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3 endorsed by governor capture state House seats

by Bill Bowden | March 2, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

Three candidates that Gov. Asa Hutchinson endorsed in the Republican primary for the Arkansas House of Representatives won their elections Tuesday night, but two others he supported lost.

The endorsements concerned support for the state's so-called private-option health care plan.

The program has deeply divided Republicans ever since it was authorized in 2013 by the Republican-controlled Arkansas Legislature and then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.

Hutchinson wants to revise the private option and encourage job training and more personal responsibility for the program's recipients. Hutchinson has said he will call a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly starting April 6 to consider changes to the program.

But some Republicans oppose the plan regardless of the changes the governor hopes to implement. If a few pro-private-option candidates in the House or Senate are defeated by those against it, the plan could be in jeopardy.

The governor endorsed Rep. James Sturch over Phillip Finch (both of Batesville); Rep. Rebecca Petty over former Rep. Debra Hobbs (both of Rogers); Rep. Sue Scott of Rogers over Austin McCollum of Bentonville; Chris Steplock of Greenbrier over Rep. Josh Miller of Heber Springs; and Rep. Jana Della Rosa of Rogers over former Rep. Randy Alexander of Rogers and Jana Starr of Springdale.

Hutchinson has defended the candidates against what he calls "unfair attacks" -- that because they have supported the state's private option, they also support the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Four of the candidates had voted at his request to authorize the use of federal Medicaid funds to buy private health insurance for low-income Arkansans under the private-option program. About 250,000 Arkansans have health insurance through the private option.

In 2017, the federal waiver authorizing the private option expires, and Arkansas will begin paying a portion of the program's cost. The state's share will start at 5 percent and rise each year until 2020, when it reaches 10 percent -- an estimated $173 million.

About 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, Sturch was declared the winner over Finch.

With all 26 precincts reporting, the complete but unofficial results were:

Sturch 3,435

Finch 1,461

Sturch is serving his first term in the House. There is no Democrat or other party candidate in the race.

In the District 66 House race, Miller held on to his seat, defeating Steplock.

With all 27 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

Miller 4,778

Steplock 1,604

There is no Democrat or other party candidate in the District 66 race.

In House District 90, Della Rosa was re-elected by a large margin.

With 13 of 13 precincts reporting, the complete but unofficial results were:

Della Rosa 3,561

Alexander 1,501

Starr 464

Alexander and Starr, a first-time candidate, have cited their opposition to the private option as reasons for entering the race.

Della Rosa wasn't in the state Legislature when the plan was first approved in 2013, but she voted in 2015 to continue the plan until an alternative is found, as Hutchinson requested.

"Every time I'm asked why I didn't vote against the private option, I ask what the better alternative is," Della Rosa has said. "I haven't gotten an answer yet."

The 2014 election was Della Rosa's first run for elective office. She won with no runoff.

She now faces no major party opposition in November.

Both Starr and Alexander moved into the district within the past year.

Alexander served as the representative for House District 88 in 2013 and 2014. He lost his re-election bid to Lance Eads of Springdale.

Alexander said he wanted to return to the Legislature, in part, to help provide the conservative representation that never would have supported the private option.

He said proponents of the private option haven't explained how the state would pay for the program in the long term as federal money to the states tapers off under the plan.

In House District 94, with 13 of 13 precincts reporting, the complete but unofficial results were:

Petty 1,981

Hobbs 1,451

Hobbs was unable to run for re-election in 2014 because of limits on the number of terms a lawmaker could serve. Petty won the seat while Hobbs made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. The Republican primary in 2014 was Petty's first race.

Voters in 2014 approved an increase in the number of terms allowed, making Hobbs eligible to run again for up to 10 more years in the Legislature.

Hobbs said she decided to run against Petty because Petty voted to continue the state's private-option health care program for another two years.

Hobbs opposes the plan and voted against it when it was first approved in 2013.

Petty said she approved a state budget including the extension to give a legislative task force time to find an alternative, as Hutchinson requested. Federal health care change was forced on the state, and no amount of protest will make that disappear, Petty said.

The winner of the District 94 primary election will face the lone Democratic Party candidate, Grimsley Graham of Rogers in the general election on Nov. 8. Graham unsuccessfully opposed Petty for her first term in the 2014 general election.

In House District 95, McCollum defeated Scott.

With 18 of 18 precincts reporting, the complete but unofficial results were:

McCollum 3,322

Scott 2,609

McCollum will face Libertarian Grant Bland of Pea Ridge in the general election Nov. 8.

Scott has served in the House since 2013.

McCollum has been critical of Scott's vote on the state's private-option health care plan.

McCollum said he is more conservative than Scott on that issue as well as others, including gun owners' rights. Scott disputes that.

"I bring to this office four years of experience," Scott said. "I've taken on the tough issues, such as problems at the state Department of Human Services, guns and accountability by state agencies as vice chairman of the legislative audit committee."

The private option has required a three-fourths vote to authorize funding in the 100-member House and 35-member Senate during the past three years.

Democrats and Republicans have questioned whether there are enough votes to meet that threshold in the fiscal session starting April 13, for funding in the fiscal year starting July 1. The candidates elected Tuesday will take office in January.

The House comprises 64 Republicans, 35 Democrats and one independent. Members of the House serve two-year terms and are limited to three terms. The position draws an annual salary of $39,400.

On Tuesday, there were 15 contested Republican primaries and four contested Democratic primaries for the state House of Representatives.

Another Republican primary race in which the private option was an issue was the one for District 27.

Former state Rep. Andy Mayberry of Hensley was leading in that race against Mike Creekmore of Bauxite.

The winner will face Melissa A. Fults of Hensley, a Democrat, in the general election.

With 11 of 12 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

Mayberry 3,128

Creekmore 1,849

Mayberry and Creekmore -- and their wives -- have served in the Legislature before.

Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, is a freshman stepping down from the District 27 seat. Dawn Creekmore served the district from 2005 to 2011, when Andy Mayberry was sworn in.

The Creekmores both served as Democrats in the state Legislature, but Mike Creekmore ran this time as a Republican. He said he's always been conservative.

Andy Mayberry and Mike Creekmore both said they are fiscally conservative, anti-abortion and support the right to openly carry weapons.

The candidates have different views when it comes to the private option. Andy Mayberry said he would vote for the governor's plan to keep the Medicaid expansion.

He said it's better to take the federal money and provide insurance for low-income residents since Arkansans will pay the same Medicaid taxes regardless.

Mike Creekmore said he would have voted against the private option in 2013, but he's undecided now.

Other races didn't pertain so much to the private option.

In the Republican primary for House District 98, incumbent Ron McNair of Alpena was challenged by John Arthur Hammerschmidt of Harrison, son of the late U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt.

With 8 of 16 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

McNair 1,678

Hammerschmidt 1,609

McNair is serving his first term in the House.

There are no other candidates in the general election race.

Hammerschmidt is a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board who retired from the federal government. He manages properties around Harrison.

His father served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 until 1993. He died in April.

McNair is a small-business owner who runs Ron's Auto Service.

In the Republican primary race in House District 54, Johnny Rye of Trumann pulled in more votes than Wes Wagner of Manila.

With 13 of 13 precincts reporting, the complete but unofficial results were:

Rye 1,683

Wagner 1,591

The winner will face William Hunter Williams Jr. of Blytheville, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Metro on 03/02/2016

Print Headline: 3 endorsed by governor capture state House seats


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