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Insight: Are the politics of Obamacare changing in the South?

Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.

ChickenFriedPolitics editor Rich Shumate

When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.

Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.

Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.

In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.

In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.

Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.

But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)

Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.

In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.

Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.

However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.

In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.

The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.

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Video: Asa Hutchinson sworn in for second term as Arkansas governor

Republican calls for tax cuts, reorganization of state government in inaugural address

Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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U.S. House Primary Wrap: Democrats pick female Marine fighter pilot for targeted seat in Kentucky

Voters in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas also pick party nominees for House seats that could help decide balance of power

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — In a year in which women candidates have been making noise nationally, Amy McGrath has made her own statement in Kentucky’s Bluegrass country by winning the Democratic nomination for a U.S. House seat over a candidate recruited by party leaders in Washington.

Meanwhile, in other May 22 primaries in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, Democrats narrowed the fields in races for seven GOP-held seats that are being targeted in November, while Texas Republicans picked nominees in four open seats that are expected to stay in Republican hands.

In central Kentucky’s 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, McGrath took 48 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who had been recruited for the race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won the nomination with a plurality and will now face GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November.

Democratic U.S. House nominee Amy McGrath

Declaring victory with her supporters in Richmond, McGrath — a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot whose call sign was “Krusty” — said “what happened tonight is amazing.”

“Six months ago, political pundits and establishment insiders didn’t think we could pull this off,” she said. “What those insiders maybe still don’t know is how this happened. Well, I know how it happened. It’s because you all care about the future of our country.”

McGrath began her campaign in August 2017 with a video in which she told how, as a young girl growing up in Kentucky, she decided she wanted to be a fighter pilot but discovered that women were not allowed to serve in combat. She then wrote letters to members of Congress in which she asked why she was barred from serving, including a letter to Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, which she said was never answered.

After the ban was lifted, McGrath enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps aviator before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

McGrath’s video went viral, triggering a wave of contributions to her long-shot campaign. She now raised almost $2 million in her quest to unseat Barr, who is seeking his fourth term.

Another positive sign for McGrath: More than 100,000 Democrats turned out to vote in the primary, compared to just 49,000 Republicans in a district President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. However, GOP turnout also lagged behind Democratic turnout in 2016, when Barr took 61 percent.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s 3rd District in metro Louisville, Republicans nominated Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department, to face U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who has drawn the particular ire of Republicans nationally with his strong criticism of Trump, including introducing articles of impeachment.

In Georgia, the House races receiving the most attention are in the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election, Democrats have narrowed their field to Lucy McBath, a gun control activist from Cobb County, and Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who will compete in a July 24 runoff.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when the man she defeated in the special election, Democrat Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, Democrats Carolyn Bordeaux and David Kim advanced to the runoff for the right to face Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in November.

Bordeaux, from Suwanee, is a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. Kim, from Duluth, is the son of Korean immigrants who owns a company that provides tutoring for students. If elected, he would become Georgia’s first Asian-American congressman, running in a district with a growing Asian population.

While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in the 7th District in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

Arkansas-SQIn Arkansas, the House race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops.

The Democratic nominee will be State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who won the primary without a runoff.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

In Texas, Democrats have picked nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall.

In the 7th District, in metro Houston, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated liberal activist Laura Moser for the right to take on Republican U.S. John Culberson, in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Fletcher had been backed by the DCCC against Moser, who was seen by Democratic leaders as too liberal for the district.

In the 21st District, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes in part of the Texas Hill Country, Republican Chip Roy will face Democrat Joseph Kosper for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a district which Trump carried by 10 points.

Roy served as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Kosper is a former U.S. Army officer and technology entrepreneur.

In the 23rd District — the largest Texas district geographically, sprawling from the suburbs of San Antonio to near El Paso — Democrats picked Gina Ortiz Jones to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in November. Clinton also carried this majority-Latino swing district, which has changed hands four times in the last 12 years.

Jones is a former military intelligence officer who worked as a U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. If elected, she would be the first open lesbian, Iraq War veteran and Filipino American to represent Texas in Washington.

In the 32nd District, in metro Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred defeated businesswoman Lillian Salerno and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who is trying to keep a traditionally Republican seat in a district that Clinton also carried. Allred, a civil rights attorney, played five seasons in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans before his career ended after a neck injury.

Also in Texas, the fields have been set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

A special election is being held in June to fill the remainder of Farenthold’s current term, with Cloud, Holguin and seven other candidates on the ballot.

State Primary Wrap: Stacey Abrams roars to Democratic governor’s nomination in Georgia; GOP faces runoff

Final fields for governor’s races also set in Arkansas and Texas; incumbent survives in Arkansas Supreme Court contest

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has made history in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor, crushing her opponent to become the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state.

