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Fort Smith voters will cast ballots in two primary elections May 22, seeking to fill the same state Senate position over two terms and involving mostly the same candidates.

One vote is a special election to pick the GOP nominee for a race to fill the vacant seat until the term ends in mid-January. The other vote is to decide on the GOP nominee to run for the seat for a full four-year term that begins in mid-January.

The special primary election to fill out the current term has two candidates. They also are running in the regular primary election for the four-year term, as is a third candidate.

Early voting starts May 7.

The Senate District 8 seat has been vacant for more than two months since Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, resigned.

Files resigned effective Feb. 9, after pleading guilty in federal court in late January to felony charges of wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud. He was accused of pocketing state money he obtained for a Fort Smith softball complex and of pledging a forklift that he didn't own as collateral for a bank loan.

The Senate District 8 includes part of Sebastian County.

In the May 22 regular primary vote for the four-year term, Denny Altes, a former state senator and representative; former Rep. Frank Glidewell; and state Rep. Mat Pitsch are seeking the Republican nomination.

All three are of Fort Smith, and they disagree over the state's Medicaid expansion program for low-income Arkansans and over a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit certain damages in civil lawsuits.

If one of the three Republicans gets more than half of the votes in the May 22 regular primary, he will face Libertarian candidate William Hyman of Fort Smith in the Nov. 6 general election. If no one wins a majority of votes in that primary, the two top vote-getters will advance to a June 19 runoff to determine the Republican nominee. The winner of the general election will serve the four-year term that starts in mid-January.

In the special primary vote on May 22, Altes and Glidewell are vying for the GOP nomination to advance to an Aug. 14 special general election to face Hyman. The winner of the special election will serve until mid-January.

Pitsch is barred from running in the special primary election by Article 5, Section 10, of the Arkansas Constitution. Under that provision, no senator or representative shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office.

Altes said voters should cast their ballots for him because he successfully sponsored dozens of bills to help people and businesses during his 16 years of serving in the Legislature, and he wants to continue working on legislation to combat illegal and illicit drugs, and save people's lives.

Altes, 69, served in the House from 1999-2003, in the Senate from 2003-11 and again in the House from 2011-15. He owns SAB Co., which constructs buildings. He also owns commercial and residential properties that he rents out.

Altes served as Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's drug director from May 2015 until July 2017. Hutchinson's chief political strategist, Jon Gilmore, said the governor has not endorsed a candidate in the Senate District 8 race.

"His plan is to be neutral, but this could change as Election Day draws closer," Gilmore said Friday in an email.

Pitsch said people should vote for him because during his House tenure, "I think we have had a very good three-year run" in the district. He said the governor has been in Fort Smith for ribbon cuttings more than a dozen times during that period.

He said he has worked on numerous relevant projects for his district, including a mental health crisis stabilization center in Sebastian County. The county is one of four receiving state funds for the facility, which serves as an alternative to jail for low-level offenders. Other projects range from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith to development of part of Interstate 49.

Pitsch, 54, has served in the House since 2015 and as the House Republican leader during the previous two years. He lost in a 2012 primary election for the House District 76 seat to Denny Altes and then defeated Denny Altes' son, Bobby Altes, in the 2014 primary for that House seat.

He serves as executive director of the Western Arkansas Intermodal Association and is part owner of a biometric gun safe company called Arms Reach.

Glidewell, 73, a retired electrical contractor, served in the state House from 2005-11. He lost in a 2010 primary runoff election to Files.

He said voters should mark their ballots for him in the primary partly because "I am pretty trustworthy, [and] I have a little integrity."

Glidewell also said he wants to cut the growth of state government spending, and he opposes the state's Medicaid expansion.

MEDICAID EXPANSION

Glidewell said he opposes Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion, called Arkansas Works, because he doesn't believe the state can afford to shoulder 10 percent of the cost of the program. Under current federal law, the state will pay 10 percent starting in 2020.

He said working Arkansans are subsidizing people who aren't working but are enrolled in the Medicaid expansion program.

The program provides private health insurance to some low-income Arkansans -- now about 280,000 a year.

