Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> No shows talk of Lincoln dinner

Leader staff writer

It’s an off-election year.

That was clear at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner in Lonoke on Saturday where the normal Republican crowd was down about 25 percent and three of the guest speakers were no shows.

Plans called for a four-member panel discussion on how things went for the Republicans in the latest legislative session, but Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) and House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) didn’t make the event.

Only Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R- Searcy) made it, so the panel discussion was rather short and one-sided.

Speculation at the dinner was that Carter was preparing to announce for governor. Carter told The Leader on Tuesday that he hasn’t decided to yet.

Justice of the Peace Tim Lemons announced his run for the Dist. 43 House seat held by Carter, who is term limited.

What made the no-shows even more glaring was that two of them were honored Saturday night. The Lonoke Republicans recognized Williams for all the outstanding work he had done and the Republican Man of the Year was Farrer, but neither was there. Previous engagements, the audience of about 250 was told.

Rita Schmitz was honored as the county’s Republican Woman of the Year. She was presented the award by her sister, Lonoke County Treasurer Patti Weathers.

Dismang reminded the partisan crowd that before the last election the district lines were redrawn by the Democratic-controlled legislature “for me not to return. Glad you messed up their plans and sent me back.”

He told the crowd that the Legislature has changed greatly. “There is a new conservative tone and all the debating we did was a good thing. Five years ago when I first came to the Legislature, everything was done behind closed doors. There was no debate, no discussion — the herd was directed on how to vote, and they did.”

He said the debates helped keep things more transparent than in the past.

Dismang also praised the Legislature for the work it accomplished. “We strengthened the state’s pro-life stance with stronger anti-abortion laws, made it clear we are a pro-Second Amendment rights state and strengthening the integrity of our elections with the voter identification law and we approved $770 million in tax cuts,” the senator said.

Dismang explained to the crowd why the state had to approve the private-option alternative to the Affordable Care Act. “It would have cost us $35 million in penalties if we did nothing. Plus it brings insurers in the state which means more competition and hopefully will drive down the cost of insurance.” He said at least four new insurers were looking at entering the Arkansas market.

Dismang cautioned that every possible safeguard was placed in the private-option law. “If there is one disagreement from the federal government, then the deal is off, the program won’t start.”

State Republican chairman Doyle Webb was there to help rally the troops and emphasize the highlights of the legislative session, which had ended just days before.

Webb told the crowd that Republicans were more than the state party; they were also the party of cities, counties and people. “We reflect the views of everyday Arkansans.”

He admitted there was bickering or disagreeing within the party “but I agree with the party more often than I agree with my own family,” he quipped. “Besides, find me a Democrat that believes in all we believe in.”

The party chairman predicted that the Republicans would sweep the constitutional offices in the next election. “And we are going to send Mark Pryor into early retirement,” he predicted.

Even though it is an off-election year, some statewide candidates were at the annual dinner. Republican candidate for attorney general David Sterling was there as was Kim Yang of Benton, who is running for state auditor.

Both Republican candidates for governor, Curtis Coleman and Asa Hutchinson, had representatives at the events. The spokesmen said the candidates would be visiting Lonoke County often in the coming year.

Republican Denise Brown told the crowd she was running to regain her position as Lonoke County circuit court clerk. She lost the position to former Democrat Deborah Oglesby, who crossed over to the Republican side and beat out Brown in the 2012 primary.

Two Republican candidates for the Dist. 14 representative seat, Rep. Trent Eilts and Buddy Fisher, were there.

They will try to unseat Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) next year.