The Arkansas Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee heard Tuesday (March 30) of a proposed constitutional amendment that would create open or so-called “jungle primaries.” The amendment, and two others that were heard were not voted on, but could be later in the session.
Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said he’s proposing SJR 6 to increase participation in political primaries. The amendment does not change the dates when elections will be held, he added.
“It would establish open primaries in Arkansas,” he said. “I think it empowers our voters … a lot of elections are decided in the primaries.”
The top two candidates would advance from the primary, no matter their political party affiliation. Currently, a voter has to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot. The system as presently constructed doesn’t allow people to vote across party lines in different races.
For example, a voter might want to vote for a Democrat in a local sheriff’s race and a Republican running for state representative, but they would have to choose one party’s primary ballot over the other, meaning they can only vote for preferred candidates from that party.
At least four states – Louisiana, California, Oregon, and Washington – have a similar open primary system.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said the establishment of a jungle primary could cause problems. He noted that he lives close to Louisiana and many people there complain about not knowing the candidate’s personal beliefs. Other senators expressed those concerns.
Tucker fired back saying it wouldn’t eliminate party identification. He noted that for many years the vast majority of politicians in Arkansas ran as Democrats no matter what their personal beliefs were. Now, he said, the majority of politicians in the state run as Republicans.
Partisanship has been a serious problem in politics for many years, but it seems to be getting worse, Tucker added. He said our first President George Washington warned about partisanship before he left office.
“This is a step to reign in partisanship,” he said.
Two other amendments under consideration, SJR 13 and SJR 14, both sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would provide protections on the state level that are already a part of the U.S. Constitution.
SJR 13 would establish the “fundamental right” to bear arms as individuals, co-sponsor Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould said. He and Rapert said they think there will be a push in Washington D.C. to limit gun rights by President Joe Biden’s administration. The bill also extends protections against ammunition restrictions.
“It’s a right that people in Arkansas consider sacred,” Gazaway said.
Classifying it as a “fundamental right” would make it much more difficult for the federal government to remove those rights, Gazaway said. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled the government has to show a “narrow, compelling governmental interest,” when it attempts to change rights that are classified as “fundamental.”
It was noted the right to bear arms is already protected by the Second Amendment, and that federal laws supersede state laws.
SJR 14, or the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment” would protect religious speech and guarantee that the government cannot infringe on religious worship rights.
Rapert said a small minority of the population wants to classify religious speech as hate speech, and he noted that he’s being sued by the American Atheists organization among others. He said the suit is an “attempt to kill his spirit” and to “break him financially.”
The senator is accused in the lawsuit of violating his constituents’ First Amendment rights when he removed several of them from his official social media accounts.
It was noted that religious freedoms are protected by the U.S. Constitution already, and again federal laws and regulations supersede state laws and regulations.