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Democratic Party of Arkansas lowering fees for hopefuls; cuts target GOP seats

by Michael R. Wickline | September 25, 2019 at 7:05 a.m.
Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray of Augusta is shown in this file photo.

In hopes of encouraging more people to run for office on its ticket, the Democratic Party of Arkansas is cutting its filing fees for state House and Senate seats that haven’t been contested in recent years.

The party’s Executive Committee voted Saturday to adjust candidate filing fees and petition requirements, the party said Tuesday in a news release.

The Executive Committee’s action came after the party’s State Committee in June decided not to lower its candidate filing fees of $3,000 for state House candidates and $4,500 for state Senate candidates in 2020.

The changes are:

m From $3,000 to $1,500 for state House seats that haven’t been contested in the past two election cycles. That’s the fee in eight House districts.

m From $3,000 to $750 for House seats that haven’t been contested in the past three election cycles. That’s the fee in 26 House districts.

m From $4,500 to $2,250 for state Senate seats that haven’t been contested in the past two election cycles. That’s the fee in four Senate districts.

m From $4,500 to $1,125 in 2022 for state Senate seats that haven’t been contested in the past three election cycles.

The Executive Committee also voted to clarify the party’s requirements for candidates to file by petition. The filing fee will be waived if the candidate collects signatures on a petition from 3% of the registered voters in the district where he runs. However, signatures from registered Republicans will not be counted, the party said in its news release. Petitions must be submitted to the state Democratic Party between Oct. 23-25.

The parties’ filing period for candidates for state office will begin at noon Nov. 4 and end at noon Nov. 12. Filing is at the state Capitol.

State Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray of Augusta said Tuesday in an interview that the Executive Committee approved “a compromise” that includes some recommendations from a filing fees committee, chaired by former Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway.

The committee, headed by Pickett, was created prior to the party’s State Committee meeting in June, he said.

“This is a continuation of the process from the June meeting,” Gray said, referring to the Executive Committee’s action on Saturday.

It’s not an indication the party is having a difficult time recruiting candidates for the 2020 election cycle, he said, adding that the party recruited significantly more legislative candidates last year than in 2016 and recruited opponents for each of the state’s Republican congressmen last year.

State Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, who has pressed party officials to reduce party filing fees, said Tuesday in an interview that the reduction of filing fees for certain state House and Senate seats is “great.”

“I think it is well past time for the party to reduce filing fees,” he said. “I think it’s a good first step.”

Both major political parties in Arkansas have had filing fees for state legislative candidates that average the highest in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state is one of three, along with Delaware and Alabama, where the filing fee amounts are set by political parties, not the state.

The Republican Party of Arkansas’ filing fees are $3,000 for state House candidates and $7,500 for state Senate candidates.

The state House of Representatives has 76 Republicans and 23 Democrats. The vacant House seat, formerly held by Little Rock Democrat Charles Blake, will be filled by Little Rock Democrat Denise Ennett, who won the Democratic nomination in a runoff earlier this month. No Republican filed for the seat, eliminating the need for a general election. Representatives have two-year terms.

The state Senate has 26 Republicans and nine Democrats. Senate terms are four years except around the time of the U.S. census, when half the seats are allotted two-year terms in the first redistricted election.

“It is our practice at the Republican Party to reinvest our filing fees to maximize the conservative message of our candidates,” Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb said Tuesday in a written statement when asked about the state Democratic Party’s move.

“As a result of bankrupt ideas and in an act of desperation, the Arkansas Democrats have been forced to cut their candidates’ filing fees. We anticipate this will intensify their current financial hardship. It is apparent the [Democratic] Party of Arkansas will not have the funding to explain away their liberal positions on single-payer health care, gun seizures, and lack of security at the border,” Webb said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Arkansas announced that its Executive Committee accepted Gray’s recommendation to form an Audit Coordination Committee to strengthen the integrity of the party’s operations.

Former state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Lottie Shackelford, who are two of the party’s Democratic National Committee representatives, will chair the Audit Coordination Committee. The party’s Executive Committee will approve the Audit Coordination Committee’s membership and be the recipient of its reports.

The committee will begin its duties immediately and oversee the implementation of the audit of the past six years, including seeking estimates and identifying firms, and oversee the collection of information related to the audit, according to the party’s news release.

This action comes after former state Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, a Democrat from Arkadelphia who was tasked with overseeing the audit, asked to step down in a letter to Gray earlier this month. Gray accepted her resignation.

“I think it’s great,” Roebuck said Tuesday when asked about the Executive Committee’s action. “I hope the process goes quickly.”

Gray named Roebuck on Aug. 9 to lead a special oversight committee that would solicit bids for an auditor to conduct a report on the party’s finances and then recommend new policies once that report was complete. The formation of that committee came three days after the first of several articles alleging mismanagement and shoddy record-keeping in the party by attorney and left-leaning blogger Matt Campbell, whose political blog is called the “Blue Hog Report.”

Gray has defended his tenure in the party that he has led since 2017, and he has denied financial wrongdoing.

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