Mark Silvey, a pastor and businessman from Hope, aims to knock off state Sen. Steve Crowell of Magnolia in the March 5 Republican primary, saying he would give Senate District 3 a consistent conservative who "will represent the people rather than big money corporations, PACs and lobbyists."
Senate District 3 includes Clark, Columbia, Lafayette and Nevada counties and parts of Hempstead, Hot Spring and Pike counties.
Crowell, a businessman, has served in the state Senate since 2023. In the 2022 primary election, he ousted Republican state Sen. Charles Beckham of McNeil.
He said he is running for re-election "to continue what I began working towards since my election.
"I have shown that I am a senator who will listen to what is going on in our communities and who has worked to solve the real issues in front of us," Crowell said.
No other candidate has filed for the Senate District 3 seat.
Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has endorsed Crowell in the primary. Early voting begins Feb. 20.
Silvey, 57, is pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Rosston and owns a lawn care business called Silvey Lawncare. He also has a carpentry and remodeling business and a small farm operation. He is married with seven children.
Silvey graduated from Texarkana High School in Arkansas, and received a bachelor's degree in religious education from Central Baptist College in Conway and a master's degree of divinity from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis.
Crowell, 51, is president and owner of SL Crowell Properties, which manages residential and commercial property and forestland. He previously served eight years on the Magnolia City Council.
He graduated from high school in southwest Minnesota, attended Mankato State University in Minnesota, and moved to Arkansas in 2008. He is married with four children.
Silvey criticized Crowell for co-sponsoring Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Mountain Home, in the Sept. 11-14 special session and said the bill would have drastically undermined the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Sixteen other Republican senators co-sponsored Flippo's bill in the 35-member Senate.
Among other things, Senate Bill 7 would have exempted from the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act certain security-related records; records that reveal the deliberative process of state agencies, boards and commissions; and certain records prepared in anticipation of litigation or for use in pending litigation.
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is part of the Republican Party of Arkansas' platform and the bill that Crowell co-sponsored "was contrary to our conservative values," Silvey said in a recent interview.
The Republican Party of Arkansas' 2022 platform states that "We firmly support transparency and openness at every level of government," and those "elected, appointed and employed in government work for the taxpayers of this state and must provide public information when requested, in line with Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act."
After receiving bipartisan pushback to a proposed overhaul the Freedom of Information Act in the Sept. 11-14 special session, the Republican-dominated Legislature and Sanders enacted Act 7 instead.
Act 7 is a scaled-down law that exempts from the open-records law documents related to the governor's Arkansas State Police security detail and "records that reflect the planning or provision of security services provided" to the state's constitutional officers, lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges. Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, was enacted into law as Act 7.
Crowell said "that's where the system worked."
"The Senate Republican caucus got the [Arkansas Freedom of Information Act] bill where it should be," he said in a recent interview. "We protected the governor's children in that change [of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act]."
Silvey said he pledges not to take any campaign money from PACs, corporations or lobbyists "because their money is trying to buy influence."
He said "94% of my opponent's contributions are from these groups and from outside the district," and that creates a conflict of interest and interferes with representing the Senate district's constituents. The majority of a senator's contributions should come from that senator's district, he said.
Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution, enacted by voters in the 2016 general election, prohibits direct corporate and union contributions to candidates.
Crowell said "my only goal is to serve the people." He said where his campaign contributors reside doesn't change his "conservative values" and he listens to the people of Arkansas.
Through the end of December, Crowell reported raising $35,530 in campaign contributions and spending $34,637.75 for the primary election, leaving a campaign treasury of $892.25 on Dec. 31. For the general election, he reported he has loaned his campaign $25,488.75, and that was the balance in that campaign account Dec. 31.
The largest contributions to Crowell's campaign include $3,300 apiece from the Senate Republican Caucus' Arkansas Conservative Legislative PAC, Senate President Pro Tempore Bart Hester's Arkansas Wins PAC, Attorney General Tim Griffin's Jobs and Growth PAC and the Justice PAC of Little Rock, and $2,000 apiece from the Arkansas Health Care Senate PAC, the VOTE PAC of Little Rock and the Walmart Inc. PAC For Responsible Government of Bentonville, according to the secretary of state's website.
In contrast, Silvey reported raising $9,917 in campaign contributions and spending $9,213.69 through the end of December, leaving a campaign war chest of $703.31 on Dec. 31.
The largest contributions to Silvey's campaign include $3,300 apiece from Benjamin Harbour of El Dorado and Jared Silvey of Rosston, and $1,000 from Scott Gary of Alexander, according to the secretary of state's website.
Silvey said he would work for larger tax cuts and larger spending reductions than Crowell has.
He said the Legislature's reduction of 0.3% in the state's top individual income tax rate from 4.7% to 4.4% in the Sept. 11-14 special session is "just baby-stepping it." Asked how large an income tax cut the Legislature should have enacted, Silvey said he hasn't picked a number but "we could have done a lot more than 0.3%."
Asked where he would cut state government spending, Silvey said "I would just have to look at that in the future," but there is plenty of waste in state government to cut. He said he would not vote for any increase in the state's general revenue budget.
But Crowell said "we as a legislative group have been very diligent and responsible about cutting taxes."
"We are doing it right," he said.
Crowell said he wants to work on phasing out the state's income tax responsibly and make sure state government continues to run smoothly.
Among other things, the LEARNS Act increased the starting annual teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000, gave teachers making above the minimum a $2,000 raise, and created a voucher program, known as Educational Freedom Accounts, for students to attend a private or parochial school or home school. The vouchers are worth 90% of the per-pupil funding schools receive from the state.
LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety
Silvey said he supports the LEARNS Act overall, calling it " a step in the right direction." But he said he didn't agree with boosting starting teachers salaries from $36,000 to $50,000 a year because it created pay inequities between beginning and veteran teachers, and "that'a a disaster."
"We need to do some serious changes for the sake of the children," and increased funding for education won't solve these problems because "we have been doing this for years," Silvey said.
Crowell said he voted for the LEARNS Act "because there is a lot of stuff in there that will make [the state] a lot better in education and the teachers deserved the pay raises."
He said he supports using public funds to help pay for private education through the Educational Freedom Accounts because "there is a place for every type of education and I want the parents to be able to choose."
The state's current abortion law bans abortion except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency.
Silvey said "I support banning abortion from conception," adding that he doesn't support any exception to a ban on abortion.
"We should use all medical technology to save both lives, and I believe we can do that," he said.
Crowell said he's "pro-life" and he doesn't want to change the state law that bans abortions except to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency. He said he doesn't support exceptions to allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest.
Asked about the impact of Sanders' endorsement of Crowell, Silvey said he doesn't know that Sanders has officially endorsed him.
Sanders said in a recent written statement that "Senator Steve Crowell is a principled conservative who works tirelessly for District 3.
"He's a defender of the Second Amendment and a great leader in growing south Arkansas's economy," she said. "I look forward to his continued service to our state and partnership in the Senate."