A third Senate candidate – maybe
Sen. Tom Cotton has another opponent as of Saturday – maybe. The Libertarian Party of Arkansas held its convention that day and nominated Ricky Harrington, 34, of Pine Bluff to run against Cotton and the only announced Democrat, Josh Mahony.
Libertarians support very limited government. They are to the right of Republicans on tax and spending issues. They are to the left of many Democrats on some other issues, such as opposing the drug war and the use of force in general.
Prison reform is one of Harrington’s biggest concerns. An employee of the prison system, he supports reducing the size of Arkansas’ inmate population, particularly with respect to nonviolent offenders. During a brief interview, he said he supports abolishing the Department of Homeland Security, repealing the Patriot Act, ending “endless” wars, and protecting gun rights.
He says he was inspired to enter the race by several events, including this year’s passage of Act 164. (More on that subject in a few paragraphs.) The Harding University graduate was working as a missionary in China in 2016 and was dismayed by what he saw happening in the U.S. presidential campaign. He’s African American, and when he returned to Arkansas, he said he was stopped by police for driving 35 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. That was a frustrating moment for someone who had just spent two years in a communist country.
The party also nominated Michael Kalagias to run for the 3rd District congressional seat occupied by Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, and Frank Gilbert to run for the 4th District seat held by Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman.
Kalagias won 2.57% of the vote seeking the 3rd District seat in 2018. Gilbert won 2.79% running for lieutenant governor in 2018 and 1.92% running for governor in 2014.
In other words, the chances of a third party candidate winning one of those races in 2020 are about as good as the Razorbacks’ chances against Alabama were last Saturday.
It’s still an open question whether any of them will get on the ballot, however, because of Act 164, which was passed this year.
Here’s the sequence of events. Under previous state law, parties that failed to earn 3% of the vote in the preceding presidential or gubernatorial election – whichever was most recent – were required to collect 10,000 signatures from registered voters. That’s difficult but doable.
In 2018, the Libertarian candidate for governor, Mark West, won 2.9%. It was the closest the party had ever come to that 3% threshold.
It’s generally believed that Libertarian candidates take more votes from Republicans than Democrats. (Though Harrington previously was a member of the White County Democratic Party.) In February, Republican lawmakers quickly pushed Act 164 through the State Capitol. It raised the required number of signatures to 3% of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election.
That meant the Libertarians had to collect 26,746 signatures, not 10,000. They collected 12,749 valid ones during the allowed threemonth window and then sued. A judge has granted the party’s request for a preliminary injunction. An appeals court will hear oral arguments in December.
I try not to question people’s intentions, but two plus two equals four. Act 164 was passed in large part to keep Libertarians off the ballot. Their 3% might affect some close race somewhere.
This is the most partisan environment in my 50 years, and not just in Washington. Everyone seems to be fired up. But even in these divided times – or especially in them – the way we conduct the process is more important than who wins.
Issues change, candidates come and go, and political parties shift and even trade positions. What must endure is for voters to have their say, and to have choices.
Incumbents and the political elite already have so many enormous advantages that voters should resist any of their efforts to create new ones. We don’t need 25 candidates on the ballot, but it won’t hurt us to have three. In fact, in more than half the state House of Representative races last November, there was only one.
So now we wait on the courts to learn if the candidates for U.S. Senate next year are Cotton, Mahony and Harrington, or if it’s just Cotton and Mahony – three choices, in other words, or just two.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas and former managing editor of The Saline Courier. Email him at brawner[email protected] Follow him on Twitter @stevebrawner.