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Former state Rep. Garry Smith, D-Camden, said Tuesday he is seeking the Senate District 27 seat held by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado.

Smith said he wants to help people with their medical needs and help create jobs in the Senate district.

But Garner said Smith is "an out-of-touch tax-and-spend big government Democrat" who "is a nice guy, but he doesn't represent the values of District 27."

Garner said he's excited to highlight his record of success compared to Smith's "rap sheet of failure."

Smith, who said he doesn't want to criticize the incumbent, disagreed with Garner's characterization of him.

"I don't know where he is getting that," said Smith, who said he helps people each day and that keeps him more in touch with the people in Senate District 27.

Smith, who served in the House from 2009-13, lost in the 2012 Democratic primary in Senate District 27 to then-state Rep. Bobby Pierce of Sheridan. Pierce was then elected to the Senate in the 2012 general election. But in the 2016 election, Garner ousted Pierce.

Smith ran for the House District 7 seat in 2016, but lost in the Democratic primary.

Senate District 27 includes all of Calhoun and Union counties and parts of Cleveland, Grant, Jefferson and Ouachita counties.

Smith, 67, owns Garry's Plumbing and Electric, drives a Medicaid bus for South Central Arkansas Transit that's part of the Central Arkansas Development Council, and is part of his family's Triple S Farms partnership.

He also is a committee chairman for the Farm Services Agency in Ouachita and Union counties. He is a former Ouachita County justice of the peace, Harmony Grove School board member and adjunct instructor at Southern Arkansas University Technical Institute.

Garner, 35, a lawyer, is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.. Garner served two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Smith said he wants to create Medicaid savings accounts where recipients could add their own funds to help pay for their co-pays and thus become "a team player" in the program.

He said he supports Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion that provides health insurance to about 240,000 low-income Arkansans, but has "a little bit of trouble" with the work requirement for many enrollees. Smith said he needs to study the requirement more before he takes a firm position on it.

"I don't want to kick someone off because they can't work a job," he said.

A federal judge's rulings in March struck down Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky. The rulings have been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Garner said he opposes the Medicaid expansion.

"All the Medicaid expansion money sucks up resources from the truly needy," he said. Gov. Asa Hutchinson aims to slow the growth of the traditional Medicaid program to provide the state's matching funds for the expansion program, called Arkansas Works.

The work requirement makes the program more tenable and viable in the long-run, Garner said. "Arkansas did the best with a bad situation with Obamacare."

Garner said he will support the Division of Medicaid Services' appropriation, even if it includes the Medicaid expansion appropriation, as long as he agrees with the rest of the budget.

The senator said Smith voted for a tax increase in 2011 by voting in the House for a proposed constitutional amendment to refer to voters a proposed half-cent sales tax increase for highways for a 10-year period. Smith said he was voting to refer the amendment, and he noted that voters made the decision for the tax increase in the next general election.

Garner also said Smith was "the deciding non-vote" for anti-abortion legislation in 2011 aimed at preventing babies from feeling pain. But Smith said he opposes abortion and there weren't enough votes in the committee in question to approve the anti-abortion legislation even if he voted for it.

Garner said he wants to work toward increasing from $4,000 to $10,000 the portion of the price of a used vehicle exempt from the state sales tax. He also said he wants to work with others to find timber-related products that could help expand employment in the region's timber industry.

Smith said he wants to encourage local employers to expand by granting them a a tax break for each job they create.

Metro on 07/17/2019

Print Headline: Ex-state lawmaker challenges incumbent in Senate District 27

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