Republican senators cruise to reelection; incumbent legislators have big night in Northwest Arkansas

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,668 views 

For the first time, longtime Benton County GOP state senators Bart Hester and Jim Hendren had Democratic challengers in a general election. Even with opposition, the results in 2020 were still the same: victories for both lawmakers.

Hester, the GOP state senator from Cave Springs, was elected to a third term representing Arkansas Senate District 1. It’s largely a Benton County district, including Bentonville, but also includes a small area of northern Washington County. With all precincts reported Tuesday (Nov. 3) by election commissions in both counties, unofficial results show Hester defeated Ronetta Francis of Rogers 36,557-19,646 (65%-35%).

Hester, who owns a real estate development business, was first elected to represent District 1 in 2012 and was reelected in 2016. He ran unopposed in the general election both times. In 2018, he was elected majority leader of the senate. He has been a sponsor of legislation to lower taxes and reduce regulatory burdens on business.

“I have been consistent since voters first elected me in 2012,” Hester said. “I have honored my pledge not to increase taxes, to support our police and to support education in all forms. I will continue to do that.”

Benton County has long been a Republican stronghold, although Democrats have seen glimpses of marginally moving that needle in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Hester, 42, says his win against Francis — not to mention other GOP incumbent wins Tuesday in Northwest Arkansas — demonstrates the region remains reliably Republican.

“We’re smart enough to realize that with the increase in population not to take anything for granted,” Hester said. “We worked hard and raised enough money and did the things we should have done, and the voters rewarded us.”

Hendren, a Republican from Sulphur Springs, also had a comfortable Election Night victory. The president pro tempore of the Senate defeated Democratic challenger Ryan Craig of Prairie Grove 32,593-11,739 (73.5%-26.5%) to win another four-year term representing Arkansas Senate District 2, which includes portions of western Benton County and also western Washington County.

Like Hester, Hendren, who owns a plastics company in Gravette, was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and was reelected in 2016. He ran unopposed in the general election both times. Hendren has a record of sponsoring legislation to reduce government spending and limit government regulatory authority. Hendren, who also served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, also commented on the Republican strength in election results Tuesday night in Northwest Arkansas. The GOP holds nearly 80 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives and 26 of the 35 state senate seats. Every incumbent GOP legislator in Northwest Arkansas — and some Republican newcomers — all won their races Tuesday.

“I think we have proven what I had hoped we could prove — we can govern,” Hendren said. “I think it’s a validation. I spent four years as majority leader and the last two years as president of the senate. I’ve tried to impress upon the Republican Party that it’s taken over 100 years to be the majority party in Arkansas. We need to show that we can govern as the majority party and do it responsibly.”

Hendren, 57, is also rumored to be considering a run for governor in 2022.

“I am considering it,” he said Tuesday night. “I have wanted to get this election behind me first. We’ve got a session to get ready to for in 2021, but when we get 2020 behind us, I think I’ll be in a better position to determine that.”

Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, was re-elected to a second term and will continue to represent District 86 after receiving 8,280 votes, or 70.2% of the vote, according to unofficial results. She defeated Republican John La Tour who received 3,524 votes, or 29.9% of the vote.

“The generosity and support I get from my district is always a surprise to me,” Clowney said. “I know that this is the best district in the state, but I am constantly surprised by how much they show up time and time again. I’m just super grateful.”

Clowney said a lot of first-time voters voted in the election, and she hopes this will become a habit for these voters.

“When I ran for office two years ago, I promised to go work for an Arkansas that worked for everybody, that was safer and healthier and more fair,” she said. “And I am thrilled that my district knows that I’ve kept that promise, that I’ve worked for those things, and that they have the faith to send me back and keep working.”

La Tour, who moved to Fayetteville in 1979, began practicing accounting as a CPA after he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1981. He earned a law degree from Oak Brook College in 2007 and established his law practice in 2010.

