Democratic candidate Caitlin Draper for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District files paperwork to run for that seat on Monday, November 6, 2023, the first day of candidate filing in Arkansas. Scores of people officially registered as candidates with the secretary of state’s office in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Little Rock. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)
Arkansas’ first candidates for next year’s elections formally entered their races Monday, kicking off the weeklong candidate filing period and the 2024 election cycle.
President Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s campaigns registered for the ballot here along with representatives for other Republican presidential candidates: Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.
Two of Arkansas’ sitting congressmen — Reps. French Hill and Bruce Westerman — filed for reelection by proxy.
Democrats also filed to contest three of the state’s four congressional seats:
- Army veteran and advocate for foster children Rodney Govens of Cabot will challenge U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of the 1st Congressional District, which covers the Delta, North and Northeast Arkansas.
- Retired Army Col. Marcus Jones of Little Rock will challenge Hill in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of Central Arkansas.
- Fayetteville social worker Caitlin Draper will challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of the 3rd Congressional District, which covers Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith metropolitan area.
Westerman, of the 4th Congressional District, did not have a Democratic opponent as of Monday.
Those seeking a wide range of state and federal offices will have until Nov. 14 to visit the Capitol rotunda and submit paperwork.
Jones said he plans to connect with Central Arkansas voters by making it a priority to “listen more than I talk” and find out “the things that concern [voters] the most.”
Hill, the incumbent, said he plans to continue advocating for hardworking families in Central Arkansas.
“My conservative record speaks for itself: as your Congressman, I have fought for lower taxes, a stronger national defense, closing the pen border, and continued support for small business owners and families,” Hill said in a statement. “My message since first coming to Congress has been the same: government must work for the people of central Arkansas – and that where I have spent my time – delivering over $50 million to central Arkansas veterans in benefits earned but not received, passing legislation to protect Flatside Wilderness for future generations, and expanding the historical site at Little Rock Central High School to honor the heroes of our past. I am honored to represent you in Congress and look forward to continuing our good work together.”
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In the 1st District, Govens said he hopes to represent every Arkansan in the constituency, “not just the Arkansan that wants to bully others into their way of thinking.” He said he believes Crawford, who is expected to file for reelection in the coming days, is out of touch with the people he represents.
Draper said she has seen “senseless” hardships in the lives of Northwest Arkansans throughout her social work career and hopes to show voters she sees and cares about them.
“Members of the Republican Party have co-opted the word ‘freedom,’” Draper said. “…My hope is to bring freedom back to the people, freedom to receive the healthcare that we need and deserve as women, freedom to be able to go grocery shopping and to school without fear of being shot.”
State Sen. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week that he is considering a primary challenge against Womack. Penzo had not filed to run for Congress as of Monday; his Senate seat is not up for election next year.
For partisan elections, the primary will be March 5 and the general election will be Nov. 5, 2024.
State Supreme Court
The lineup of the Arkansas Supreme Court will look different by January 2025, primarily due to Chief Justice John Dan Kemp stepping down from the court and Associate Justice Robin Wynne’s seat up for election after his death in June.
Associate Justices Rhonda Wood, Karen Baker and Barbara Webb have all announced they will run for chief justice. Former Democratic state legislator and gubernatorial candidate Jay Martin also announced his candidacy last month.
Webb was the only chief justice candidate to file Monday. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2020 and is a former circuit judge, administrative law judge and prosecutor.
She said in an interview that she hopes to make the state’s court system “more efficient and accessible to all Arkansans” if elected.
“I’ve already started going out, talking to people, listening to what their concerns about the judiciary are and sharing my vision for where I think the courts can go and how we can modernize the courts,” Webb said.
Circuit Judge Carlton Jones of Texarkana filed to run for Wynne’s seat Monday. Supreme Court Associate Justice Courtney Rae Hudson has said she will also run for Wynne’s seat.
Sanders appointed Associate Justice Cody Hiland to fill the position temporarily. His appointment means he cannot run for the position.
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Associate Justice Shawn Womack’s position on the court is also up for election next year, and he filed to defend his seat Monday.
All judicial races are nonpartisan, and the general election will be March 5, 2024. Any resulting runoff elections will be Nov. 5.
The only state-level executive branch position on the Arkansas 2024 ballot will be Treasurer in light of Mark Lowery’s death in July. The candidate elected will serve the final two years of Lowery’s term.
Secretary of State John Thurston filed to run for Treasurer on Monday after announcing his bid in August.
All 100 seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives come up for election every two years, and 18 of the 35 state Senate seats are also up for election next year.
Some of the legislative candidates defending their seats across the state already have primary or general election challengers as of Monday.
Additionally, candidates have begun filing to run for positions where the incumbents are not running for reelection.
Senate Minority Whip Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, announced in August that she would not run again and endorsed Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, to succeed her. Scott filed to run for the Senate seat on Monday, leaving her House seat open.
Meanwhile in Springdale, Democrat Diana Gonzales Worthen and Republican Rep. DeAnna Hodges have both filed, setting up a potential rematch to represent Arkansas’ first and only Hispanic-majority district.
Rep. Ron McNair, R-Alpena, also will face a rematch from Jim Hall of Harrison, who filed Monday as an Independent candidate for the second consecutive election cycle.
Hall said in an interview that McNair represents Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ interests rather than those of the North Arkansas district he seeks to represent.
He also said he is frustrated with some of Sanders’ decisions in the 10 months she has been governor. He listed her support for restricting public access to government records, her office’s purchase of a $19,000 lectern and a proposal to turn some federal lands near the Buffalo National River into a national park preserve.
The group that proposed the changes to the river retracted the idea, which seemed to have the support of the governor’s husband, Bryan Sanders.
“We are sick and tired of people in this marble palace forgetting what ‘regnat populus’ means,” Hall said, referring to the state motto, which is Latin for “the people rule.”
Filing continues tomorrow.
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