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Denise Ennett, a community activist from Little Rock's Pettaway neighborhood, defeated businessman Darrell Stephens in a runoff primary election Tuesday to fill a state House seat in District 36.

Ennett will take over the seat vacated by former House Minority Leader Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, and serve the remainder of his two-year term ending in 2021.

The runoff was necessary after neither candidate won a clear majority out of five Democratic candidates in a primary held on Aug. 7. No Republican filed to run in the district, eliminating the need for a general election in November.

With 16 of 16 precincts reporting, the unofficial results were:

Ennett 583

Stephens 426

Blake did not endorse any candidate in the election, which was called after he stepped down in May to serve as chief of staff for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

Ennett, a board member of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, jumped out to an early fundraising lead during the five-way primary.

She maintained that lead as of the latest deadline for campaign finance filings, when she reported having raised $35,420, more than twice the combined amount reported by all the other candidates in the race.

It was unclear, however, how much Stephens raised for his campaign. He never filed any of his required reports, which he said was because of problems with the secretary of state's office's online filing system.

Stephens told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week that he was unsure how much money he had raised for his campaign.

The other candidates eliminated after the first round of voting were Philip Hood, Roderick Talley and Russell Williams.

"I think the voters are responding to someone who is transparent and someone who is honest and someone who has the best interest of District 36," Ennett said as the returns showed her leading. She said she was feeling "positive" while awaiting the official results.

When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Stephens said that he was not following the election returns and was unaware of the results.

Ennett had focused her campaign on educational issues, identifying herself as a strong supporter of returning the Little Rock School District to local control.

The 23,000-student school district has been placed under the control of the State Board of Education for more than four years because of academic performance. Frustration over state control led to a series of raucous meetings in August in which community members and local elected officials called for a return of local control.

Stephens, meanwhile, pegged his support to the longevity of his campaign.

During the 2018 midterm elections, Stephens mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge against Blake. Stephens said he continued to make inroads with the district's voters after his initial loss, leading all the way up to Election Day.

The outcome of the election does affect the partisan makeup of the 100-member House. The chamber now has 76 Republicans and 23 Democrats, when there was a vacancy in the Democratic-leaning 36th District.

Metro on 09/04/2019

Print Headline: Community activist defeats businessman for Little Rock House seat

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