Let’s talk pol­i­tics – for 2022

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

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.


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