5 Arkansas lawmakers lose to GOP primary foes

‘Progressive socialist’ votes ascribed to one of defeated

"I Voted" stickers sit on a table, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Cambridge City Hall annex, on the first morning of early voting in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
"I Voted" stickers sit on a table, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Cambridge City Hall annex, on the first morning of early voting in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Arkansas Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Bill Sample of Hot Springs is the highest-profile state legislator among the five Republican state lawmakers who lost in Tuesday's primary election.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, said Sample is one of his closest friends and has been "my right hand-man.

"I thought the way that [Sample] served his district he would be successful, but it didn't work out that way," Hickey said Wednesday afternoon.

In ousting Sample, Garland County Justice of the Peace Matt McKee of Pearcy claimed that Sample votes with "progressive socialist Democrats" on certain measures.

Sample said McKee ran a negative campaign against him and he could have turned around and run a negative campaign against McKee, but he wouldn't change the way he ran his campaign.

McKee claimed on Facebook that Sample votes with "progressive socialist Democrats" based on his votes for tax increases, not voting on a bill banning sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, voting against a bill aimed at exempting employees from federal covid-19 mandates, and voting for "new protected classes for LGBTQ."

McKee's reference to Sample voting for protected classes apparently refers to a so-called class protection bill, sponsored by Hickey, that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law as Act 681 of 2021. Legislative leaders described the measure as an alternative to a hate crimes bill.

Act 681 of 2021 requires offenders to serve at least 80% of their sentence if they committed a serious violent felony against someone because of the victim's "mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics." The law doesn't refer to specific categories such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The measure was backed by business groups in the state, with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Springdale-based Tyson Foods endorsing it. But it was opposed by longtime advocates for hate-crimes legislation and the Family Council.

McKee said Wednesday he tried hard to focus in the Senate campaign on the issues and Sample's voting record. "This wasn't about beating up on Bill," he said.

He said he believes he won because his campaign outworked Sample's campaign and voters responded to his conservative message.

Sample said he probably won't call McKee to congratulate him on his victory.

"I don't think there is a lot I can say," he said.

McKee received 5,613 votes in Tuesday's primary, beating Sample's 5,297 votes in Senate District 6, according to unofficial results on the secretary of state's website. The district covers most of Garland County and western Saline County.

Matt McKee will vie with Democratic candidate Cortney McKee of Royal for the Senate District 6 seat in the Nov. 8 general election.

Sample has served in the state Senate since 2011 and previously served in the House of Representatives from 2005-2011.

The other four state lawmakers to lose in Tuesday's primary election are state Sen. Charles Beckham, R-McNeil, and Reps. Craig Christiansen, R-Bald Knob; David Hillman, R-Almyra; and David Tollett, R-Lexa.

Beckham lost to Magnolia Alderman Steve Crowell in Senate District 3 by 5,076 to 4,857 votes based on the unofficial results on the secretary of state's website. The district includes Clark, Columbia, Lafayette and Nevada counties and portions of Hempstead, Hot Spring and Pike counties.

Crowell will be unopposed in the general election.

Beckham, who ousted Democratic state Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, from Senate District 12 in the 2020 general election, said Wednesday, "I can't tell you exactly what happened" in Tuesday's primary because he hadn't yet closely analyzed the election results.

He said the district includes four counties that he didn't previously represent: Hempstead, Hot Spring, Lafayette and Pike. Senate District 12 included Columbia and Dallas counties and parts of Clark, Grant, Nevada and Ouachita counties.

Beckham said he also had a smaller team.

Crowell said that "I worked real hard and I had a great campaign team." He said he tried to be honest with voters who he'll serve.

Before the November 2020 general election, six former classmates of Beckham signed a full-page ad in the Magnolia Banner-News opposing his candidacy, referring to an incident at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in which Beckham dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Beckham was dismissed from the school in 2000 after he and two friends dressed up as Klansmen during a school-sponsored Halloween event, according to court records obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

When asked by the Democrat-Gazette about the allegations before the 2020 election Beckham initially denied them before admitting to "mistakes" when faced with court records that corroborated his former classmates' recollections.

In Tuesday's primary, two Republican state senators advanced to June 21 primary runoffs.

Sen. James Sturch, R-Batesville, will vie with state Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, in the runoff in Senate District 22 after they were the two top voter-getters in Tuesday's primary with former banker Ethan Barnes of Hardy finishing third. The district includes Independence and Sharp counties and parts of Cleburne, Fulton, Lawrence and Izard counties.

Payton received 6,275 votes, beating Sturch's 5,353 votes and Barnes' 3,566 votes, according to the unofficial results on the secretary of state's website.

