Two Republicans and two Democrats are jousting for their parties’ nominations in Tuesday’s runoff election for a state Senate seat vacated by Jonesboro Democrat Paul Bookout in August.
The Democratic and Republican nominees will face off in the Jan. 14 general election for the Senate District 21 seat representing most of Craighead County.
Bookout resigned Aug. 20, after the Arkansas Ethics Commission fined him $8,000 for four violations of state ethics laws and a special prosecutor was appointed to review his personal use of more than $53,000 in campaign funds.
Craighead County Clerk Kade Holliday, a Republican, said he expects 4,000 to 5,000 voters to cast ballots in Tuesday’s runoff. District 21 has 44,617 registered voters, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The Republican runoff pits John Cooper of Jonesboro, a retired long-distance manager for AT&T, against Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro, chief executive officer of Ascent Children’s Health Services.
Cooper and Sullivan qualified for the runoff by receiving 1,177 and 1,172 votes, respectively, in the Oct. 8 primary election.
They beat out Chad Niell, chief executive officer of Tiger Correctional Services, who received 903 votes. Niell is now supporting Sullivan in the runoff.
For the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s runoff, Radius Baker of Jonesboro, superintendent of the Valley View School District, is facing publishing company executive Steve Rockwell of Jonesboro.
Baker and Rockwell qualified for the runoff by receiving 1,083 and 956 votes, respectively, in the Oct. 8 primary.
They finished ahead of former state Rep. Ray Kidd of Jonesboro, who got 207 votes, and former state Sen. Gene Roebuck of Jonesboro, who picked up 172 votes. Roebuck and Kidd are now backing Rockwell in the runoff.
Bookout was one of 28 senators who voted earlier this year to authorize the use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance through health exchanges for an estimated 250,000 poor Arkansans. The appropriation measure required 27 votes to clear the 35-member Senate.
Cooper said he wouldn’t vote to reauthorize the funding of what is called the “private option” in the fiscal year starting July 1.
“I will not vote to fund it,” Cooper said.
He added, “Personally, I think he’s a lock to vote for it,” referring to Sullivan.
But Sullivan replied, “I am not a lock at all.”
“It’s another example of Cooper twisting statements,” he said.
“If we are going to defund the private option, I want to make sure we have a place for people who are participating in the private option and are caught in the middle through no fault of their own,” Sullivan said.
He said he doesn’t believe that the state ultimately can afford the long-term cost of the private option.
Asked what should be done for people who obtain health-insurance coverage through the private option if the Legislature decides not to reauthorize the use of federal Medicaid dollars for that purpose, Cooper replied, “It’s a situation that is going to get worse as time goes on.”
These people “will have other options for them, but I don’t think the private option is the way to go. I think we have to deal with it now,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe that the state can afford the private-option costs that it will have to shoulder in three or four years.
Cooper said he’ll vote against a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 general election ballot to allow senators and representatives to serve up to a total of 16 years in the Legislature, adding that Sullivan told the Family Council on a questionnaire that he favors the proposal. Under the state’s term-limits amendment, senators are now limited to two four-year terms and representatives are limited to three two-year terms.
The proposed amendment also would prohibit direct political contributions from corporations and unions, and delay lawmakers’ ability to become lobbyists for two years; there is currently a one-year ban. It also would allow the creation of an independent citizens commission that would set salaries for lawmakers and other elected officials.
Sullivan said he mistakenly told the Family Council in its questionnaire that he was for the proposed amendment, and he intends to correct his error.
He said he’s a “strong conservative,” who is an elder at the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, and he chose in the 2012 Democratic primary to cast “a protest vote” for Chattanooga, Tenn., lawyer John Wolfe Jr. against President Barack Obama.
Cooper said Sullivan’s explanation for his vote in the 2012 Democratic primary is “a good excuse. I don’t buy that.”
Both Cooper and Sullivan said they oppose same-sex marriage. Cooper said he opposes abortion except if the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. Sullivan said he opposes abortion, and he declined to specify possible exceptions. “Abortion is wrong, and all life has a purpose,” Sullivan said.
Both Rockwell and Baker said they support reauthorizing the use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health-care coverage for an estimated 250,000 poor Arkansans in fiscal 2015.
“It is the right thing to do,” said Rockwell.
Baker said Republican and Democrat lawmakers tried to do what’s best for Arkansas by authorizing the use of federal Medicaid dollars for the private option earlier this year.
“I don’t want to lose our [federal] tax dollars that we get in Arkansas and send them to another state,” Baker said, adding that the private option will help hospitals that have been losing millions of dollars as a result of uncompensated care.
Rockwell said his more than 30 years of business experience is a major difference between him and Baker, who has said he plans to retire as superintendent of the Valley View School District on June 30.
Rockwell also noted that he’s an adjunct professor at Arkansas State University and his wife is a teacher who retired from the Jonesboro School District and now teaches adult education in the Valley View School District.
Baker said he has worked with state representatives and senators for 26 years on educational issues, and he wants to work with lawmakers and state officials to keep public school employees’ health-insurance premiums as low as possible.
He said he’s “a little more conservative” than Rockwell, and that’s one of their major differences.
Baker said he opposes abortion, except if the life of the mother is in danger, and he’s against same-sex marriage.
“I don’t think [gay marriage] is biblical,” said Baker, a Baptist. “I think marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
As for abortion, Rockwell said he wants women to make choices about their own health care, adding “it’s a matter of choice.”
As for gay marriage, he said, “I don’t think government has the right to tell people who they can and cannot love.
“I do respect the civil rights of all people, not just some people in this country,” said Rockwell, who described himself as a Christian.
He said he doesn’t have any proposed legislation.
Asked about Baker contending to be more conservative than him, Rockwell said he wants to create jobs, keep taxes low, balance the state budget and make sure each child has a world-class education.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a contest of who is more conservative,” he said. “I am not about labels. I’m basically about trying to get the job done.”
State Senate District 21 REPUBLICANS
Age: 63 Birthplace: Independence, Mo.
Residence: Jonesboro Education: Parkway High School, Chesterfield, Mo.; Arkansas State University, bachelor’s degree;
Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State University, in Kirksville, Mo., master’s degree.
Occupation: CEO Ascent Children’s Health Services.
Family: Wife, Maria; two children.
Birthplace: Heber Springs
Education: Heber Springs High School.
Occupation: Retired AT&T employee.
Family: Wife, Betty Sue; two children.
State Senate District 21 DEMOCRATS
Steve Rockwell Age: 59 Birthplace: Columbia, Mo.
Residence: Jonesboro Education: Corning High School; Arkansas State University, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
Occupation: Vice president and board member for Corning Publishing Co. and J.V. Rockwell Publishing Co.; board member for Star Herald Publishing Co.; and adjunct professor at Arkansas State University.
Family: Wife, Dana; two children.
Age: 65 Birthplace: Marmaduke Residence: Jonesboro Education: Rector High School; Arkansas State University, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Occupation: Superintendent of Valley View School District.
Family: Wife, Anita; four children.