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Voters in five counties of north-central Arkansas will head to the polls starting Tuesday in their third effort this year to pick a state representative.

The first election, a special primary, in February sent Republican Donald Ragland to run unopposed in a special election last month to fill a vacancy in House District 83. Ragland was sworn in earlier this month to fill the remainder of the vacant term that expires in mid-January.

Now, voters must choose who will fill the seat in the next term that starts in 2019.

Ragland, a candidate for the next term as well, faces a runoff primary battle June 19 against Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape of Compton. Neither Ragland nor Slape earned a majority of votes in the May 22 Republican primary, which was held the same day as Ragland's unopposed special election.

[LIST: Runoff elections around the state]

The winner of the runoff will be similarly unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting starts Tuesday.

"I'm not necessarily trying to pick up any more people, I've talked to pretty much everyone" during the first two elections, Ragland said. "My big project is getting people to vote."

Voter turnout is typically lower in non-presidential election years, particularly in primaries, and Ragland said he feared a runoff for a single state House seat could exacerbate that trend.

During the first special primary in February, Ragland beat Timmy Reid, another Republican from his hometown of Marshall, by just 189 votes. Turnout was just 12 percent, according to the secretary of state's office.

Now, Ragland will face off against Slape, a longtime sheriff in Newton County, setting up a geographic battle between two Republicans who differ little on policy.

During the May primary, Slape won his home county as well as the adjacent Boone County, while Ragland took the parts of the district in Carroll and Pope counties, as well as his native Searcy County.

Reid, who came in third in the May primary, said in a text message last week that he was throwing his support behind Slape in the runoff.

Slape, who served as the past president of the Arkansas Sheriffs' Association, said he was banking on voters who are frustrated with seeing the Ragland name on the ballot. Donald Ragland's younger brother, Roy, served in the House from 2005-11. He now serves as House chief of staff, an administrative role.

"Some of the folks I've been talking to feel like they've been ignored for quite some time," Slape said in a phone interview. "That family has had control for quite some time."

In previous interviews with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, both Ragland and Slape said they would vote to continue funding for Arkansas' Medicaid expansion program, known as Arkansas Works. The program uses Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to up to 280,000 low-income people.

Ragland and Slape also said they favor allowing a controversial hog farm operating near the Buffalo National River to remain where it is.

Each also expressed skepticism at Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal for a $180 million tax cut for the highest-earning Arkansans, with Ragland proposing a smaller cut and Slape saying he would rather cut the corporate income tax. Hutchinson's proposal would be considered in 2019, in the next regular legislative session.

As a longtime sheriff, Slape says he'll work to improve the state's access to mental health services, while Ragland has said he will focus on improving roads.

Both also said they supported Hutchinson in his Republican primary battle against Jan Morgan.

In an interview, Ragland accused Slape of having been a Democrat and supporting former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross in his 2014 gubernatorial bid, an accusation Slape did not deny.

"I knew Mike Ross when he led the Blue Dog coalition of Democrats," Slape said, referring to a group of conservative Democrats in Congress. "They were the polar opposite of national Democrats."

Records from the secretary of state's office show that Slape voted in Democratic primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2014. Records for Ragland show he has voted in Republican primaries since 2002, but voted in Democratic primaries in 1996, 1998 and 2000.

In fundraising for the runoff, Ragland has a significant advantage with $12,281 cash available as of his latest campaign finance report filed prior to the May 22 primary. Slape had just $622 available as of his most recent report.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Donald Ragland
Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Keith Slape
A map showing the location of House District 83

SundayMonday on 06/11/2018

Print Headline: Voting set to begin in runoff for House

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