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Primary vote for Files' seat set for May 22; current, former lawmakers say they’re in Senate race

by Michael R. Wickline | February 14, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday set a special primary election on May 22 for the seat once held by Sen. Jake Files, followed by the special election on Aug. 14.

May 22 is the same day as the regular primary election.

Former state Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, who also has served in the state Senate, said Tuesday that he plans to run in both the special primary and regular primary elections for the Senate District 8 seat that represents part of Sebastian County.

If a special primary runoff election is required, Hutchinson on Tuesday set that election for June 19.

The winner of the Aug. 14 special election will serve in the Senate for the remainder of Files' term until mid-January 2019. Files' resignation became effective last Friday. Late last month, the Republican from Fort Smith pleaded guilty in federal court to felony charges of wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud for pocketing state money he obtained for a Fort Smith softball complex and for pledging a forklift he didn't own as collateral on a bank loan.

The winner of the regular general election race in November for Senate District 8 will serve a four-year term starting in mid-January 2019.

Last May, shortly before Files said he wouldn't seek re-election, state Rep. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, announced his intention to run for the seat this year. But Pitsch is prohibited from running in the special election by Article 5, Section 10, of the Arkansas Constitution, under which no senator or representative, during the term for which he was elected, can be appointed or elected to any civil office.

Altes, who is the state's former drug director, said Tuesday, "I tried to get other people to run, and I couldn't find somebody else to run, and they all wanted me to run, so I said, 'OK.'" He said he'll seek election to continue his legislative fight against illegal drugs.

Altes served in the House of Representatives from May 1999-2003, in the Senate from 2003-2011 and in the House again from 2013-2015. In May 2015, he was appointed by Hutchinson as the state's drug director. Last May, he submitted his resignation, effective last July 1.

Asked about his differences with Pitsch, Altes said that he is not prepared to talk about that yet.

But he added: "If he takes a swipe at me, I may answer."

In 2014, Pitsch defeated Bobby Altes, who is Denny Altes' son, in the Republican primary for the House District 76 seat, which represents part of Sebastian County. Pitsch has served in the House since 2015.

Pitsch said he is "absolutely" still running in the regular Republican primary election for District 8.

He said he doesn't plan to take any swipes at Denny Altes.

If elected to the Senate, Pitsch said he plans to continue supporting Hutchinson in his efforts to grow the economy and create jobs; continue to work on transportation projects in the region; and work on Chaffee Crossing; the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith; the Arkansas Osteopathic College; and the U.S. Marshals Museum, as well as a variety of other economic-development projects in the region.

If elected, Altes said he would vote to reauthorize the use of state and federal funds for the state's Medicaid expansion called Arkansas Works. Altes said, "We are going in the right direction" by seeking federal approval for a work requirement for many of the 285,000 people enrolled in the program and to limit eligibility at 100 percent of the poverty level rather than the current 138 percent.

Pitsch said he supports Arkansas Works and he wants to see continued improvement in the program each year.

Altes said he opposes a proposed constitutional amendment on the general election ballot that would limit damage awards in certain lawsuits and cap attorneys' contingency fees because the proposal also would allow the Legislature to set some rules for the state Supreme Court. "That doesn't make any sense to me," he said.

Pitsch said he voted to refer the proposed amendment to the voters and plans to vote for it in the general election because "I think it is good policy."

Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith, who is an attorney, said Tuesday that he strongly is considering running in the regular Republican primary for the Senate seat, but he's not sure about running in the special primary election.

Former Rep. Frank Glidewell, R-Fort Smith, said he is considering running in both the special and regular primary elections as either a Republican or independent candidate.

The filing period for both the special and general primary elections is from noon Feb. 22 through noon March 1. Independent candidates in the special election are required to file their paperwork with the secretary of state's office by noon March 1.

Metro on 02/14/2018

Print Headline: Primary vote for Files' seat set for May 22; Current, former lawmakers say they’re in Senate race


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