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, will vie with former Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, in the June 21 runoff in Senate District 28 after they were the two top vote-getters in Tuesday's five-candidate primary. The district includes all of Carroll and Madison counties and parts of Boone, Franklin, Johnson and Newton counties.

King garnered 4,854 votes, besting Ballinger's 4,459 votes, state Rep. Keith Slape's 2,936 votes, Bob Largent's 1,577 votes and Theodore Walker's 1,457 votes, according to the unofficial results on the secretary of state's website.

The other runoff in the Senate is in District 35 and pits businessman Tyler Dees of Siloam Springs against state Rep. Gayla Hendren McKenzie, R-Gravette. Dees received 4,291 votes in the primary, finishing ahead of McKenzie's 3,158 votes and businessman Jeff Tennant's 1,932 votes based on the unofficial results on the secretary of website.

In the House, three incumbents lost their seats and two will fight to maintain theirs in the June 21 runoff.

There will be five runoffs that don't involve incumbents.

Some House members who lost their seats or will be in runoffs attributed the results at least in part to reapportionment, the decennial process of redrawing each of the 135 legislative districts based on U.S. census data that took place last year.

In the Arkansas Delta, Hillman, a representative since 2013, said he was "absolutely" surprised to lose his re-election bid in House District 61 to Jeremiah Moore, a political newcomer and real estate broker from Clarendon.

The district includes Woodruff County along with parts of Jackson, Prairie, Monroe and Arkansas counties and previously did not include Monroe or Woodruff counties.

Hillman said it was possible that people in the newly drawn district felt it was time for a change. "I've been here a long time."

Moore said his victory was the result of "divine providence and hard work."

"I have knocked on doors for 60 days straight since duck season ended," he said. He said the geographically large district, which takes 2½ hours to drive from the top to the bottom of, takes a lot more work to represent than a densely populated one.

Moore will face Democrat Bruce Martin and Libertarian Garrett Sheeks in the general election.

In a contest between two incumbents in southeast Arkansas, Rep. Mark McElroy, R-Tillar prevailed over Tollett. The two were both drawn into House District 62, which includes Phillips and Lee counties as well as parts of St. Francis, Monroe, Arkansas and Desha counties.

Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, was also drawn into that district, but he is running for state Senate.

McElroy said it was challenging to run against another incumbent and in a very different district than the one he currently represents. Though his home was more centrally located in the old House District 11 that includes Chicot County and part of Ashley County, it's in the southern tip of the new district.

"All I had to vote for me in Desha County was my wife, and I'm not sure she did," he quipped.

But both candidates said the biggest difficulty in the race was the fact that most of the candidates in city and county races were on the Democratic ballot, leading to low turnout in the Republican primary.

McElroy will face Democrat Dexter Miller in the general election. Miller defeated Kellee Farris in that party's primary Tuesday.

In House District 39, Christiansen was ousted in a three-way GOP race that will end with a runoff election between Independence County Judge Robert Griffin and Jackson County Quorum Court member Wayne Long.

Christiansen, a second-term representative, said there was a bill last year on which his vote was misunderstood. He declined to go into detail about the legislation on the record, but said he always tried to be a fair voice for all people.

"There are issues at play across the country that were not necessarily native Arkansas issues, and a vote I cast definitely had a role in this particular race," he said.

In a Facebook post last week, Griffin targeted Christiansen's 2021 votes on House Bill 1570, which bans gender transition treatment for minors, and Senate Bill 289, which allows health care providers to decline to perform procedures or provide services that violate their conscience.

Christiansen did not vote on HB1570 when it came before the House approved the measure, and he voted no on overturning the governor's veto of the bill, according to the Legislature's website. He voted no on SB289.

Rep. Marcus Richmond, R-Gravelly, said he was not surprised his reelection bid in House District 52 will end in a runoff because the district changed so much. The district includes Scott County, two-thirds of Yell County and part of southern Sebastian County. The old district includes less of Yell County and stretches farther east.

Richmond will face Mike Jones in June; the other Republican in the race was Greg Bland. The winner of the runoff will face independent John Wayne Catlett in the general election.

Rep. Marsh Davis, R-Cherokee Village, will be in a runoff election with Trey Steimel, an insurance agent from Pocahontas. The other candidate in the GOP race was Hazelle Whited. The winner of the runoff will face Libertarian Teresa Norman in the general election.

The GOP primary to succeed Slape in House District 27 will be decided by a runoff between Timmy Reid and Steven Walker. The other candidates were Alan Yarbrough and Jerry Loggins.

Three Republican primaries for open seats in Northwest Arkansas also will be decided by runoffs: Hope Hendren Duke against Jay Oliphant in House District 12, Denise Bugos against Scott Richardson in House District 13 and Kendra Moore against Jim Wilson in House District 23.

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