Jon Comstock, a Democrat and former circuit judge who’s challenging the re-election bid by 16-year incumbent Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, has added to a list of ethical questions about Bledsoe with information that challenges her residency in Benton County. It’s built on a clear issue, records indicating a claim for a homestead exemption in two counties. UPDATE: but that was later explained as misleading by a Pulaski County official.
Earlier, Comstock noted that Bledsoe and her family have piled up nearly $500,000 in state pay and she hasn’t filed the required conflict of interest disclosures. She’s chair of a committee with oversight of the Health Department, where her husband James got hired out of retirement for an unadvertised $182,000 Health Department job. James Bledsoe filled out a
Comstock has also criticized Bledsoe for taking advantage of a sham “term limits” amendment crafted by the felonious former Sen. Jon Woods, to seek re-election to a term that will give her 20 years in the Senate. This is legal of course. Just a touch hypocritical from a party that rose to power with term limits a key part of its platform.
Now Comstock has raised a new allegation on residency.
To be eligible to run for re-election, Bledsoe must have been a resident of her district for a year. She claims that, of course, with a Rogers house.
But, Comstock notes, Bledsoe and her husband, who works in Little Rock, have purchased a house on Calais Court in Chenal Valley where they spend a great deal of their time. And there’s one other apparent complication, a complication that caused Asa Hutchinson grief when he ran for governor in 2014. Bledsoe claims a homestead property tax exemption on both her house in Rogers and her house in Little Rock. You are entitled to but one exemption. It provides a credit of up to $350 on property taxes for a house used as “principal place of residence.”
I’ve asked Bledsoe by email about the dual homesteads. She has not responded.
Comstock provided documents to back up the residency argument, including a home mortgage and copies of tax records. I double-checked this morning. The Pulaski assessor website indicates Bledsoe still enjoys a homestead tax exemption on the house on Calais Court in Little Rock. Likewise, the Benton County assessor’s page still lists a homestead exemption on the Bledsoe home on Sky Mountain Drive.
UPDATE: A Pulaski assessor’s office official explained later that a homestead exemption given at the first of the year remains on the record throughout the year, even when a property changes hands, as was the case with the house the Bledsoes bought this year. They did not claim a homestead exemption on the house and won’t receive one in future years, though the benefit from the credit given to previous owners this year applies to taxes owed this year.
It was discovered in 2014 that Asa Hutchinson double-dipped on the homestead tax exemption from 2008 through 2011. (You must sign a document you are entitled to the exemption for your principal place of residence, but he claimed it was all a big mistake.) Blue Hog Report also caught Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin double-dipping on the homestead exemption that year.
Residency challenges are just about impossible against a candidate, particularly if the candidate has a residence in the district, even though she might not spend many nights there. And, in this day and time, tax cheating seems to be lauded rather than
It is curious that the local newspaper, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has shown so little interest in Comstock’s criticisms of Bledsoe. But it’s not unprecedented. The newspaper was slow initially to go after the cabal of influential Northwest Arkansas Republicans, including Bledsoe, who were enablers of hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to Ecclesia College, which was kicking back some of the constitutionally dubious loot to legislators Jon Woods and Micah Neal and a bagman who’d been best man in Woods’ wedding. It eventually got roused. It’s about time for them to get roused, at a minimum, about Bledsoe and her husband’s faulty ethical disclosures and, particularly, her double-dip on homestead tax exemptions. Why have laws if they are not to be enforced against lawmakers?