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The candidate shuffle continued Thursday in the upcoming election for state House District 31, as two more Republicans expressed interest in the seat now held by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock.

Davis has decided against seeking a fifth term.

As expected, R.J. Hawk, a Bryant City Council member and producer on radio station KABZ-FM, 103.7, formally announced his campaign Thursday, issuing a statement saying that his candidacy will focus on making government more efficient and "holding the line on spending and not increasing taxes."

Hawk was soon joined in the prospective GOP candidate field by Rebecca Gwatney, the widow of slain Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney. Gwatney said she is considering a run, but has not yet made up her mind.

A third Republican, Bob Porto, co-chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits group, has said he is also considering a run.

Lance Penfield, who had been the first Republican to open a campaign for the seat, changed his mind and dropped out Wednesday.

No Democrats have announced plans to run in the district, which covers parts of Saline and Pulaski counties.

Davis, who served four terms in the House dating to 2012, said he does not plan to endorse anyone in a Republican primary.

In a phone interview, Hawk cast himself as being in Davis' mold, praising the lawmaker as a "great representative." Hawk said he was unaware of any disagreements he had with Davis' voting record.

Hawk, 33, said he was an "unapologetic supporter of the Second Amendment," but clarified that he did not believe that expanding background checks to include private sales at gun shows ran afoul of the amendment. "I think I would" support closing the gun-show loophole, he said.

Asked about his position on the state's private-option Medicaid expansion program, which uses mostly federal funds to provide health insurance to about 250,000 low-income Arkansans, Hawk said, "I'm still doing my research."

Davis repeatedly voted in favor of funding the Medicaid expansion program. Some Republicans opposed the program out of concerns about its cost.

If she decides to run, Gwatney, 55, said she would likely support Medicaid expansion, noting that her husband was a proponent of expanding access to health care during the decade he served in the state Senate.

Bill Gwatney also served as finance chairman to Mike Beebe's 2006 gubernatorial campaign before being appointed chairman of the state Democratic Party. Bill Gwatney was shot and killed at the party's headquarters on Capitol Avenue in Little Rock in August 2008. He had been married to Rebecca Gwatney for about a year.

Asked why she would run as a Republican, Gwatney said she considered herself a "moderate" who did not fit fully into either party. She said her late husband was a Republican before deciding to run for office in 1992, in what was then a heavily Democratic state.

"He ran as a Democrat in order to win the position" in the Senate, she said.

Gwatney said she supports both universal background checks for gun purchases and a "red-flag" law, which would allow a judge to order the temporary seizure of someone's weapons if he or she is considered a danger to themselves or others.

"If we know someone is in danger, why would we let them do that?" she said.

Gwatney said she did not have a timetable for deciding whether to run, though she added that she was "leaning toward" entering the race.

Hawk also addressed the publicity his morning drive-time show drew in 2018 regarding its "Babe Bracket." The segment, which Hawk said predated his tenure at the station, asked listeners to rank female television news anchors by appearance.

After a news director called for an end to the segment -- and a series of stories in national media outlets discussed the contest -- Hawk said he and his co-workers decided against running the segment the last two years.

"Looking back, did it objectify women? Yes," Hawk said. "We realized there was a problem with it and we took the proper measures to deal with that."

Hawk added that there are no plans to bring the segment back.

Metro on 09/13/2019

Print Headline: 2 more House hopefuls in line

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