Democrat says he’ll quit helm of party

— The chairman of the state Democratic Party said Friday that he’s stepping down next month, and Gov. Mike Beebe later recommended a replacement.

Todd Turner of Arkadelphia said he won’t seek another two-year term because he wants to spend more time with his family and his law practice.

Beebe, a Democrat, later said he will recommend that the party name Will Bond of Little Rock, an attorney and former legislator, as the next chairman.

“Some people have said, ‘Well, Todd got beat in a bunch of races,’ and so they want to blame Todd,” Beebe said. “They shouldn’t blame Todd. It was the climate.Look across the country. I think Todd did everything he could for the party.”

Republicans had huge gains in Arkansas in the 2010 general election as in other states. Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost her bid for re-election. Republicans replaced retiring Democrats in two congressional races.

In state races, Beebe was re-elected, but Republicans won open seats for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and land commissioner. Republicans increased from eight to 15 in the 35-seat Senate and from 28 to 44 in the 100-seat House of Representatives.

The governor said Bond is “knowledgeable ... gets along with other people and can communicate.”

The governor said Democrats face the same challenge Republicans faced after the GOP’s poor showing in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

“All this stuff is cyclical,” Beebe said.

Beebe said the party’s message should be that Democrats “are closely aligned to the average working person, with the middle class, the people out there trying to support their families and make a living.”

The party will choose its next chairman at the state committee meeting Feb. 12. It is a two-year term.

Republican Party spokesman Katherine Vasilos said the Democratic chairman, regardless who that is, won’t affect the GOP’s growth.

“Our party’s momentum will continue as our newly elected officials begin to serve the people of this state by putting new, innovative ideas on the table to move Arkansas forward,” she said.

Bond, 40, previously represented Jacksonville in state House from 2003 to 2008.

“In the next couple of years, I want to make sure the message gets out about the governor and the House and Senate, which has mostly been run by Democrats, how successfully they have been in balancing the budget,” Bond said. “Arkansas is in a much better position than most in the national economy.”

He declined to say whether there was anything the party could have done differently last year.

While in the Legislature, Bond sponsored the act that consolidated school districts with fewer than 350 students. He offered the bill as a last step toward compromise during the 2003-2004 special session on education after bills that would have consolidated more districts were defeated.

He also sponsored legislation to help the elderly buy insurance policies to protect their assets so they don’t have to sell all their belongings to pay nursing-home bills. He was also an advocate for a separate school district in Jacksonville.

Bond lost to Rep. Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, in a race to be speaker of the House for the 2007 session.

Turner, 44, an attorney, said the job of chairman took more time than he thought when he accepted it two years ago.

“My family and law partners have been great to me,” Turner said. “[Being chairman] has been a lot of fun, but I don’t think I can do it two more years.”

He said it’s difficult to break away from work to drive to Little Rock on a regular basis for party business. He said the party will benefit from Bond living and working in Little Rock. He said Bond, as a former legislator, will be an asset in dealing with the Legislature.

Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb of Benton often holds news conferences at the GOP headquarters in Little Rock, while Turner rarely did that.

Beebe declined to say whether he wants the party chairman to be more vocal. He said Bond will probably decide over time how to best conduct party business.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 01/15/2011