The Republican primary to represent state House District 83 in north-central Arkansas is a rematch of sorts, just a few months in the making.
Donald Ragland, a former sheriff, eked out a 189-vote victory over cattle farmer Timmy Reid in a February special election primary to fill the vacant seat until mid-January. Both men are from Marshall.
Now, in the primary for the November general election, both men are running again, this time for a full two-year term in the seat. Longtime Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape of Compton is also in the race.
The primary is May 22. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held June 19.
Ragland, who will not be sworn in to serve the current term until after the primary, said he's hoping to avoid a runoff through higher voter turnout in the primary.
"I didn't do too bad the first time," says Reid, who casts himself as an outsider and has expressed a critical tone regarding Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration.
Ragland and Slape, the former president of the Arkansas Sheriffs' Association, each say their connections in Little Rock will help them be an effective legislator.
In the three months since the district's voters last went to the polls, Ragland and Reid say the No. 1 issue dominating their previous race -- the C&H Hog Farm along a creek that feeds into the Buffalo National River -- has since petered out.
All three of the candidates say they support keeping the hog farm where it is. The state has denied a new permit for the farm, and the farm has appealed that denial.
"I'm all for agriculture, but we've got to talk about other things too," Ragland said.
In separate interviews, Ragland and Reid both spoke about medical marijuana. Slape didn't.
Ragland said he opposed the 2016 ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana and that as a lawmaker he would vote against any proposals to expand the legality of the drug.
Reid declined to say how he voted on the 2016 measure, but regarding future proposals: "If the people support it, I support it."
Slape said he opposes further legalization of marijuana. As a former sheriff, he said he is focusing his campaign on advocating for expanded access to mental health facilities, like the four crisis centers that have opened or are being built in four counties.
Slape also said he wants the state to invest in high-speed Internet access for rural areas, which he concedes would come at "a significant cost." He said he believes making state government more efficient would save enough money to pay for the projects.
Ragland and Slape said they would vote to continue funding Arkansas' private-option Medicaid expansion program, which Hutchinson has rebranded as Arkansas Works.
Reid, however, called the program "Obamacare" and said it should be ended.
Arkansas Works uses mostly federal dollars under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- dubbed "Obamacare" for the president who signed the law -- to purchase private health insurance for more than 280,000 low-income Arkansans.
The state's share of the costs is expected to rise to 10 percent in 2020, but Hutchinson has gotten approval to add a requirement that participants either work, volunteer or take job training for 20 hours a week. The requirement assuaged the concerns of several statehouse Republicans who were worried about the costs.
Slape said he is concerned about the rising cost of the program.
"All it's doing is subsidizing private insurance," Slape said, but he added that ending Arkansas Works and throwing people off the program is not an option he would consider.
Ragland said the program is needed to keep hospitals open in rural areas, where patients are likely to be insured through the program.
Reid said the state simply cannot afford to keep the program, disputing predictions that it would cost the state more to end the program because of uninsured people being treated at state hospitals, and patients simply moving to traditional Medicaid rolls.
"You're kicking them off now, so what's the difference of kicking them all off?" Reid said. "The government should not be in health care."
All three candidates said their idea to cut taxes differs from the governor's, who has proposed a $180 million-a-year income tax cut for the state's top earners. Hutchinson said he would ask lawmakers to approve the cut in the 2019 regular legislative session.
"I'm not sure we need to be cutting a whole lot of taxes anymore. We're going to end up like Oklahoma," said Ragland, referring to the Sooner State's budget troubles.
Hutchinson's proposed tax cut would affect people earning more than $75,000 a year, and lower the highest income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. Ragland suggested applying the tax cut only to people earning between $75,000 and around $150,000.
Slape said he would "probably support" the governor's proposed tax cut, but he prefers lowering the corporate tax rate, which he said is hurting businesses operating near the borders with other states.
Reid also said he favors lowering the corporate tax rate, but is unsure about what to do with individual income taxes.
Reid said it is unfair to give tax cuts to high earners, but then conceded that he wasn't aware that the governor previously cut taxes for middle- and low-income Arkansans. He then said a flat income tax rate would be best for all earners, but he did not know what the rate should be.
SundayMonday on 05/14/2018
Print Headline: District 83 run draws 3 in GOP