State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, has changed his mind and isn't seeking re-election next year to his Senate District 33 seat, the lawmaker confirmed Friday.
Melissa Fults, a Democrat from East End who last year sponsored a different medical marijuana ballot issue than the one that passed, said earlier this week she is seeking the seat and that Hutchinson told her that he wouldn't be running.
Last October, state Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, announced his bid for Senate District 33 in 2018. At that time, Hutchinson said he planned to seek re-election. Senate District 33 includes parts of Saline and Pulaski counties.
In a brief interview Friday at his law firm, Hutchinson noted that he got married last month.
"I just don't have the fire in my belly to spend nine months campaigning," he said. "I've got a law practice that I can't afford to spend the time doing that [campaigning], and I don't want to do that with a new wife."
Hutchinson is a member of the Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson law firm in Little Rock, where he works with former Reps. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, and Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City, and others, according to the firm's website.
Hutchinson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has served in the Senate since 2011. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is his uncle. Senate Republican leader Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs is Sen. Hutchinson's cousin.
Sen. Hutchinson was in the House of Representatives from March 2000 through 2006.
For the 2018 election, the filing period for state and federal offices will be Feb. 22-March 1. The primary will be May 22 and the general election will be Nov. 6.
The last campaign finance report that Sen. Hutchinson filed for the 2018 election was on Feb. 3 when he reported total campaign contributions of $33,585 and total expenses of $4,800, leaving $28,785 in the bank as of Dec. 31.
Through June 30, Hammer reported total campaign contributions of $21,223.96, interest earnings of $3.34 and total expenses of $5,216.47, leaving $16,010.83 in the bank. Hammer has served in the House since 2011 and represents House District 28 that includes Benton and central Saline County.
Asked about Hutchinson's decision not to seek re-election, Hammer said Friday, "I wish him the best at whatever he chooses to do and appreciate the service to the district that he has served."
Hammer, chaplain at Saline Memorial Hospital Hospice and pastor at Saline Baptist Church in Tull, said last October he would run for the Senate seat because it's "the right time" to run.
Fults, who is retired and runs a dairy goat farm, said earlier this week she decided to run for the seat after spending three months at the state Capitol during this year's regular legislative session and watching actions that she said didn't represent the state.
"Since Jeremy isn't going to run, I felt I could do a good job," Fults said. "I would have never run against [Sen. Hutchinson]. He's very level-headed and works for the people of Arkansas."
She said she's running against Hammer because "I just think Arkansas needs better representation and I feel like I am that person. There were a lot of votes I disagree [with]."
For example, Fults maintained that Hammer voted against any legislation that would have helped the state's medical marijuana program, and that he voted for any legislation that would have stopped it. Voters last November approved the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, and the state is gearing up to license cultivators and dispensaries.
Hammer said he isn't opposed to providing access to marijuana for medical purposes, but he opposes anything that would create the ability "to go toward recreational marijuana." He said he voted for the vast majority of the medical marijuana bills and said Fults' characterization of his votes isn't substantiated.
Fults said that she thinks Hammer represents "himself instead of the people of his district."
Hammer countered that he has been unopposed in the past two elections, saying that voters wouldn't have sent him back to serve if he only represented his own interests.
Fults said her top priorities would be finding more funding for education programs, working on improving health care programs and fighting hunger among the elderly.
Hammer said his top priorities would be making sure the health care system under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is as efficient and as beneficial to people as possible; making state government efficient and effective; trying the preserve the Senate district so people want to move there; and ensuring that children have the best educational opportunities.
In the 2016 general election, Fults lost her first bid for elected office in House District 27 to Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-East End. Mayberry tallied 8,711 votes, while Fults garnered 3,748 votes, according to the secretary of state's website.
Fults said she was busy working on medical marijuana measures in 2016.
"I have my plate cleared," she said of the 2018 election.
The House is now composed of 76 Republicans and 24 Democrats. The Senate is now made up of 26 Republicans and nine Democrats.
Metro on 09/16/2017
Print Headline: Not running in 2018, Sen. Hutchinson says