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Ben Gilmore, an aide to Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, will seek to oust Democratic Sen. Eddie Cheatham of Crossett next year, the Crossett Republican announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, said he's decided not to seek re-election next year to the House of Representatives, where he has served since 2013, to focus on his work in the private sector.

Cheatham has held the Senate District 26 seat since 2013. District 26 includes Ashley, Bradley, Chicot and Drew counties and parts of Cleveland, Desha and Lincoln counties.

Cheatham, 72, also served in the state House of Representatives from 2007-13. He retired after working as a vocational teacher at Crossett High School and an assistant director at what was Forest Echoes Technical Institute, which now is part of the University of Arkansas at Monticello College of Technology in Crossett.

In the 2012 general election, Cheatham narrowly defeated Monticello Republican Mike Akin by a vote of 14,479-14,124, according to the secretary of state's office. In the 2016 general election, Cheatham handily defeated Libertarian candidate Elvis Presley of Star City, 21,040-5,703, without a Republican candidate on the ballot.

Gilmore is a 27-year-old deputy chief of staff and communications director in the lieutenant governor's office. He is a former field representative for Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs and also served in a public relations role at the Crossett Public Library while attending the University of Arkansas at Monticello, he said.

"Southeast Arkansas deserves a State Senator that will boldly advocate for its people, for conservative values, and for policies that will grow jobs and the economy," Gilmore said in a news release.

"My priority in the state Senate will be centered around policies that further economic development and job growth in southeast Arkansas," he said. "I will continue to fight for common-sense fiscal responsibility in state government, and I will work to lessen the regulatory burden on businesses and hardworking Arkansans. I will continue to advocate for reading and STEM education so that the next generation is ready for every opportunity. I will fight to protect life, the 2nd Amendment, and defend Arkansas values."

Gilmore said he supports Gov. Asa Hutchinson's existing Arkansas Works version of Medicaid expansion that provides health insurance to about 240,000 low-income Arkansans.

"This program is an innovative approach from the original 'private option' that Gov. Asa Hutchinson modified to encourage those able to work while supporting those in need," he said.

Cheatham also has backed the state's version of Medicaid expansion.

Gilmore said that if elected, he plans to be employed elsewhere and not in the lieutenant governor's office.

Gilmore's brother Jon Gilmore is president of the Gilmore Strategy Group lobbying firm, the governor's chief political strategist and former deputy chief of staff.

Griffin said in a written statement that "Ben is going to be an outstanding conservative Senator and a leader on day one.

"Ben understands the need to spend taxpayer dollars more wisely and reform state government, and we need more like him in the Senate," said Griffin, who said earlier this month that he plans to run for governor in 2022.

Cheatham said that Ben Gilmore "and some other people have been working hard down there" in Senate District 26.

The Senate race "will be like we always do -- just work hard and see how the votes turn out," he said.

"I didn't really intend to run again, and ... I told Mr. Gilmore I wasn't going to run and then some things happened," Cheatham acknowledged in an interview. "It made me rethink [the race]. The people pushed me a little bit. They started messing with teacher retirement, so I thought I would stay up there one more time."

He said that if he wins re-election next year to a two-year term to the Senate, he doesn't plan to run for the Senate again in 2022 because serving 16 years in the Legislature would be "plenty."

Asked about the issues in the Senate race, Cheatham said that with "somebody else that never made a vote, it is hard to really pin anything on 'em. My fear is they will look at my record and see my votes, and I am sure they will find something to talk about.

"To me, the issues in my Senate district that I serve in right now of course is the big layoff at Georgia Pacific, [people] worried about economic development. But a senator can just do so much, and the state has responded."

Other important issues in the race will be protecting rural hospitals, helping the public schools that are losing students and the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and improving highways and roads, Cheatham said.

In other election news, Davis, who has represented House District 31 since 2013, said he decided against seeking re-election because it has been increasingly difficult to split his time between the Legislature and his job as an engineer in which he is a manufacturer's representative.

"It's a tough decision, and I have been mulling it over for a long time," he said.

Davis said that he is proud of his record in the House, where he will have served eight years by the end of his term in January 2021. He sponsored the 2019 law that implemented Hutchinson's plan to reduce the number of agencies reporting to the governor from 42 to 15.

He said he's aware of at least a few people who are considering running for House District 31 next year. The district includes parts of Pulaski and Saline counties.

The party filing period will be from noon Nov. 4 until noon Nov. 12. Next year's primary election will be March 3, and the general election will be Nov. 3.

State lawmakers are paid $41,393 a year in salary, while the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore make $47,277 a year. In addition, legislators are paid per diem and mileage for attending legislative meetings.

Metro on 08/22/2019

Print Headline: Griffin aide to challenge incumbent in District 26

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