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2 challengers sign up to run for Arkansas AG's spot; campaign filing ends today

by Jeannie Roberts, John Moritz | March 1, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

In the next-to-last day of the state's weeklong campaign filing period, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge ended up with two challengers -- a Democrat who switched from another race and a Libertarian.

Mike Lee, 70, a semiretired lawyer from Little Rock, had filed to run as a Democrat for House District 31, but he returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to sign up to run against Rutledge.

Rutledge, a Republican, filed last week to run for a second four-year term.

As the filing period enters its final day today, all but one of the races for the state's seven constitutional offices have at least two candidates. Treasurer Dennis Milligan has filed for re-election to a second four-year term and has no challengers.

[2018 CANDIDATES: Full list of those who have filed to run for state, federal offices]

Democrats have announced candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, land commissioner, secretary of state and now attorney general.

Libertarians have candidates for those five offices plus auditor. Kerry Hicks of Mena signed up Wednesday as the Libertarian candidate for attorney general.

Republicans control all of the constitutional offices and congressional seats, and have majorities in both the state House and Senate.

Lee, a former trial lawyer and compliance officer for toy safety at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, originally filed as a challenger to state Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, who has fended off several Democrats in the past.

"I helped, by litigation, keep unsafe products off the American market," Lee told reporters Wednesday. "I think my background better suits this, suits [the attorney general's] office, than something in the state Legislature."

As top attorney for the state, Rutledge announced earlier this year that she would investigate pharmaceutical companies to see if there was wrongdoing that contributed to the state's opioid addiction crisis. She also received some criticism for continuing her defense of the state's birth certificate statutes, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the laws were unconstitutional in how they treated same-sex couples.

Lee said he had yet to "flesh out" his platform, but that he has ideological differences with Rutledge on consumer protection and the environment.

In her first term, the biggest spotlight was on Rutledge's direction of the exhaustive legal fight to resume executions in Arkansas after a decade-long hiatus. The state ultimately executed four of the eight men who had been scheduled by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to die over an 11-day period in April.

"I've been for the death penalty," Lee said, but added he opposed the schedule set by the state, saying, "It looked rushed."

"I think it needs to be looked at, especially the mode and the way it's being done," Lee said.

Lee was replaced in the House District 31 race Wednesday by another Democrat, Randy Haun of Little Rock. Haun, a cancer researcher, was in one of the 730 University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences employee positions that were eliminated recently. UAMS is expected to finish the fiscal year ending June 30 with about a $39 million budget deficit.

"There wasn't much I could do about my job," Haun said. "When I looked back and saw how the state was funding UAMS, I wondered if I could do something on the state level to get more funding."

A fourth Democrat filed to run for the party's nomination for the 2nd Congressional District seat now held by U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock. Libertarian Joe Ryne Swafford also is a candidate for the seat.

Jonathan Dunkley, the operations director of the Clinton School of Public Service, was the last filer of the day when he signed up as a Democrat for the heavily contested 2nd District seat.

The other Democratic candidates are state Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, Paul Spencer of Scott and Gwen Combs of Little Rock.

Dunkley, a political newcomer, said it was a challenge from his 9-year-old daughter, Isabella, to "do more" that prompted him to run.

"I started thinking about what's going on in the 2nd Congressional District and who is looking out for the interest of the everyday American right here in Arkansas that's living inside this district, from Little Rock, all the way to Searcy, to Clinton?" Dunkley said. "Who's looking out for the working class blue-collar worker? I don't really see a lot of those folks in Congress. So with that I said, 'Why don't I get in this?'"

On Wednesday, 26 candidates for state and federal offices filed at the Capitol, for a total 285 so far this election year.

Of the total number, 124 Republicans, 79 Democrats, 22 Libertarians and 31 nonpartisan judicial candidates signed up since the filing period started. Before opening day last Thursday, another 29 nonpartisan judicial candidates qualified for the ballot by filing signature petitions.

The partisan filing period ends at noon today; the nonpartisan judicial period ends at 3 p.m. The primary and nonpartisan judicial general elections are May 22 and the general election is Nov. 6.

State Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst confirmed Wednesday that she has decided against running for the House District 35 seat held by Tucker, who is running instead for his party's nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.

"I'm honored to serve within Gov. Hutchinson's administration and I look forward to continuing this work," Hurst said in an email.

Hurst, who formerly served on the Little Rock Board of Directors, has served as the director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage since January 2015.

In the 2014 election, she lost to Tucker for the House District 35 seat.

Little Rock Democrat Andrew Collins and Libertarian candidate William J. Barger of Little Rock have filed to run for the House District 35 seat.

State Rep. Andy Mayberry, a Republican from Hensley who is from House District 27, accompanied his potential successor to the filing table -- his wife, Julie Mayberry. The two have swapped out the seat since 2011. It's Julie Mayberry's turn now.

"She was sick of the incumbent," Andy Mayberry quipped.

As of the end of the day Wednesday, no other candidate had filed for the seat.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 03/01/2018

Print Headline: 2 challengers sign up to run for AG's spot; Campaign filing ends today

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