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Secretary of State Thurston announces run for state treasurer

He’d serve last 2 years of Lowery term by Michael R. Wickline | August 10, 2023 at 3:10 a.m.
Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston speaks at the state Capitol in Little Rock in this Oct. 29, 2021 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston intends to run for state treasurer next year, Thurston announced Wednesday.

Former state treasurer Mark Lowery died July 2, and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders last Thursday appointed former Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther to serve as state treasurer until January 2025.

In the 2024 elections, a state treasurer will be elected to serve the final two years of the four-year term for which Lowery was elected last November.

"Our state was dealt a loss with the unexpected passing of State Treasurer Mark Lowery. We continue to mourn his loss along with his family, friends, and staff," Thurston said in a news release announcing his bid for state treasurer. "With Governor Sanders' appointment of Larry Walther to fill the seat until the 2024 election, I am announcing my candidacy for the Office of Arkansas Treasurer of State."

He said it's been an honor to represent and serve the citizens of Arkansas as secretary of state since 2019 and as commissioner of state lands the preceding eight years.

"It is my intent to continue to serve the people of Arkansas with the same trust and integrity that they have come to know and expect from my administration," Thurston said.

Last November, the 50-year-old East End Republican was elected to his second four-year term as secretary of state and he's barred by term limits from running for a third term in the post. In the Republican primary last year, he survived a challenge from former Republican state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot.

The state treasurer is responsible for the state treasury's investment portfolio of about $11 billion and serves on the state Board of Finance and the board of trustees for the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, the Arkansas State Highway Employees Retirement System and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority.

The state treasurer is paid a salary of $98,564 a year, while the secretary of state is paid a salary of $104,362 a year.

Thurston said his experience in the transformation, modernization and transition of constitutional offices shows a proven track record of his commitment to service and integrity to the citizens of Arkansas.

"I am confident that with my experience and dedication to the people of Arkansas, I can continue to serve our state well in the role of State Treasurer," he said in his news release.

"As State Treasurer, I will continue to stand by my commitment to outstanding customer service, serving as a good steward of taxpayer's funds, advancing the technological resources available to businesses, and streamlining our online systems that serve Arkansans, state agencies, and other stakeholders," Thurston said. "I am humbled by the support I've received serving the people of Arkansas as Secretary of State and look forward to continuing my service as Arkansas State Treasurer."

At least a few former state lawmakers and others recently privately questioned whether Thurston could run for state treasurer while he serves as secretary of state under the Arkansas Constitution.

But Thurston said Wednesday in a written statement that "there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a Constitutional Officer from running."

He said he would have to resign as secretary of state before being sworn in as state treasurer, if he's elected as state treasurer next year.

The late Bryant Democrat Charlie Daniels also served in three state constitutional offices -- first as land commissioner, then as secretary of state and then as state auditor.

Asked what his agenda would be as state treasurer, Thurston noted the Legislature enacted Act 411 -- signed by Gov. Sanders -- in this year's regular session to direct the state treasurer to review and divest from investments that are tied to financial service providers and investment firms that use so-called ESG or Environmental, Social, and Governance investing principles.

"I am committed to working with the ESG oversight committee, the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that Arkansas tax dollars are not being used by out-of-state providers imposing their viewpoints and standards on Arkansas investment opportunities," he said.

Thurston said his "common sense experience is key to working on behalf of the Arkansas taxpayers, and I will continue to build on the leadership of Mark Lowery and former Treasurer Dennis Milligan and our current Treasurer Larry Walther."

Meanwhile, former state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said Wednesday in a text message, "I have received many calls asking me to run for office in Arkansas once again.

"I have made no decision to declare as a candidate for Treasurer or any other office at this time," he wrote in his text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Rapert said he is focused on leading the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, which has members and supporters in all 50 states, and running his private business.

He served in the state Senate from 2011-2023, and made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor last year, losing to then-Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. In the November general election, Rutledge was elected as the state's lieutenant governor.

Also Wednesday, the state treasurer's Chief of Staff Stephen Bright said he's decided not run for state treasurer next year and instead will do everything he can to help Thurston get elected.

Thurston "has 16 years of name recognition and I am convinced he will do a good job," as well as aim to keep the treasurer's staff intact, said Bright, of Maumelle, who served in the state House of Representatives from 2001-2007 as a Republican. He also is a former mayor and city director of Maumelle.

No Arkansas Democrats have publicly signaled their interest so far in running for state treasurer.

The filing period for candidates for federal and state offices in Arkansas will be at the state Capitol in Little Rock from noon Nov. 6 through noon Nov. 14. The primary election will be March 5, 2024, with the runoff election April 2, 2024, and the general election Nov. 5, 2024.

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