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Ads slam Elliott for GOP-led measures

Super PAC backs Hill’s reelection by Frank E. Lockwood | October 27, 2020 at 7:25 a.m.
Sen. Joyce Elliott speaks Monday Oct. 12, 2020 at the Arkansas PBS studio in Conway during the 2nd Congressional District debate. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

A major Republican Super PAC is attacking state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, for supporting three Republican-backed bills in the Republican-controlled state Legislature that increased taxes to fix roads, fight cancer and improve emergency call centers.

All three measures had multiple Republican sponsors and co-sponsors, passed overwhelmingly, and were signed into law in 2019 by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has raised more than $143 million this cycle to defeat Democrats, lists those votes -- and no others -- in a television ad as evidence that Elliott "will never stop raising taxes."

The Super PAC, which is endorsed by the entire House Republican leadership, backs Elliott's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock.

The outside group is spending at least $500,000 on broadcast and digital advertising in the Little Rock area.

In a written statement Monday, Elliott spokesman Neil Goodman, defended the votes.

"Senator Elliott stands by her record of funding cancer research, critical infrastructure, and our 9-1-1 system," he said. "While she's sponsored dozens of these kind of overwhelmingly bipartisan bills signed into law by Governor Hutchinson, Congressman Hill has only managed to rename a post office when his party is out of power. Arkansans deserve a common-sense changemaker like Senator Elliott to end the partisan gridlock worsened by Congressman Hill."

Republican sponsors have also defended their efforts, arguing that they were acting for the good of Arkansas.

The Hill campaign declined Monday to say whether the candidate would have voted against all three pieces of legislation. Hill had previously expressed his opposition to the cell phone tax.

"Our campaign is not responsible for third-party ads," campaign chairwoman Judith Goodson said in a written statement. "We continue to focus on the Congressman's message of 'promises made, promises kept' ... "

In the ad, the announcer doesn't mention specific pieces of legislation. But the three bill numbers flash on the screen, in the upper left hand corner, as the Democrat's voting record is assailed.

Elliott, the ad alleges, is a "liberal tax-raiser."

One of the bills, which raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21, included a 50-cent-per-packet tax on cigarette rolling papers and eliminated tobacco tax breaks that favored Arkansas border cities.

The legislation earmarked extra tax revenue for a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

State Rep. Andy Davis, R-Roland, and state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, were sponsors. It passed the Republican-controlled House 74-14, with nine representatives not voting and three voting present; it cleared the Republican-majority Senate 22-10, with three not voting.

"I wouldn't define it as tax-and-spend or liberal legislation. In my opinion, it was common sense legislation," Dismang said, noting that it was focused on beating cancer.

Another increased taxes on cell phones to fund 911. It passed the House 85-0 with 15 not voting and the Senate, 29-3, with three not voting. Its sponsors were state Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne and state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway.

In September, Rapert dismissed criticism of the legislation, saying the "great 911 bill" had been necessary and was backed by "basically every county judge and sheriff and person involved in law enforcement and emergency services in the state of Arkansas."

The third bill raised gas taxes by 3 cents per gallon and diesel taxes by 6 cents per gallon. Hutchinson had championed the measure, which also included higher fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, arguing that the money was needed to help improve the state's roads and bridges.

Sponsored by state Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and state Rep. Mike Holcomb, R-Pine Bluff, it passed the Senate 25-8 with two not voting and the House 71-26 with one not voting and two present.

In March 2019, Hutchinson signed the bill into law, calling it a "historic" achievement and "a great day for Arkansas."

"It was passed with the broadest bipartisan support that can be imagined," he said.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRZlavnIawI]

He predicted the law would be "well-supported among the public," adding, "The need is evident."

The three bills, which generated no Republican attack ads at the time, are now being second-guessed by the Congressional Leadership Fund.

And they're being used to pin the "liberal tax raiser" label on Elliott.

Asked Monday whether the three votes are a proper litmus test for identifying "tax-and-spend" liberals, Hutchinson replied, "The ads are run by a third-party group not controlled by any candidate."

"I don't want to get into the middle of the discussion about ads ran by out-of-state groups. I did sign the bills into law and I did support their passage," he said in a written statement.

Asked whether the Congressional Leadership Fund considers Hutchinson a "tax-and-spend liberal," given his support for all three measures, Super PAC spokesman Calvin Moore provided an answer that makes no mention of the Republican governor.

"Joyce Elliot is a tax and spend liberal who raised taxes on Arkansas families multiple times over and said she'd do it again in Washington, by helping Joe Biden who wants the largest tax increase in American history," Moore said in a written statement that misspelled the candidate's name. "It's a shame Joyce Elliot would try to hide behind others instead of taking responsibility for her own record."

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