BENTON — A Realtor and an owner of a fitness club, both self-described conservatives, are jockeying in the March 3 primary for the Republican nomination for the House District 28 seat held by departing state Rep. Jasen Kelly, R-Benton.
The candidates disagree over a proposed constitutional amendment that would permanently extend the state’s half-percent sales tax for highways and roads that voters approved in November 2012, originally for a 10-year period. It’s Issue 1 on the November general election ballot.
Marietta McClure, 35, owns McClure Fitness. Tony Furman, 29, is a real estate agent for Crye-Leike.
Both are making their first bids for elected office, after Kelly in late October reversed an earlier decision to seek reelection to the House District 28 seat that he has held since January 2019. The winner of the primary will be Kelly’s successor; there are no other candidates.
House District 28 includes parts of Benton, Bauxite and Haskell.
Furman said voters should vote for him instead of McClure because he is conservative and willing to fight for his views.
Asked if he is suggesting that she isn’t conservative, he said in an interview, “I never met Marietta before this election, but I do know that she worked for Democrat [U.S.] Senator Mark Pryor …”
McClure said in an interview that she worked as a nonpartisan field representative for Pryor for a three-year period ending in February 2012. She said her father, Steve Shadrach, had Pryor in a bible study when Pryor attended law school at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and her father was campus staff for Student Mobilization, a ministry that he founded. She said her father and Pryor stayed in contact.
“I had no connections to the senator at all other than my father,” she said.
“If you were to go work for a United States senator in 2010, there were only Democrats to work for,” McClure said, referring to Arkansas’ two U.S. senators at that time.
In a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pryor said, “Marietta did work in the Little Rock office and she stayed true to her conservative principles while she was there.”
McClure voted in Republican primaries in 2008, 2010 and 2014, while Furman voted in the Republican primary in 2016, according to their voter history records in the secretary of state’s office.
McClure said voters should cast their ballots for her instead of Furman because “I have a good perspective on the needs of my district and the people.
“If an issue were to come up, I know exactly how the people of my district would want me to vote,” she said.
Furman said, “I have had a lot of people asking me about [her residency] and a lot of people are talking about it.”
McClure changed her voter registration precinct from District 23 to District 28 on Oct. 31 before filing to run in November in District 28, according to the secretary of state’s office.
After she filed for office in November, she said she and her husband signed a contract on a house in District 28 in August before she decided to run for the House seat, and they took possession of the house under a lease, effective Oct. 31. Deeds for the transfer of the ownership of the house in the 300 block of West Narroway Street were filed on Dec. 23 in the Saline County assessor’s office, according to that office.
A March 1999 advisory opinion from the attorney general’s office — which Pryor held at the time — concluded that “a candidate for state senator or representative must have been, for one year next preceding the general election, a resident of the district from which elected.” The general election is Nov. 3.
Under Article 5, Section 4, of the Arkansas Constitution, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative who, at the time of his election, is not a citizen of the United States, nor any one who has not been for two years next preceding his election, a resident of this State, and for one year next preceding his election, a resident of the county or district whence he may be chosen.”
Furman said, “The constitution is pretty clear you have to be a resident of the district you are seeking election for 12 months prior to the election.
“If she is not being honest about that, then there is a problem,” he said.
McClure said, “I would not be running, if I did not meet the residency requirements.”
“We are in the house and we own it, and … two of my babies are there right now,” she said in an interview Wednesday morning, adding she moved into the house on Oct. 31.
“We do plan to remodel it,” McClure said. Her family also owns a house in the 400 block of Demuth Lane and it’s for sale, she said.
McClure said she plans to vote for the proposed amendment to make permanent the half-percent sales tax for highway funding because “we need roads.
“That’s the way they are funded,” she said. “I specifically talked to [Saline County Judge Jeff] Arey and he has told me that the impact of that half [percent if rejected by voters] … would take millions of dollars from his budget.”
In an interview, Arey said the Saline County’s road department would lose about $1.2 million of its $5 million-a year that it spends on roads and bridges, if voters reject the proposed constitutional amendment.
State officials project the half-percent tax, if continued, would raise about $205 million a year for the state Department of Transportation and another $44 million a year each for cities and counties.
Issue 1 is the second part of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to raise $300 million a year for highways and $57 million a year each for cities and counties. In the 2019 regular session, the Legislature enacted a law to impose a wholesale sales tax on gas and diesel, increase registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles, and reallocate state funds to raise about $95 million more a year for the Department of Transportation and about $13 million a year each for cities and counties.
Furman said he plans to vote against extending the half-percent sales tax.
“The Republican Party platform is for lower taxes,” he said.
“We don’t have an issue of shortage of funds,” he said, referring to the state collecting a $93 million general revenue surplus in the first six months of fiscal 2020, which started July 1. “I would rather see us make better use of the funds we have rather than increasing taxes on Arkansas families.”
Furman said he favors legislation allowing tax dollars to follow children whether they are in public schools, private schools, or home-schooled, based on their parents’ decision.
McClure said she would want to see the details on that type of proposal and the impact on the public schools before taking a stand on it.
Both Furman and Mc-Clure said they want more information before taking a stand on the state’s version of Medicaid expansion that provides health insurance to about 240,000 low-income Arkansans.
The program is called Arkansas Works. Arkansas’ work requirement for some of its Medicaid expansion participants was struck down by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg of Washington, D.C., in a March ruling that Arkansas and the federal government have appealed.
Furman said, “I would like to see the finished product before I support it or oppose it.”
McClure said, “Before saying I am for or against Medicaid expansion, I would like to see the impact of that on the state’s budget.”
Both Furman and McClure said they are pro-life and would vote for legislation to bar abortions except to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest.
McClure graduated from Conway High School in 2003, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in 2007. She was a legislative analyst for the Bureau of Legislative Research from 2008-10. After her stint as a field representative for Pryor, she left in February 2012 to go into business for herself and created McClure Fitness. She later formed Mc-Clure Fitness Live to stream workouts online.
Her husband, Kent Mc-Clure, is a commercial lender at Farmers Bank and Trust in Benton. The couple has two boys and two girls.
Furman graduated from Glen Rose High School in 2009 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Henderson State University in 2013.
He served stints as a teacher’s aide at Bauxite Middle School and as a teacher at Vilonia Middle School and assistant football coach at Vilonia Junior High School. He was a part-time youth pastor at the Revolution Church in Benton. He and his wife, Lorin Furman, were hired as house parents for the Second Chance Ranch, a group of foster homes serving children in the state’s foster care system, starting in 2016. They are now part-time house parents. He started work as a Realtor in January 2019. His wife is a teacher at Arkansas Christian Academy in Bryant. The couple has a boy and a girl.