ARKANSAS NEWS BUREAU
It’s likely to be a good year for Arkansas Republicans, both in the U.S. Senate and House elections and in races for the state Legislature, where they anticipate being competitive for more than 50 state House seats and in a number of state Senate races.
But no Republicans have announced their intention to run for governor or attorney general, and the filing deadline is March 8.
That’s a problem for the GOP, especially considering that, because of legislative redistricting, those two positions will have a huge impact on Arkansas politics for the next decade.
According to Doyle Webb, the state GOP’s executive director, the party has two candidates who are interested in running for governor. Both are in their 40s or 50s, both are leaders in their fields, and both would like to establish themselves as conservative political leaders. He expects one or the other will run, but he doesn’t believe either would run against the other in a contested primary.
As for attorney general, the party has not been able to find a candidate, though not for lack of trying. Webb pointed out that it’s harder to enlist seekers for that office because, unlike in other races that are open to millions of Arkansans, the candidate is required to be a lawyer, and though he didn’t mention it, a Republican one, which is somewhat of a rare breed. Throw in the fact that a successful lawyer would have to take a pay cut in order to be attorney general, and it’s not hard to see why Webb is having trouble finding a volunteer.
But the job has its perks, including that it positions its occupant nicely for higher office. Three of the most recent attorneys general, Bill Clinton, Mike Beebe and Mark Pryor, used it as a springboard for much bigger and better things.
Republicans must find strong candidates for those races because the boundaries for state legislative districts will be redrawn after this year’s U.S. census. The governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, collectively known as the Board of Apportionment, are in charge of the process, and the party that controls those positions can draw the boundaries to its own advantage by spreading its likely voters across a majority of districts while concentrating the other party’s likely voters in fewer districts.
For example, say there are 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans living in a geographic area that would be divided into three districts. The party controlling the Board of Apportionment — we’ll say it’s the Democrats because it always has been — can pack six or seven of the Republicans in one district while spreading its own voters across the other two and win two-thirds of the seats even though it won only half the votes.
You’ve heard that the pen is mightier than the sword? Every 10 years, the pen is also mightier than the vote — when it’s used to draw legislative boundaries.
So the Republicans are looking at what could be their best election season ever, but, while they do have a candidate for secretary of state, Rep. Mark Martin of Batesville, they otherwise have two potential but apparently ambivalent candidates for governor and no one yet expressing an interest in running for attorney general. Did I mention the filing deadline is March 8?
Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist, a former newspaper editor, and a former aide to former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller. His e-mail address is email@example.com.