Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Michael John Gray said Sunday (March 21) that lowering filing fees to zero in some instances is the best way to ensure competition for Republican-held seats in the state Legislature.
Last week, the party voted to eliminate filing fees for Democratic candidates who are challenging incumbent GOP state legislators or where there is no incumbent Democratic legislator. The party also lowered its filing fees for U.S. Senate, Congress, governor, other constitutional offices, and incumbent legislative seats.
“I’ve been a part of three election cycles now as chair. We’ve reduced the legislative filing fees in each of those cycles, this is not new. We have been reducing them,” Gray said. “We’re not guaranteed to win any seats, but if we don’t have somebody in a seat, we are guaranteed to lose.”
Gray said he’s concerned about the nationalization of state legislative politics. Especially in this session, he’s seeing more Washington-style issues, rhetoric and tactics. Republicans control 78 seats in the 100-member House of Representatives and 27 seats in the 35-member state Senate. Democrats hold 22 and seven seats respectively.
He is opposed to a potential bill for state lawmakers to possibly mandate filing fees for political parties.
“I think it’s ridiculous and I think anybody should be opposed to that. For the legislature to say you have to have $10,000 before you can represent your community, or $5,000 before you can represent your community, that’s not a good Democratic idea, it’s not a good Republican idea. That sounds like a bunch of people that like being in Little Rock and don’t want somebody else to have a chance to be there,” he said.
Gray is also opposed to partisan municipal elections, an idea that was defeated in legislation earlier this session but may come back in a different form.
“I’m not smart enough to shut my mouth. I’m against that, it’s ridiculous. And I’ll go you a step farther, even as a party chairman, we’ve got too much partisan[ship] in the state. We say there’s one state in this union with a non-partisan legislature and it works just fine,” he said. “I think we’ve got to quit looking for who is the best Democrat or the best Republican – we’ve got to create avenues where the people from their communities, that know their communities, that understand their communities, that are respected by their communities, regardless of the party, have an opportunity to serve.”
“We took the partisan labels off judges. We’ve taken the partisan labels off prosecutors. Now they’ve been threatened to have them put back on if they don’t get in line with some of these crazy bills we’re seeing. But the trend should be less partisanship, not more. And that’s what the people of Arkansas all want. They want less partisanship, not more,” Gray added.
Gray also said he expects multiple Democratic candidates to file for the U.S. Senate and Arkansas governor in 2022.
“And then we’ll be ready to show Arkansans, the difference between a Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who hasn’t been here at all, who can repeat the national talking points, but can’t tell you what’s going on in Dermott or Dumas,” he said.
You can watch Gray’s full interview in the video below.