-way race for the District 77 seat that year. Vornheder won 20% seeking the state Senate seat held by Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Bull Shoals.
In addition, the party nominated several candidates for justice of the peace positions, said the party’s chairman, Dr. Michael Pakko.
The LPA held its nominating convention Saturday because the Legislature moved Arkansas’ party primaries to March 3 to be earlier in the presidential calendar. That move created a deadline of Nov. 12 for all candidates to file a political practices pledge. The LPA will hold a convention Feb. 22 for final approval of its slate of candidates. It will have until noon March 3 to submit a candidate list to the secretary of state and county clerks’ offices.
Pakko said the early filing period reduced the number of candidates because some were not willing to commit so far in advance. In 2018, the party ran candidates in all U.S. House races, all seven statewide constitutional officer races, and 12 state legislative races.
Meanwhile, the party remains uncertain of its status under Act 164, which lawmakers passed this year to raise the threshold for third parties to qualify for the ballot. Previously, third parties were required to collect 10,000 signatures if they didn’t win 3% of the vote in the previous gubernatorial or presidential election. Under Act 164, the number of required signatures was raised to 3% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election, or 26,746 signatures this cycle. The party submitted 18,702 signatures, of which 12,749 were judged by the secretary of state’s office to be valid.
The party sued, and on July 3 U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted its request for a preliminary injunction. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis will hear oral arguments in December.
Libertarians support individual freedoms and significantly reducing government. Harrington said he supports abolishing the Department of Homeland Security, repealing the Patriot Act, and stopping “endless” wars. He said he supports 2nd Amendment gun rights.
“Being principled but also respecting other people’s freedom at the same time – that’s how I see the Libertarian Party,” he said in an interview after receiving the nomination. “You have the right to believe and live your life the way that you live it. But government telling someone this is how to do things, and just government getting too big and growing outside what they should, that’s kind of the principles I agree with the Libertarian Party.”
Prison reform is a motivating issue for Harrington. He is a treatment coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Corrections Cummins Unit. His responsibilities include legal matters, access to courts, recreational activities and veterans affairs. He supports reducing the size of Arkansas’ prison population, particularly with respect to nonviolent offenders; imposing sentencing caps; and programs that could help people stay out of prison.
Harrington, a father of three, is the LPA’s first African-American candidate. The party first began contesting elections in Arkansas in 2012.
He was a member of the White County Democratic Party, though he called himself a “blue dog” or conservative Democrat. He spent two years doing Church of Christ missionary work in China with his Chinese-born wife, Emily, whom he met while they were students at Harding University. He taught in universities and did health care consulting in China. He was there during the 2016 campaign and was dismayed watching the condition of American politics from afar. When he returned to Arkansas, he said he was stopped by police for driving 35 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone.
“And I was sitting there, and I said, ‘Lord, I didn’t spend two years of my life in a communist country only to come back,’” he said.
Harrington also was inspired to run because of his displeasure over Act 164’s higher threshold requirements to qualify for the ballot.
Kalagias, who is making his second congressional run, acknowledged his odds of winning are “incredibly slim.” He said he raised about $3,500 in the last election cycle, enough to run ads on radio and television, including Sunday news shows and daytime shows such as “The View.” He traveled to about a dozen county fairs, did a couple of dozen press interviews, and participated in a televised AETN debate, he said.
He said third party candidates still struggle against perceptions by voters that they must vote for one of the two major parties.
“You’re still fighting the same battle that people don’t think that a third party can win, so they avoid the third parties,” he said. “They get stuck with, if you don’t vote for the Republican, then you get stuck with the evil Democrat, or if you don’t vote for the Democrat, you get stuck with the evil Republican. …
“It’s like, ‘Well, I have to vote for Trump, and so I vote Republican to support Trump because if we don’t have Trump, then we have Hillary.’ And no one really seems to understand that there’s a better option out there.”