Let’s talk politics – for 2022
Next year’s politics will be dominated in Arkansas by the presidential race, despite Sen. Tom Cotton’s already contested re-election race and several interesting ballot initiatives.
It’s in 2022 that the focus will be on Arkansas races. Sen. John Boozman will be up for re-election, and the state’s most prominent statewide officials will be term-limited.
It’s early, but let’s speculate. Boozman, whose second term is ending, has not announced his intentions for 2022. He’s 68 now, he’s been in Washington since 2001, and his thinking might be influenced by what happens in 2020. He had a health scare, though that was in 2014. Washington is becoming a meaner place, and he’s a nice guy.
Meanwhile, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be term-limited. He’s 68 also, but he’s already told Talk Business & Politics not to “count me out” regarding a future in politics.
The most logical next office would be Boozman’s seat. If Boozman retires, it’s open. If he doesn’t, would Hutchinson challenge him anyway?
History sug- gests he might. Hutchinson has never shied away from tough political battles. He lost three statewide races as a Republican back when Arkansas was dominated by Democrats. (Remember then?) He helped manage the impeachment of President Clinton, a fellow Arkansan. He announced a run for governor against then-popular Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller. That Republican primary battle didn’t happen in 2006 because of Rockefeller’s untimely death.
Meanwhile, if Boozman does retire, one of the state’s sitting U.S. congressman could also run for that open Senate seat. Rep. Steve Womack from the 3rd District would be the most likely, but the other three, Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, and Bruce Westerman, would have to consider it. In the House, they’re one of 435 and currently in the minority. But every U.S. senator is powerful.
Another potential candidate is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is a national figure as President Trump’s press secretary and is popular with Republicans. She’d be tough to beat, but she could make a lot more money elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the state’s two other most prominent statewide officials, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, are both term-limited and ambitious, and the governor’s office is opening up in front of them. Griffin has already served in
Congress and did not come home to Arkansas because it was his dream to be lieutenant governor. Rutledge has noted that she is the state’s first female attorney general, which indeed is noteworthy. But being the first female governor would be a much bigger deal.
If they face each other, there will be fireworks. These are not timid people.
One possibility is that one or both could be offered positions in the Trump administration.
Both their names have come up in the past. I don’t see Griffin going anywhere; he’s running for governor. Rutledge, however, has been the state’s most enthusiastic pro-trump official in her actions and rhetoric – even more so than Cotton. I can see her being offered a job she can’t refuse.
That means whether those two face each other in 2022 may depend on what happens in the presidential race in 2020.
Meanwhile, an open governor’s seat usually occurs only every eight years, so others will consider making the race. Sen. Jim Hendren, R-sulphur Springs, the Arkansas Senate president pro tempore, told me he is “not one to rule things out early.”
Other state legislators are mulling their futures. It can be tough to go from the state House or Senate to a higher office. Legislators are not as famous as they might think they are, and they’ve already offended people by making tough votes. Gov. Mike Beebe went from being a legislative leader to being governor, but he made a pit stop as attorney general in between.
Could other lawyer-legislators follow that path and run for attorney general? Maybe Sen. Trent Garner, R-EL Dorado, or Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-berryville? If they do, they could face U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland in the Republican primary.
Other names? Former Sen. Doyle Webb, R-benton, has presided over the state’s Republican takeover and is term-limited as party chairman. Perhaps Washington County Judge
Joseph Wood and/or Sebastian County Clerk Sharon Brooks, both Republicans, could become Arkansas’ first African-american statewide official, or officials.
Democrats? I’m having trouble coming up with anybody who could win. Maybe Beebe, but he’s 72.
Could a 74-year-old Democrat run for the Senate? A couple who are older than that are running for president. •••
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawner[email protected] Follow him on Twitter @stevebrawner.