The public integrity division of the attorney general’s office is apparently reviewing text messages received by an announced Republican candidate for state House of Representatives that appeared to suggest the candidate’s daughter, a med student at UAMS, could receive a scholarship if he dropped out of the race and supported another candidate.

FRIENDS: Ty Koons (left) is wearing a Cole Peck campaign button in this photo he posted of himself with Peck on his Facebook page.

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The text messages were received by Lake City Mayor Jon Milligan, an announced Republican candidate for House District 53. The message was sent by Ty Koons of Lake City, a preacher and supporter of Dr. Cole Peck, another candidate for District 53, currently held by Republican Rep. Dan Sullivan who is running for state Senate. Jonesboro Councilman Bobby Long also has announced. Peck lost a challenge to Sullivan in 2018.

Milligan received the texts Sept. 8 and sent screenshots of the thread of messages to me yesterday. He said Koons, a city planning board member with whom Milligan said he often texted in jocular fashion, had told him about a week later when he encountered him at a fair that the texts were a joke. Did he believe they were a joke, I asked Milligan. “That’s what he said.” He said he’d put the matter behind him.

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Milligan said he took the messages seriously when he first received them, waiting about 2 minutes to talk to his wife about it before saying he wasn’t interested in the purported offer. He said he was “aggravated” Koons had injected his daughter into the discussion.

“Whether it’s a joke or not, you just don’t joke like that,” Milligan said.

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Milligan said he’d told his campaign consultants about the texts the day after he received them because he wanted witnesses that he wasn’t engaged in anything improper. He said he hadn’t referred the matter to the attorney general’s office, but somebody apparently had because of contacts the office had made with him. A spokesman for the office said they would not comment on any potential investigations. Since being established in June 2018, the division has been linked publicly to only one case, that of a smalltown mayor forced out of office for failing to disclose a hot check conviction on his political practices pledge.

I was unable to reach Koons yesterday, but the Democrat-Gazette’s Lisa Hammersly did for an article in today’s newspaper. He told her the texts were a “bad joke.”

Peck provided a statement through a campaign spokesman:

I have known Ty Koons for several years.  It is my understanding that Mr. Koons and Mayor Milligan had a friendship, that went back many years as well.  I do not know the context of their text exchange, nor any personal conversations the two may have had.  I was unaware of the content of the text messages or the implications involved until after it had happened.  My campaign never authorized anyone to make contact with a fellow candidate regarding these, or any other allegations.   There will be no further comment on the subject simply because we don’t know anything about it. We look forward to turning the conversation back to the issues facing Craighead Co and hope the other candidates will help us do that. 

SCREEN SHOT: One of the text messages from Koons, in a screenshot supplied by Milligan.

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Here’s the string of texts Milligan supplied to me,  which he provided in response to my Freedom of Information Act request for relevant texts on his city-paid phone. I was tipped about their existence from someone uninvolved in the race. The story has circulated widely because the mayor showed the texts to others, including a city council member

The texts begin after Milligan made a favorable comment to Koons about a pro football team that he normally disparages.
KOONS

Next thing ill hear you say is you’re dropping out & endorsing Cole lol. It’d be beneficial to both of you.

MILLIGAN

U won’t hear me say that

KOONS
Lol, you sure?

MILLIGAN

Yea why would I do that

KOONS

Beneficial to you.

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MILLIGAN

How’s that

KOONS

You know they have 20 thousand dollars schlorships that would be real easy for Natalie to receive. Would that be beneficial?

MILLIGAN

Oh yea it’s amazing she or we never heard it before

KOONS

I assure you I can make it happen, you can exit with your dignity & integrity intact remain mayor until Cole moves to State Senate & then get you in there. Meanwhile Natalie wins, WE ALL WIN.

Your thoughts? I can schedule a mtg between you & Cole. The offer won’t last forever. I know you want to be State Rep real bad but it’s all about timing (in no way insinuating you can’t win),

MILLIGAN [this is the text that he said he’d delayed several minutes before sending]

Think I’ll pass on the bailing out and the scholarship. Win or lose GOD will see me thru it just like he always has and because of him Natalie will always be a winner.”

KOONS

Yes sir I understand