Tuesday, October 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Limits shuffle Capitol lineup

Leader staff writer

With primary elections more than six months off, Jacksonville insurance agent Mark Perry says he is “putting out feelers” about running for the Dist. 44 seat held by state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.

Perry, an advocate for a stand-alone Jacksonville school district—as is Bond — is the only one to have announced so far in this traditionally Democratic district, but because of term limits, all seven representatives for northern Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties are ineligible to run again, and at least one candidate has announced—officially or not—for each of those seats.

Although Arkansas has moved its presidential primary up to Feb. 5, primaries for state and local offices will be in May, with the filing period running from noon March 3 until noon March 10.

Statewide, at least 35 House seats are up for grabs—29 because of term limits, three—so far — where incumbents are expected to be challenged, two where representatives are leaving to run for the state Senate and one because of retirement.
Closer to home, the area is losing a wealth of competence and experience in the House with the departure of Bond; Sandra Prater, D-North Pulaski County; Jeff Wood, D-Sherwood; Susan Schulte, R-Cabot; Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke; Mark Pate, D-Beebe, and David Evans, D-Searcy.

With all local lawmakers except state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, and state Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, term limited out of office at the end of the current term, hopefuls have already begun jockeying for position.

It is an axiom in politics that an early announcement can discourage other possible candidates, particularly in a primary election.

Perry, with young children in school, says he has a vested interest in how local educational facilities continue to develop. Perry recently spearheaded construction of a new field house for the Jacksonville middle schools and successfully applied for a $25,000 grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement Center to help finish out that structure.

Jane English, a Republican, is seeking the Dist. 42 seat currently held by Prater, a nurse who advocated for health-related issues.

English said she has discussed running with her long-time friend Val Yagos, a Democrat, and expects an announcement soon. “She’s pretty serious,” said Prater. The district includes not only north Pulaski, but also part of Faulkner County, including Mayflower.

English has extensive experience with economic development issues, having served as executive director of the Arkansas Manufacturers Association and as executive director of the Arkansas Workforce Investment Board. She currently serves as a liaison to private-sector employers on behalf of National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their families.

Prater herself is a likely candidate should Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines retire and otherwise could find herself running in a primary against Bond when Capps’ Senate seat comes open in 2010. Bond hasn’t speculated on his plans.

Two men have announced for the Dist. 43 seat held by Wood — Democrat Jim Nickels and Republican Tom Raley, according to state Rep. Steve Harrelson, who will be House Speaker beginning next session.

Nickels, a college professor, lawyer and Vietnam-era Army veteran, lives in North Little Rock.

Raley is a senior manager in a Little Rock publishing firm and a long-time foster parent running, he says, to help foster children.

Harrelson is tracking the House races at his Web site, http://www.underthedome.com/2007/07/2008-house-races.html. Wood’s district includes Gravel Ridge, Sherwood and a bit of North Little Rock. Wood said Thursday that Doris Anderson, who ran unsuccessfully for Sherwood mayor in the recent special election, also was considering the race.

In Lonoke County, former Rep. Randy Minton said at least two years ago that he would seek Schulte’s Dist. 48 seat when she termed out, and he confirmed Thursday his intention to do that.

Minton hopes to serve one term, and then in 2010, when Glover is term-limited out of the Senate, he will again seek that seat.

Both Schulte and Minton are Republicans in one of the safest Republican districts in the state. It includes Cabot, Austin, Ward and parts of Lonoke County south nearly to I-40. Minton says he’ll run on a platform of reducing state government and taxes.

Lonoke businessman Walls McCrary has formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the Dist. 15 seat held by former Lonoke Mayor Lenville Evans. McCrary, who closed his family-run, century-old Lonoke mercantile last year, is Lonoke treasurer, an elected position.

Republican Doug Hatcher, who unsuccessfully challenged Evans six years ago, is expected to seek his party’s nomination. Hatcher’s son Jason was murdered and Hatcher has run as an advocate for tougher sentencing and more prison beds.

In White County, Democrat Keith Williams is expected to run for the Dist. 49 seat to be vacated by Mark Pate because of term limits, according to Harrelson. That district includes Beebe.

Harrelson says Monty Betts, a Democrat, is expected to seek the Dist. 50 seat held by Evans, who is another casualty of term limits. That district includes Searcy.