Monday, July 01, 2013

TOP STORY >> Bond: Democrats poised for wins in '14

Leader senior staff writer

Arkansas Democrats have already recruited a lot of great candidates and expect to pick up seats in both the Senate and the House in the November 2014 election, said party chairman Will Bond, the former Jacksonville representative.

Bond, enthusiastic after the Democrats’ Jefferson-Jacksonville dinner, said announced candidates for constitutional offices so far are former congressman Mike Ross and former Lt. Governor Bill Halter for governor; Little Rock School Board president Dianne Curry and state Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter for lieutenant governor; and longtime election specialist Susan Inman for secretary of state. Inman is a member of the Pulaski County Election Commission and former member of the state Board of Election Commissioners.

After decades of Democratic control, Republicans currently have a 3-to-2 majority in the state Senate, a 51 percent majority in the House, all four congressional seats and one of two Senate seats, plus the lieutenant governor’s office and the secretary of state’s office. Republicans outnumber Democrats 51 to 48 in the House, with one member of the green party.

In an interview this week at the Bill Gwatney Democratic Headquarters building on Capitol Avenue in Little Rock, Bond said Democrats would be laser-focused on education and economic growth.

He said, “2010 was the toughest year for Arkansas Democrats. Great friends lost tough races.”

That was the year that dissatisfaction with the economy and the status quo unleashed a Tea Party tsunami that swept Democrats out of office across Arkansas and the United States, but Bond thinks Democratic fortunes are on the rise.

He said, “2014 will be even better.”

Democratic candidates were outspent last election, but not by as wide a margin as in 2010, Bond said.

“We’re going to recruit great candidates and help them get elected,” the chairman said.

On the biggest issues of the 2013 legislative session, Bond said neither the Big River Steel Mill nor the private-option health-care law could have passed without strong support from Democrats.

Bond, who admits to eventual interest in running again for office—but not yet—said the party will recruit strong candidates for congressional races, including the First and Fourth districts, particularly if freshman Cong. Tom Cotton challenges Sen. Mark Pryor for his Senate seat.

“The big challenge is making sure people know what to believe,” Bond said. Voters need to understand our core beliefs that “everybody should have an opportunity to realize their dreams.”

“We believe in lean, not mean, government,” Bond said. “We believe in the golden rule, we are our brothers’ keeper.”

“We need to stay focused on that, not on divisive social issues.”

Bond said Cotton voted against relief money for victims of hurricane Sandy and against the farm bill.

Many Democrats are unhappy with Pryor for some of his votes and positions—such as his vote against universal gun background checks. But Bond said Pryor championed the Affordable Care Act early and the reauthorization of the violence against women act.

“He’s always been a guy who read the bills and tried to do what’s best for average Arkansas people. He’s humble and hardworking.”

As for the suggestion that Democrats can’t win statewide races anymore, Bond noted that Gov. Beebe won every county in the state during his 2012 reelection campaign.

“People are back, focused on who is the best candidate for the job,” the chairman said.