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Two-term state Rep. James Sturch of Batesville announced plans Monday to seek a seat in the Senate held by fellow Republican Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas.

Collins-Smith wouldn't say Monday if she planned to run for re-election in 2018. In a text message, she said she was busy working with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and northeast Arkansas officials on flooding issues and declined a phone interview.

Sturch announced his bid Monday morning in a news release from his campaign consultant, Chase Dugger. He represents House District 63 in Independence County.

In an interview later in the day at the state Capitol, where Sturch attended a meeting of the House Education Committee, the 26-year-old representative said he would focus his campaign on being a stronger advocate for north-central Arkansas.

State Senate District 19, where Collins-Smith succeeded Democratic Sen. David Wyatt in 2015, includes Independence, Izard, Sharp and parts of Fulton and Randolph counties.

No Democrats have publicly announced plans to run in the district, though there is interest, according to party Chairman Michael John Gray.

Sturch's release did not mention Collins-Smith, and instead pointed to the representative's support for Hutchinson's tax plan, as well as improving and keeping the state's private-option Medicaid expansion program, known as Arkansas Works.

Collins-Smith, 54, was a Democrat in the state House when she switched parties in 2011, accusing the Democratic Party of being too liberal.

Now she is vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she has at times been an adversary to other Republicans, including the governor.

She voted for this year's tax cut for the poorest Arkansans, but voted "present" on a related measure to cut taxes on military retirees while levying them on unemployment benefits and certain digital products.

In 2014, Collins-Smith was among several conservative Republicans to run on a platform of opposing the state's private-option Medicaid expansion.

During the most recent session, she unsuccessfully pushed a "bathroom bill" to block transgender people from using the restrooms of their choice after Hutchinson repeatedly expressed a desire to see no such legislation filed.

"It is important we have a Senator who is willing to work with the Governor, other legislators, and our communities to get things done for our region," Sturch said in his news release. "My record shows I am able to do that while always putting my district above political pressure."

Sturch declined to comment on Collins-Smith's relationship with the governor and fellow lawmakers in an interview at the Capitol.

Jon Gilmore, the governor's political strategist, said Monday it is too early for Hutchinson to make endorsements in General Assembly races.

Sturch is the third sitting Republican in the House to announce plans to seek seats in the Senate currently held by the GOP.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said earlier this month he'll run for the seat in District 5 currently held by state Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest.

Last year, state Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, announced for the District 33 seat held by the governor's nephew -- Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock.

Metro on 06/20/2017

Print Headline: GOP lawmaker announces bid for state Senate

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