Clowney, an Oklahoma native, is a teacher at the University of Arkansas and earned a law degree from Yale University. In May 2018, Clowney won her primary race to represent District 86 by defeating Fayetteville alderman Mark Kinion. Her victory decided the race because she didn’t have a Republican opponent in the general election in November 2018. District 86 includes parts of Washington County, including Fayetteville.

Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, was re-elected to a second term and will continue to represent District 89 after receiving 3,080 votes, or 56.3% of the vote, unofficial results show. She defeated Republican Jed Duggar who received 2,394 votes, or 43.7% of the vote. Godfrey said she was unsure what to expect in the race as it was close in 2018.

“I felt confident about my connection to the community, my support and the successes I’ve had in my first term,” she said. “I felt confident going into tonight, but the fact that it was pretty decisive, it just makes me feel really proud. I’m really proud to have the support of my community, and I’m looking forward to a second term.”

Duggar, a Northwest Arkansas native, owns used car dealership Champion Motorcars in Tontitown. He was campaign manager for Sen. Bob Ballinger’s successful run for state Senate in 2018. Godfrey, a Springdale native, worked for 14 years as a school teacher, specialist and director, and is pursuing a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at the University of Arkansas.
In 2018, Godfrey narrowly defeated ep. Jeff Williams, R-Springdale, in District 89 after receiving 1,857 votes, or 50.5% of the vote. The district spans parts of Washington County, including Springdale.

Godfrey said the voter turnout was higher than in 2016 and 2018, and she was glad to see this.

“I am honored and humbled and proud to be a representative, and I’m ready to continue the good work we started for families, for fairness and for the future,” said Godfrey, who offered a trilingual thank you to her supporters.

With all precincts reporting, following are unofficial final election results for state legislative races in Northwest Arkansas.

District 1
State Sen. Bart Hester – R (incumbent): 36,557 (65%)
Ronetta Francis – D: 19,646 (35%)

District 2
State Sen. Jim Hendren – R (incumbent): 32,593 (73.5%)
Ryan Craig – D: 11,739 (26.5%)

District 85
State Rep. David Whitaker – D (incumbent): 9,002 (55.2%)
Brian Hester – R: 7,307 (44.8%)

District 86
State Rep. Nicole Clowney – D (incumbent): 8,280 (70.1%)
John LaTour – R: 3,524 (29.9%)

District 87
State Rep. Robin Lundstrum – R (incumbent): 5,649 (72%)
Michael Bennett-Spears – D: 2,205 (28%)

District 88
State Rep. Clint Penzo – R (incumbent): 6,448 (59.7%)
Hawley Woods – D: 4,358 (40.3%)

District 89
State Rep. Megan Godfrey – D (incumbent): 3,080 (56.3%)
Jed Duggar – R: 2,394 (43.7%)

District 90
Kendon Underwood – R: 11,531 (62.7%)
Kelly Krout – D: 6,863 (37.3%)
(Incumbent State Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R) lost in a primary runoff election).

District 91
Delia Haak – R: 13,408 (72.6%)
Nick Jones – D: 5,066 (27.4%)
(Incumbent State Rep. Dan Douglas (R) did not seek re-election).

District 93
State Rep. Jim Dotson – R (incumbent): 10,368 (58.2%)
Daisy Bonilla – D: 7,431 (41.8%)

District 94
John Carr – R: 5,621 (54.8%)
Jene Huffman-Gilreath – D: 4,631 (45.2%)
(Incumbent State Rep. Rebecca Petty (R) did not seek re-election).

District 96
Joshua Bryant – R: 7,798 (64.5%)
Jon Comstock – D: 4,292 (35.5%)
(Incumbent State Rep. Grant Hodges (R) did not seek re-election).

District 97
State Rep. Harlan Breaux – R (incumbent): 8,646 (63.7%)
Suzie Bell – D: 4,932 (36.3%)

Editor’s note: NWA reporter Jeff Della Rosa contributed to this story.