Arkansas state Treasurer Dennis Milligan has endorsed state Sen. Mat Pitsch in the GOP primary to succeed him in the office, saying candidate Rep. Mark Lowery's personal financial history raises questions about public trust in the office.
Lowery, a state representative since 2013 from Maumelle, has filed for personal bankruptcy twice, once in 1998 and again in 2017, federal court records show. He is in the process of resolving about $68,000 worth of debts according to a payment plan adopted in 2019.
"When it comes to public money, there are no exceptions," Milligan said at a Tuesday news conference. "When someone is having financial troubles, the last thing that needs to happen to them is to give them someone else's money."
Arkansas' treasurer serves as the state's banker and manages a $6 billion investment portfolio.
Milligan, a Republican and former chairman of the state Republican party, has been treasurer since 2015. The office is limited to two terms; Milligan is the Republican nominee for state auditor.
Milligan said he was reluctant to weigh in on a contested primary election but was concerned after reading news reports about Lowery's bankruptcies and felt he had no other recourse than to make a public choice. He added that he had visited with both candidates.
He invoked a former state treasurer, Democrat Martha Shoffner, who resigned in 2013 after she was caught on camera accepting bribes from a bond broker. She was convicted on 14 extortion and bribery charges in 2014.
"Let me be clear: I did not run for and put all this effort into reforming this office, only to hand it over to someone who has proven to be financially irresponsible," Milligan said.
Pitsch, a state senator since 2019 from Fort Smith, thanked Milligan for his endorsement and his work in the office.
"The state has had a record of success under his leadership and I'm excited for the opportunity to continue that legacy with my trusted and recognized financial experience," Pitsch said in a written statement.
Pitsch is also endorsed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and more than 60 state legislators.
Asked about Milligan's endorsement, Lowery said he was not surprised that Milligan has "stepped in with all the establishment-type Republicans" who are backing Pitsch.
"They all seem to be people who are in favor of higher taxes and growth in government, just like Mr. Pitsch," he said.
Lowery also took aim at Pitsch's role as executive director of the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority, saying he was "padding his pockets" with taxpayer dollars to develop an intermodal river port that has yet to come to fruition.
"So I guess we can probably anticipate more Martha Shoffner-type shenanigans from Mr. Pitsch," he said.
Pitsch dismissed Lowery's comments as "ridiculous mudslinging."
"When you can't stand on your own record and are trying to direct attention away from your damaging personal and professional decisions, this is the type of garbage you produce," he said. "I'm very honored to have received Treasurer Milligan's endorsement."