Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TOP STORY >>Move to expel mayor from GOP abandoned

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and Alderman Ken Williams have been cleared of the charge by another member of the Lonoke County Republican Committee that they intentionally worked against the party.

If they had not been cleared, their memberships in the local committee could have been taken away. But officials at the state level say that would not prevent them from running for office as Republicans.

Robert Horn, chairman of the Lonoke County Republican Committee, said expulsion at the local level would mean at the most that candidates would not have local party members working for them and at the worst; they could have local party members working against them.

After interviewing the two elected Cabot city officials Monday night, a panel of three members of the county committee concluded that the complaint filed by Carl Schmidt was without merit. The complained stemmed from Mayor Williams’ and Alderman Williams’ support for non-partisan elections in Cabot, where Republicans stand a better chance of being elected than Democrats or independents, because most residents vote Republican.

Horn said he was disappointed that the issue was made public and that he hopes it is over.

“(The panel) voted unanimously to not remove them,” Horn said. “It’s a simple matter; they just concluded that those actions did not merit removal from committee.”

About 20 or so of the 83 members of the Lonoke County Republican Committee attended the July city council meeting in which the council voted 5-2 for non-partisan elections that would require all candidates for office in Cabot to run as independents.

Those local Republicans included members who also belong to the Republican Assembly, a more conservative arm of the party that is sometimes at odds with other committee members. But one Republican Committee member told the city council that although the two sides are often divided, they were together on the issue of partisan elections. Residents have a right to know the values of the people running for public office they said.

But the council members who voted for non-partisan elections said national issues like abortion, gun control and homosexuality were not a part of city government.

They said they wanted residents to get to know the candidates rather than voting based on party affiliation. And they wanted qualified candidates.

The elephant in the room that council members only hinted at was City Attorney Jim Taylor who set up residency in Cabot and ran as a Republican, winning easily over Clint McGue, the independent incumbent with 15 or so years of experience as a city attorney. Taylor, who worked mostly in accounting, had no experience in city government.

Alderman Williams voted for the resolution and Mayor Williams would not veto it even though he was under pressure to do so.

The council members who supported non-partisan elections also pointed out that since most Cabot residents vote Republican, candidates could switch parties just to get elected. The presence of an “R” beside a name on a ballot was no real indication of a candidate’s values, they said.

Alderman Williams said after the panel reached its unanimous decision that he believed he had been given a fair hearing and he was glad the matter had been resolved.

Williams said he would not bow to pressure to vote against non-partisan elections because the Lonoke County Republican Committee had never adopted any policy in support of party elections.

In fact, he said, he had never seen the party take a stand on any city issue before the July resolution for non-partisan elections. As for the 20 or so Republicans who attended the July meeting, they were committee members the same as him with no authority from the party to make demands, he said.

Mayor Williams said his record this year as mayor shows that he is a good Republican despite his stand on partisan elections.
“We’ve reduced the size of government and we now have a substantial savings account,” he said. “I stand for family values and I’m fiscally conservative. I’m all the things you think of as Republican.”

Asked how the Democrats would deal with a similar issue, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Bill Gwatney issued this statement:

“The Democratic Party of Arkansas welcomes those with divergent viewpoints, and believes it is our differences that make us stronger. To those who are removed from the Republican Party in Lonoke County, please come visit with us if you would like to be involved with a party that appreciates varying points of view, and does not disavow those who act on their convictions even if it is not in lock-step with their party’s leadership.”