A third Se­nate can­di­date – maybe

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

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.

STEVE BRAWNER

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