The state is paying 6 percent of the cost this year, 7 percent next year, and then 10 percent in 2020. In fiscal 2019, which starts July 1, the state's cost is projected by the Department of Human Services to be about $135 million and the federal government's share about $1.95 billion.

Altes said he supports Arkansas Works. In March, the Trump administration approved a waiver that allows Hutchinson to require that able-bodied Medicaid expansion enrollees, ages 18-49, work in order to participate in the program, Altes said.

"We are reducing the Medicaid rolls more and more, and more people are going to work and getting jobs, so I think we are headed in the right direction," he said.

Pitsch said he has voted to reauthorize the use of state and federal funds for the Medicaid expansion program in the past because that option was better for the state than not supporting it.

The Medicaid expansion program has been financially sustainable since it was authorized in 2013 through this year, he said.

"Right now it is the best decision to make, and I support it," Pitsch said.

Whether he continues to support the program "depends on what [the governor] puts in front of us," he said.

TORT REFORM

Glidewell said he opposes Issue 1 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature that would limit noneconomic damages and punitive damages in civil lawsuits, with certain exceptions. It also would allow the Legislature to amend and repeal state Supreme Court rules of pleading, practice or procedure, and adopt new rules with a three-fifths votes. Lawmakers currently do not have a role in the court rules.

"I am for tort reform, loser pays," Glidewell said. "But as far as putting a half-million [dollar] price tag on one of my grandkids, I am not for that.

"It seems like the legislative branch is getting into the judicial branch, [under Issue 1]," he added.

Pitsch noted that he voted in the House in 2017 to refer the proposed constitutional amendment to voters.

He said he plans to vote for Issue 1 at the ballot box in November "predominantly to keep businesses in play.

"It is a Republican Party platform, very pro-business piece of legislation and the state Chamber of Commerce supports it," Pitsch said.

Altes said he hasn't decided how he'll vote on Issue 1 because he's still studying the proposal and talking to lawyers about it beyond state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, who supports Issue 1, and attorney Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith, who opposes it.

INCOME TAXES

As for his stance on Hutchinson's proposal to cut the state's top individual income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent, Glidewell said, "As a rule, I am for tax cuts.

"I'd have to read the bill," he said. "I'd be for the bill, if it is a clean tax cut."

The governor has projected his income tax plan will reduce state tax revenue by about $180 million a year.

In 2015 and 2017, the Legislature enacted Hutchinson's plans to cut individual income tax rates for Arkansans who have up to about $75,000 a year in taxable incomes. The state projected that those tax cuts would reduce tax revenue by about $150 million a year.

Altes said he supports Hutchinson's plan to cut the top individual income tax rate, noting that neither Tennessee nor Texas have state income taxes.

"The more we cut taxes, the more people who are going to move to Arkansas and more businesses [will be] attracted and the better off we are going to be," he said.

Pitsch said he supports the governor's proposed income tax cut, but it wouldn't be easy to implement.

"You have to figure out how to fund it. We have a lot of work to do to make it happen and still support the state," he said.

ABORTION AND FINANCES

Glidewell said he opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother. He said he would rather see babies in cases of rape or incest be put up for adoption than aborted, and that would be a hard decision to make if his daughter was raped.

Altes said he opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother. He said he wouldn't allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest, adding that "of course, the doctors are in charge of all that."

Pitsch said he opposes abortion except when the mother's life is in danger.

According to their latest campaign finance reports, Pitsch has raised more in campaign contributions than either Altes or Glidewell, and Altes reported lending his campaign more than either Glidewell or Pitsch have.

Pitsch reported raising $69,125 in contributions and spending $16,422.74 through March 31. Altes reported lending his campaign $45,050, raising $5,150 in contributions and spending $22,216.19 through March 31. Glidewell reported lending his campaign $7,500, receiving no campaign contributions and spending $7,500 through March 31.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Denny Altes
Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Frank Glidewell
Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Mathew Pitsch
A map showing Senate District 8.

SundayMonday on 04/22/2018

Print Headline: Senate District 8 races May 22 a double-take; One seat focus of 2 separate votes

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