Last night, I joined state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) in moderating a debate hosted by the Democratic Party of Pulaski County for three sets of primary candidates running for Pulaski County sheriff, state House District 35 and state House District 39. The event was held at South on Main in Little Rock.
The video above is courtesy of Pulaski County Democrats. Sheriff candidates go first, then District 35, then District 39. (You should focus on Sen. Elliott’s questions, and I apologize in advance for my performance.)
House District 35 is the seat now held by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock), who’s vacating the position to run for the 2nd Congressional district. It stretches westward from Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood to the Heights and Cammack Village, then runs along the river to take in a section of West Little Rock and the community of Roland. The Democratic candidates are Andrew Collins and Annie Depper, both attorneys. A Republican, Judith Goodson, is also running (and, there’s a Libertarian candidate, William J. Barger).
District 39 sits across the river, encompassing Maumelle and some points east. It’s held by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle), who is now serving his third term in the state House and is running for reelection. Either Monica Ball, a retired science teacher, or Joshua Price, a public relations consultant and entrepreneur in the nonprofit sector, will face Lowery in the general election in November.
Both districts are suburban, majority-white areas with household incomes and educational attainment levels higher than Arkansas as a whole. If Tucker were running for re-election, he’d almost certainly hold District 35, but the last time the seat was open, in 2014, it was competitive for both parties. Still, given the political winds of 2018, it’s likely to remain Democratic.
District 39 will be an uphill climb for any Democrat challenging a three-term Republican incumbent — but it’s also exactly the sort of territory that’s been swinging from R to D in high-profile special elections around the country these past six months or so (think Virginia statehouse races and the 18th Congressional in Pennsylvania). If Democrats make gains in 2018, it will likely be in places like District 39.
The sheriff’s race features two experienced lawmen: Eric Higgins, a former assistant chief with the Little Rock Police Department, and Major Carl Minden, who now works under Sheriff Doc Holladay. Holladay is not running for re-election this year.
Since I was a moderator, I’m going to refrain from commenting on the candidates’ responses other than to say all were impressive and passionate, if occasionally green. I heard some differences in rhetoric when the statehouse candidates spoke — Ball and and Collins struck a more aggressive tone on pushing back against the GOP, while Depper and Price were a bit more conciliatory in their tone — but few substantive disagreements on policy. Sen. Elliott and I asked the sheriff candidates about officer-involved shootings, marijuana enforcement, compliance with federal immigration detainers, juvenile justice and incarceration of the mentally ill, among other topics. For the statehouse races, we asked about topics ranging from charter schools to climate change to ethics and corruption.
The Pulaski County Dems will have another round of primary debates in April, including several other contested legislative seats and the four-way Democratic primary for the 2nd congressional district. In addition to Tucker, Gwendolyn Combs, Paul Spencer and Jonathan Dunkley are vying for the chance to take on incumbent Republican French Hill in the fall.