Two residents of Jefferson County have filed a lawsuit seeking to force Stu Soffer, a Republican from White Hall, off the Jefferson County Election Commission.
The lawsuit, filed by Chris Burks, who’s served as attorney for the Democratic Party, says a 2017 law prohibited dual service on the state Election Commission and county election commissions. It was aimed at Soffer and sponsored by a Pine Bluff legislator because he serves on both.
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Soffer has long feuded with the Democratic power structure in Jefferson County, up to and including County Judge Hank Wilkins, who — to Soffer’s glee — was implicated yesterday by a U.S. attorney in a bribery scheme with a legislative lobbyist. Wilkins has not been charged and has not commented on the allegation, made in a federal court during a bail hearing for former lobbyist Rusty Cranford.
Just one past controversy in Jefferson County included Soffer’s drawing of a gun after a contentious Election Commission discussion.
Burks seeks a declaratory judgment. He said the law makes no provision that it applies only to future appointees and it does not except current officeholders. Thus it offers no protection to Soffer, Burks contends. He also argues there’s a conflict of interest in Soffer hold a state position of authority over a county commission on which he serves.
Soffer sees it differently. His response by e-mail.
That’s the price of being an honest and effective election commissioner. The suit is a farce. Here’s the rest of the story.
When the Stu Act was passed courtesy of Representative Vivian Flowers (D) of Pine Bluff and the Republican majority was asleep at the switch a few hours before adjourning, I sought legal advice. The advice was since the Act was not retroactive and did not contain an emergency clause, the same as applied to when they passed term limits. I was elected (not appointed as the suit falsely states) to the county election commission and reappointed to the state board prior to the Act becoming effective, so I am “vested”. Wilkins had the prestigious law firm and marijuana growing partner of his son McDaniel, Richardson and Calhoun PLLC, write a letter at taxpayer expense to the prosecuting attorney demanding my removal from office. After lengthy and in-depth legal research, it is my understanding the prosecutor determined I was “vested”. However, he took the extraordinary step of seeking Attorney General affirmation of his staff’s research. We are still waiting for that opinion. I have stated publically I plan to make a decision in January 2019 if I will run for reelection to the county election commission or resign from the state board. As a practical matter, we anticipate the Stu Act will be repealed in the early days of the next legislature because it only targeted one of 225 county election commissioners.
Note, the lawsuit targets me as a county election commissioner which indicates I have been effective in preventing election fraud in Jefferson County. When I was in the military we received medals for exceptional performance. As an Army civilian employees, it was step increases, awards and more medals. As a county election commissioner performance is rewarded with lawsuits filed by the Damocrat Party of Arkansas. What is this, their third lawsuit?
Bottom line is if a judge tells me to decide, I will. Until then, I will do my job.
In a somewhat related matter, Soffer told me earlier today that he believes Wilkins should resign or be removed as county judge and that he intends to ask the Jefferson County Quorum Court to appoint him to complete Wilkins’ term as county judge so he can set to work immediately fixing the manifest problems he’s observed in the county.
Soffer has also opined today that Wilkins’ problems were a key reason that Natural State Wellness, one of the successful applicants for a marijuana cultivation permit, had decided at the last minute to proceed with the facility in Jackson rather than Jefferson County. This came after a local economic development alliance funded by a sales tax had spent $275,000 on land for the facility. Hank Wilkins V, son of the county judge, is one of the listed owners of the company.
Nothing is simple in Jefferson County.