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Private-option backers score GOP victories

Eads, Williams win Senate seats; English has fall foe by Michael R. Wickline | March 2, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

In Tuesday's primary, state Sens. Jane English of North Little and Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot survived challenges from fellow Republicans who opposed the state's private-option program.






State Rep. Donnie Copeland of North Little Rock sought to oust English. Lonoke County Justice of the Peace R.D. Hopper of Cabot attempted to knock off Williams.

In the other Senate Republican primary, state Rep. Lance Eads of Springdale defeated a private-option foe, Washington County Justice of the Peace Sharon Lloyd, in his bid for the seat of departing state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale.

With 36 of 38 precincts reporting, the unofficial results in the English-Copeland race were:

English 5,714

Copeland 5,422

English said Tuesday that she narrowly won her race because she has done a good job in the state Senate.

She said she's glad the primary race is over, and she'll focus on the general election race this fall.

Copeland said he was outspent in the race and English had the support of "popular" Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

"I"m not bitter. I'm not angry. The people have spoken," he said.

English will advance to the Nov. 8 general election to take on North Little Rock Democrat and attorney Joseph Woodson Jr.

English, Williams and Eads have each voted to authorize the use of federal funds to purchase private health insurance for some low-income Arkansans, and their Republican opponents said they opposed the private option.

Hutchinson, who wants to revise the private-option program that provides health insurance coverage to about 210,000 Arkansans and rename it Arkansas Works, endorsed and assisted English, Williams and Eads' campaigns. He has warned that failure to reauthorize the Medicaid expansion would create a more than $100 million "hole" in the state's budget for fiscal 2017 and jeopardize his plan to increase state funding for highways to match increased federal highway funds, partly with the use of surplus funds.

Groups led by two private-option foes -- attorney Brenda Vassaur-Taylor of Fayetteville and businessman Joe Maynard of Fayetteville -- helped the lawmakers' opponents.

A three-fourths vote has been required in the 100-member House and 35-member Senate to authorize funding for the private option during the past three years. Some Republicans and Democrats have questioned whether there will be enough votes in the Legislature to reach that threshold in the fiscal session, starting April 13, to fund the program in the fiscal year starting July 1.

In his bid to defeat English, Copeland condemned the deal that English and former Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe reached to secure her vote in 2014 on reauthorizing funding for the private option. In exchange, she received Beebe's support on restructuring and increasing funding for the state's workforce training programs.

In her re-election bid, English highlighted her work to overhaul those workforce programs and to improve education, particularly around Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.

Senate District 34 generally includes North Little Rock, Sherwood, eastern Maumelle and the Jacksonville area north of Interstate 40 and west of U.S. 67/167.

English, 75, has served in the Senate since 2013 and is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She was in the state House of Representatives from 2009-2013. She is a former senior project manager for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and director of the state Workforce Development Board.

Copeland, 53, has served in the House since 2015. He lost his bid for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2010. He is pastor at Apostolic Church in North Little Rock.

SENATE DISTRICT 29

With 30 of 34 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

Williams 8,133

Hopper 6,634

Williams said Hopper congratulated him on his victory late Tuesday night.

Williams said he won the race based on a strong get-out-the-vote effort as well as endorsements from Arkansas Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and Hutchinson.

"We chose not to do any mudslinging and we tried to take the high ground," he said.

Hopper said he lost the Senate race partly because he is "virtually an unknown.

"I don't have any regrets," he said. "We fought a good fight."

Williams will be unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election.

Hopper contended that Williams pays too much attention to the needs of large corporations and the political establishment, and not enough to representing people like veterans and law enforcement officers.

Williams disagreed with Hopper's depiction of his tenure in the Senate, saying that he has worked tirelessly on behalf of veterans, law enforcement officials and others.

Hopper and Williams sought their party's nomination in Senate District 29, which includes parts of Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and White counties.

Williams, who has been in the Senate since 2011, said he only wants to serve four more years in the Senate and to work more on cutting the size of state government to make it as efficient as possible.

Williams, 61, chairs the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. He was Cabot's mayor from 2007-11 and is retired from the Union Pacific Railroad.

Hopper, 49, has been a Lonoke County justice of the peace since 2015. He has owned Sonny's Auto Salvage, south of Cabot, for 20 years.

SENATE DISTRICT 7

With all 49 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

Eads 6,286

Lloyd 4,289

Eads faces no opposition in the November general election.

Eads, who has served in the House since 2015, joined the District 7 contest after Woods decided last fall not to seek re-election to the seat. Lloyd had already filed for the office.

Hutchinson appointed Lloyd to her Quorum Court seat last year to fill a vacancy, but she said during the campaign that she and the governor disagree over several issues, including health care policy.

"He needs this Senate vote for Arkansas Works, and he knows I oppose it," Lloyd said.

During his campaign, Eads said he has a good working relationship with both the governor and with legislative leaders, but his relationship with the people he represents is older and stronger.

Eads said he hasn't made any promises on health care.

"I'm going to make my decision based on what saves the state the most money and provides the most opportunity. I'm going to look at all the possible solutions," he said.

Metro on 03/02/2016

Print Headline: Private-option backers score GOP victories

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