DISTRICT 88 RUNOFF: Republican candidates Arnetta Bradford (left) and Dolly Henley. Arkansas Secretary of State

Arkansas state Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) came forward Monday to allege that the governor’s office offered outgoing Republican state Rep. Danny Watson of Hope a lucrative seat on the state parole board if he secured a replacement for himself who would be friendly to Gov. Sarah Sanders’ administration and who could be elected without great expense.

Hickey took to Facebook Monday to make the accusation, and confirmed the veracity of the post Tuesday.

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“I was very careful that everything I’ve got in there is the absolute truth,” Hickey said Tuesday. 

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“BACKROOM 6 FIGURE ARRANGEMENT, LIES, ARROGANT INEXPERIENCE, OUT OF STATE DARK MONEY, POLITICAL SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS, SMOKE AND MIRRORS, PUPPETS AND RUBBER STAMPS,” begins Hickey’s Facebook missive, posted at 12:46 p.m. Monday.

Hickey goes on to claim that dirty politics are poisoning the race for the next representative for state House District 88, a position Watson currently fills. 

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“Rep. Danny Watson told Rep Carol Dalby that a senior staffer at the Governor’s office had told him that he would get an appointment on the Parole Board ‘if’ he (Watson) found a replacement that the Governor’s office would approve of and if they did not have to fund a lot of money into this SW Arkansas race,” Hickey wrote on Facebook.

All parole board members save one are paid more than $100,000 per year, according to the state transparency website.

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Newcomers Dolly Henley and Arnetta Bradford are competing for the Republican nomination for the seat in an April 2 runoff. The district spans parts of Hempstead, Miller and Howard counties in the southwest part of the state.

Bradford, of Hope, is the governor’s friend and her favored candidate. In January 2023, Sanders appointed Bradford to the Black History Commission of Arkansas. And in April, she hand-delivered a certificate for Arkansas Business of the Month to Bradford’s faith-focused cafe in Hope, Hebrews 11:1.

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Watson kept his plans to not seek reelection a secret as part of his plan to dissuade other candidates from entering the race to make it easier to get Bradford elected, Hickey suggests in his Facebook post. 

“Rep Watson told Rep Dalby and other State Representatives that he was not going to publicly tell that he wasn’t running for re-election. His plan was to bring Arnetta Bradford, Dolly Henley’s opponent, to the Capitol on the very last day to sign up for this seat with only a few minutes remaining,” Hickey wrote in the Facebook post. 

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Rep. Carol Dalby of Texarkana, another long-serving state Republican lawmaker, said by phone Tuesday that Hickey’s statement was true. 

“I stand by what Senator Hickey wrote. What he wrote is accurate,” Dalby said.

When asked if she was concerned about the politics of calling out wrong-doing by fellow Republicans, Dalby said no.

“I’m never worried when you’re telling the truth,” she said.

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The political tricks Hickey alleges could be criminal, former lawmaker Nate Bell said on Twitter:

Henley’s campaign has been kept busy recently fending off accusations that she’s a secret Democrat. Those accusations are coming from out-of-state groups, she told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Mike Wickline. Wickline also reported that former governor and current first dad Mike Huckabee contributed $1,000 to Henley’s campaign, saying he’s friends with the family.

Bradford told Wickline she had nothing to do with the mailers and texts accusing Henley of being a secret Democrat.

In his Facebook post, though, Hickey muses about the possibility of Bradford working with Watson in a secret mutually beneficial arrangement.

“Arnetta Bradford did wait until the last day to sign up and Rep Danny Watson told Rep Dalby that he was helping with the sign up and was also going to carry Arnetta Bradford to visit with a political campaign consultant. Did Arnetta Bradford know about or have an involvement in this Parole Board six figure ‘discussion or arrangement’?,” Hickey wrote.

Bradford’s filing records with the secretary of state’s office show her paperwork was completed on Nov. 14, which was the last day to file.

An email to Gov. Sanders’ office seeking a comment was not immediately returned.

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