Lynette “Doc” Bryant, 57, is a cipher, an atypical candidate. She filed to run for governor on the last day of the primary filing period, out of the blue. She’s running for the highest office in Arkansas, but declines to provide details about her family life, the sorts of facts politicians usually reveal, if not exploit, as a way to define themselves. Why did she move to Arkansas some 20 years ago? For a job, she says, but won’t elaborate. Children? Yes, she says, but no more. There are details in the public record, she concedes, but she’s not talking about them and she wishes the press wouldn’t either.
She’s not personally shy, however. She appeared on “Capitol View,” the KARK-TV talk show hosted by Roby Brock, decked out in a bathrobe (fully clothed underneath), saying folks might as well stay in bed come voting day because of what she calls the state Democratic Party’s “pre-slated” roster of unopposed candidates. She had with her a poster that compares the Democratic primary ballot with the Republican ballot to illustrate her point. That visual and references to President George Washington’s warning against usurpation of the government in his farewell address are common themes in her campaigning.
Bryant claims it’s the party’s fault that there are no contested Democratic primary races for the top state and congressional positions, that it’s undemocratic, and that it motivated her to run against former Congressman Mike Ross for governor. She lists her issues on her campaign website, votedocbryant.com — pre-K for all and other educational issues, fighting obesity, care of the elderly and so forth — but most of her talking points are about is the party’s snub of her and what she says is “political bullying” by the party to dissuade Democrats from entering primary races. Gov. Mike Beebe’s early endorsement of Ross’ candidacy was inappropriate, she maintains.
Bryant is particularly dismayed that, she says, party chief Vince Insalaco introduced Ross as the next governor of Arkansas at a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Pine Bluff. (Party spokesperson Elizabeth Price did not know whether Insalaco had said such a thing, but noted that he is Ross’ friend and was Ross’ choice for party chief. The party denies that it has endorsed any candidate during the primary season.) Bryant was also irked that the Young Democrats referred to Ross as the next governor in the program for their April convention. (The Young Democrats extended a last-minute invitation to her to attend the convention.) She complained to the Saline County party when she was not invited to speak at its Jefferson-Jackson Day event. (Chair George Ellis, in an email to Bryant, told her he understood her position but he could not allow every candidate in the room to talk. “We would be there all night long and into the morning. This is not a “speakin’,” he wrote.) As it turned out, however, Ross, who was the keynote speaker, invited Bryant to address the crowd, which she did.
As a result, Bryant has written letters of complaint to the party, the NAACP, the attorney general’s office and the state Board of Election Commissioners about what she considers to be unfair treatment.
Bryant, who was a delegate for Hillary Clinton when she ran against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, said she’s worked a long time for the party. But, as she told Tea Party radio show host Jesse Lee Peterson, “Arkansas’s Democratic Party only wants indentured servants.”
That she was asked to be interviewed on a Tea Party radio show — Bryant said she got a call from the Anaheim host after Peterson saw stories about her — did not raise her suspicion that the call was motivated by Republicans wanting to get someone on the air to gripe about Democrats, she said. She said she’d never heard of Peterson. “I don’t question why they are doing it,” she said. “I don’t dig into all that stuff.”
A Twitter account, @DrBryantUpdates, which describes itself as an advocacy account for Bryant’s candidacy, has tweeted several times about the Democratic Party “belittling” Bryant “& her attempt to break through the glass ceiling.” To a cynical eye, the account — followed by Koch brothers lobbyist Teresa Oelke, Americans For Prosperity Arkansas, GOP Senate candidate Tom Cotton communications director David Ray, businessman Carlton Saffa and other Republicans — appears to be an amateurish dirty trick of the GOP, designed not just to criticize the party, but draw African-American votes away from Ross. Bryant has no idea who created the account, she said; her own Twitter account is @VoteDocBryant.
Bryant said she has not heard rumors that she was put up to the race by Republicans seeking to cause trouble for Ross. She has overheard people at various events wonder who put up the $12,000 filing fee for her. She paid that out of her own pocket, she said, along with a $2,202.50 Central Arkansas Transit bus ad and the cost of bumper stickers and brochures that she said will appear soon on an amended campaign expense report. She said someone had offered her $100 if she would agree to support Ross after the primary, but she turned them down.
She is friendly with Republicans, however — “you never know who you’re going to get a drink of water from” is her philosophy, she said. She noted that a Republican neighbor in the St. Charles subdivision (she declined to identify him) encouraged her to run and has put her sign in their yard. Her position on Common Core education — she is opposed to it — is also in alignment with the GOP. But she says she’s always been a Democrat and faithful to the party.
If Bryant seems thin-skinned about the party’s lack of attention to her candidacy, it may be because she had an earlier run-in with the electoral process. In 2012, she was initially denied a spot on the ballot for position 8 on the Little Rock Board of Directors because she was told she was one short on valid signatures on her petition. Bryant complained, the city clerk counted again, and found she had enough valid signatures. She ran against Dr. Dean Kumpuris. Kumpuris, the incumbent, won, but Bryant got 36 percent of the vote.
Bryant knew last year she would run for some position this year. Last June, she paid for the CAT ad to run during this year’s primary season. She didn’t specify which race at the time.
Bryant earned a medical degree from East Carolina University “a long time ago,” but has not taken her boards, opting to substitute teach here instead. She also helped found the Harmony Health Clinic.
If she loses the Democratic gubernatorial primary against Mike Ross, she said, Bryant will resume studying for her boards and get a license to practice.