Georgia Republicans are headed to a runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, after neither won a majority in the May 22 primary.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson was nominated for a second term and will be heavily favored over the Democratic winner, political newcomer Jared Henderson. And Texas Democrats picked former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to face incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott in November, making her the first Latina and first openly lesbian candidate to be nominated by a major party for Texas governor.

Georgia Democratic governor nominee Stacey Abrams

In Georgia, Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House whose candidacy has drawn national attention, took 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for former State Rep. Stacey Evans, winning all but six of the state’s 159 counties.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Atlanta, Abrams vowed to create a “coalition that reaches across backgrounds, sharing our constant belief in our capacity to win.”

“We have to reach out to those who do not believe their voices matter, who’ve been disappointed again and again by promises made and never kept,” she said. “In the Book of Esther, there is a verse that reminds us that we were born for such a time as this.”

After seeing their party lose four governor’s elections in a row, Democrats who voted in the primary clearly bought into Abrams’s argument that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to expand the electorate, rather than Evans’s argument that Democrats needed a nominee who could appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands.

But while Abrams did win more votes in the primary than any candidate on either side of the ballot, overall, 54,000 more voters picked up Republican ballots, in a state that has no party registration.

Brian Kemp

Casey Cagle

In the Republican primary, Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, took 39 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Kemp, who has been secretary of state since 2011. Cagle beat Kemp in the large suburban Atlanta counties, where the bulk of Georgia Republicans live, and in all of the smaller cities except Athens, which Kemp once represented in the Georgia Senate.

However, Georgia has a long history of the second-place finisher in a primary coming from behind to win a runoff, most notably in 2010, when current Governor Nathan Deal defeated Karen Handel, who returned to political office last year by winning a seat in Congress.

The runoff in Georgia in July 24.

In another Georgia race of interest, former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, won his party’s nomination for secretary of state without a runoff. Republicans will have a runoff between former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and State Rep. Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson took 70 percent to 30 percent for Jan Morgan, a gun rights activist and television pundit who ran at the governor from the right, beating him in five rural counties. In November, he will face Henderson, a former NASA scientist who runs a Little Rock non-profit that advocates on education issues.

The most contentious battle in the Natural State was a non-partisan contest for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson advanced to a runoff against David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Goodson took 37 percent of the vote; Sterling, 34 percent.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise.

She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads. JCN also spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

Although the JCN’s ads targeted Sterling’s opponents, he has insisted that he has no connection to the group.

Goodson and Sterling will now face each other on the November general election ballot.

In Texas, in the Democratic race for governor, Valdez defeated Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Governor Mark White, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Abbott won the Republican nomination outright in the March primary.

Valdez, 70, was elected to four terms as sheriff of Dallas County, the state’s second largest with 2.5 million people. She resigned in 2017 when she launched her campaign for governor.

Valdez starts the race as a decided underdog against Abbott, who has raised more than $43 million for the campaign. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1988.

Voters in Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas will decide primary contests Tuesday

Wide open race for governor featured in Georgia; legislative races take center stage in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Voters in four Southern states will decide primary contests on Tuesday, with a wide-open race for Georgia’s governorship topping the list of closely watched contests.

Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky are holding primaries, while in Texas, runoffs will be held for 15 U.S. House seats that were not decided in the initial round of voting back in March, including four targeted by Democrats as pickup opportunities.

In Georgia, all eyes are on the race to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Nathan Deal, with competitive races among both Republicans and Democrats. In Kentucky, much of the attention will be on races for the state legislature, in the wake of teacher protests that have battered GOP Governor Matt Bevin’s popularity. And in Arkansas, the hottest race is a Supreme Court contest in which the incumbent sued an outside conservative group for defamation over controversial TV ads.

In Georgia, seven Republicans are running for governor, including Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle from Gainesville and Secretary of State Brian Kemp from Athens, who pre-election polls indicate will likely face off in a July 24 runoff. Their departures have also created wide-open races for the GOP nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, where runoffs are also expected.

But it is the Democratic race for governor that is drawing national attention with the candidacy of former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams from Atlanta, who is trying to become the first African American women ever elected as governor of a U.S. state. Pre-election polls showed Abrams with a wide lead over former State Rep. Stacey Evans from Smyrna, although a large number of voters were still undecided.

In the Democratic race for secretary of state, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, is trying to make a political comeback against three challengers

Among U.S. House races in the Peach State, most of the attention is on the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, four Democrats are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, who won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when Ossoff decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, six Democrats are competing to take on U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall. While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

In Kentucky, with no statewide races on the ballot, much of the focus has been on state legislative seats, where Democrats are hoping Bevin’s role in a fight over teacher pensions, which led to statewide protests by teachers, might translate into progress at the ballot box.

