In her first-ever bid for elective office, Little Rock attorney Ashley Hudson has already raised more money than any other Pulaski County Democrat running for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2020.
Hudson is seeking to oust state Rep. Jim Sorvillo, R-Little Rock, in a suburban House district that has become a biennial target for her party. She outraised Sorvillo by more than 2-to-1 as of Sept. 1, hauling in $80,932.
The incumbent has raised $30,058 this year, but sits on more than $66,658 left over from previous campaigns.
Democrats see House District 32, which stretches across much of west Little Rock, as one of their top opportunities to flip a GOP-controlled seat this November, according to party Chairman Michael John Gray.
In an interview this week, Hudson, 41, questioned Sorvillo's effectiveness in the Legislature, citing his unsuccessful efforts to pass bills on policies that he has championed, such as stricter penalties for animal abusers and the ability of lottery winners to keep their identities hidden.
"You have to be open to taking on more than just your favorite policy," Hudson said.
Sorvillo -- a 72-year-old, three-term legislator -- has proved capable of dispatching other well-funded Democrats in the past.
Sorvillo said his ability to focus on unconventional and local issues, as well as receiving support from the business community, help him to remain popular in the district.
"I'm the only Republican" whose district is entirely within the city of Little Rock, Sorvillo said in an interview last week. "So I guess you have to say it's kind of a swing district."
Sorvillo touted the success of the GOP-controlled Legislature in passing income tax cuts during three separate sessions, as well as a $25 increase in the homestead property tax credit.
He also pointed to issues that received bipartisan support, such as the creation of a rainy-day fund in March to help the state fill budget holes created by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Those things go under the radar, but I think that's a positive," Sorvillo said.
Hudson noted that the legislation had near-unanimous support from other lawmakers.
"It's not necessarily indicative of leadership that he voted for [a bill] along with almost every other member of the Legislature," Hudson said.
Hudson emphasized that Sorvillo either missed votes or recorded a "present" vote on other legislation, such a pay raise for teachers and funding for Medicaid expansion and emergency management services.
In one instance, Sorvillo also voted "present" on legislation that he cited: the 2017 tax cut on low-income earners.
Sorvillo responded by noting that he was a sponsor of the bill that gave teachers a pay raise.
In other instances, he said, he'd voted present on legislation that he believed did not go far enough toward achieving its intended purpose.
Addressing the 2017 tax cut, Sorvillo said he voted present on the bill because he did not believe the proposed cut provided "enough of a reduction."
"I'll stand on my record if you want to look at legislation I voted for," Sorvillo said.
If reelected to another two-year term, Sorvillo said he would try again to pass pieces of the legislation that he unsuccessfully sponsored in 2019.
Those include proposals to mandate that all passengers in a car wear a seat belt; to allow lottery winners to avoid having their identities made public; and to allow parents of special-needs students to request that a camera be placed in the classroom.
Sorvillo said he also plans to file a trio of bills aimed at prosecuting those who abuse cats and dogs.
He has filed legislation related to animal abuse and the eradication of "puppy mills" in each of his three sessions, with little success.
"I love my animals," said Sorvillo, who has two dogs. "I sincerely believe that we can get a bill passed."
Sorvillo noted that House Majority Leader Marcus Richmond, R-Harvey, won his March primary by only 140 votes after speaking out against Sorvillo's bill to increase the maximum fine for animal cruelty during the last session.
"I think that was pretty significant seeing him only win by the hair on his chinny chin chin," Sorvillo said.
Hudson said Sorvillo's advocacy on behalf of animals is "admirable," but ultimately is not among the top issues facing the district.
Hudson, whose four children attend Little Rock public schools, said that other parents like her have lingering concerns about the state's takeover of the district as Little Rock prepares for its first school board elections in six years. State funding has not provided enough access to pre-kindergarten in west Little Rock, she added.
"That's been a need that he's overlooked," Hudson said.
Sorvillo said he "fully supports" a complete return of the Little Rock School District to local control, pointing to legislation he sponsored and passed in 2019 allowing the Little Rock School Board to expand by two members.
Hudson said she was not opposed to expanding the school board, but felt the legislation lacked substance.
"At this point, I'm probably more concerned about what the school board will be able to do rather than the number of people that are on it," she said.
Another piece of legislation for which Sorvillo touted his support was a 2019 law to ban abortions in the state in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its precedent in Roe vs. Wade. The law would apply to all abortions, except those done to save the life of the mother.
Sorvillo said in an interview last week that he supported abortion exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but later said in an email that he had "reconsidered."
"I have four adopted grandchildren and I believe that adoption is the alternative to any type of abortion," Sorvillo wrote.
Hudson said that she is "pro-choice," adding that Sorvillo's "present" vote on the state's Medicaid expansion program conflicted with his stance on abortion.
The Medicaid expansion program provides private health insurance for low-income people.
"You're not pro-life if you're not doing anything to support those children after they are born," Hudson said. "He's pro-birth, but he's not pro-life."
SIGN STEALING, FUNDRAISING
With the campaign headed into its final weeks, both candidates said last week that they've grown frustrated with the number of lawn signs that have been snatched from supporters' lawns.
Sorvillo said he's had to replace around 15 of his signs throughout the district, including several that appeared to have been slashed.
"I've had them stolen before, that's just customary," Sorvillo said of his past campaigns. "I've never had them destroyed."
Hudson said she's also had to replace a number of her own signs, including in a subdivision where she said all of her signs had been removed.
Neither candidate said they suspected the other of being behind the stolen signs, and both condemned the action.
"It's not fair, right or appropriate to steal from someone's yard (or from anywhere else) -- your power is at the ballot box," Hudson wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month.
Both candidates, meanwhile, traded barbs over the other's fundraising.
More than half of Sorvillo's donations in the current cycle have come from political action committees, parties or other organizations, Hudson noted, while more than 90% of her donations have come from individuals.
Sorvillo defended his fundraising, saying that PACs donating to his campaign indicated support from the business community. He also took a shot at Hudson's support, providing a list of more than $20,000 in donations to Hudson -- about one-quarter of her total-- that came from "trial attorneys."
Hudson said that many of the attorneys who have supported her campaign live in the district, or have otherwise come to know her through her work on behalf of her corporate and health care clients.
"The bottom line is these are individuals and he cannot say the same for the PACs that have funded his campaign," she said.
Hudson, who is married with four children, is a partner at the law firm Kutak Rock, specializing in health care regulation.
Sorvillo and his wife have two adult children and 12 grandchildren. He works in advertising and is a former member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court.