The standoff over pensions, which ended when the Republican-controlled legislature approved controversial changes after overriding Bevin’s vetoes, has roiled the Bluegrass State for months, particularly Bevin’s assertion that teacher protests might have led to abuse of children after schools had to be closed when teachers didn’t show up for work.

Bevin, who isn’t up for re-election until 2019, later apologized, but a poll from Western Kentucky University’s Social Science Research Center showed that disapproval of Bevin’s job performance spiked to 60 percent after those remarks.

While the GOP has controlled the Kentucky Senate since 2000, Democrats held the House until 2016, when Republicans finally took control for the first time in 95 years. The Kentucky House was the last legislative chamber anywhere in the South controlled by Democrats.

Republicans hold a 63 to 37 advantage in the House, which means Democrats will have to flip 14 seats to take control. While that is a tall order, those numbers are very similar to the situation in neighboring Virginia, where Democrats flipped 15 seats to come within one seat of winning control in2017

Among Kentucky’s six U.S. House seats, party nominees will be picked Tuesday in two that could become competitive in the fall, the 6th and 3rd districts.

In the 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and State Senator Reggie Thomas, also from Lexington, are among a field of six Democrats vying to take on GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November. As Kentucky does not have runoffs, the top vote-getter Tuesday will face Barr in November.

Gray was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2016, losing by 14 points to Republican US. Senator Rand Paul. However, in that race he carried Fayette County, the most populous in the 6th District.

In the neighboring 3rd District, which takes in metro Louisville, Republicans are making a play for the seat held by U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, an unabashed liberal who has introduced articles of impeachment against Trump. Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department in the Bevin administration, is favored over two Republican primary challengers.

In Arkansas, six state executive offices, including governor, are up in 2018. However, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson faces only token opposition in the primary, with two little-known Democrats vying to take him on in November. The only race with a competitive GOP primary is for secretary of state, where incumbent Republican Mark Martin is term-limited.

Among the Natural State’s four U.S. House seats, the race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops. Four Democrats are vying for the nomination to replace him, a field that includes State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

The most contentious race in Arkansas is a non-partisan battle for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson is being challenged by Court of Appeals Judge Ken Hixson and David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise. She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads.

The JCN ads have targeted both Goodson and Hixson, although Hixson has so far not brought any legal action. Sterling has insisted that he has no connection to the group. JCN spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

If none of the candidates captures a majority on Tuesday, the top two vote-getters will face off during the general election in November, which would drag out the contentious race for five more months.

In Texas, Democrats will pick nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall:

Also in Texas, the fields will be set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

Electoral College: Despite protests, Southern electors stick with Trump

Trump carried 165 of the region’s 180 votes; two ‘faithless’ electors in Texas vote for Kasich, Ron Paul

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Members of the Electoral College have met at 14 Southern statehouses and, as expected, gave the overwhelming majority of the region’s electoral votes to President-elect Donald Trump, ignoring calls by anti-Trump protestors to stop his elevation to the nation’s highest office.

Candidate Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Trump carried 165 of the South’s 180 electoral votes in the December 19 vote. Hillary Clinton won the 13 electoral votes from Virginia, which was the only Southern state she carried.

The only place where Republican electors broke ranks was in Texas, where the defections of two Republican electors did not stop Trump from securing the 270 votes he needed to win the White House.

Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who had previously announced he would not vote for Trump, cast his ballot for Ohio Governor John Kasich. Elector Bill Greene, who represented the 34th District, which takes in the Gulf Coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, voted for former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Afterward, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted his support for a bill that would preclude so-called “faithless” electors by requiring them to vote for the candidate who carried the state on election day, in this case, Trump.

“This charade is over.,” Abbot said. “A bill is already filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.

Twenty-nine states have laws binding electors to the popular vote winner in their states, including the Southern states of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Currently in Texas, state law doesn’t bind electors, although the Texas GOP required them to take an oath pledging to vote for the popular vote winner.

The Electoral College vote is usually a formality to which scant public attention is paid. However, Trump’s surprise win on November 8, coupled with his loss to Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes in the popular vote, galvanized anti-Trump protests at state capitols around the country.

Small groups of protestors gathered in Tallahassee, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Austin, Oklahoma City and Montgomery.

In Austin, shouts from protestors were audible inside the State House chamber where electors met, according to local media reports.

In Little Rock, anti-Trump activists took many of the seats in the old Supreme Court chamber in the State Capitol, where the vote took place. According to local media reports, one protestor was removed, although the electors also chatted amiably with the demonstrators before the vote took place.

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