A couple of high profile Democrats are on their way out of the Arkansas House to seek higher office. In this article, KUAR takes a look at the race for House District 35, as state Representative Clarke Tucker seeks higher office.
The race to replace him is between political newcomers Annie Depper and Andrew Collins.
“I’m originally from El Dorado. I was raised by a trial attorney, a liberal trial attorney and a Methodist pastor. My mother is still a Methodist pastor, she tends to go a little bit more on the conservative side. From them we always had debates around the table as a kid,” said Depper. “I learned a lot at the dinner table.”
Collins grew up in Little Rock, “I’m an attorney and a small business owner. I have a family, two kids, and I’m married. My experiences have been service oriented. My first job out of college was AmeriCorps Vista.”
Their district contains many of neighborhoods north of Cantrell in Little Rock, as well as a handful like Echo Valley and Sturbridge that dip just to the south. The district runs from Riverdale in the east, out past the city limits to Roland in the west. Like all Pulaski County Democrats, they identify education as the top concern of voters.
“Everyone has different priorities but whether your priority is economic development, whether it’s taking care of our kids, whether it’s crime – you can point to education as having a central role,” Collins told KUAR.
Depper points to the landmark Lakeview School District case and the state’s duty to serve children, “Arkansas is under a Constitutional duty to provide quality, equitable education to all of the children of Arkansas. I think we’ve fallen down on that duty in the past numbers of years.”
She continued, “We are not funding our public schools as they should be funded. The fact is, and some people don’t want to accept this, but it is expensive to provide quality education. It costs money and we need to give that money to the schools to be able to educate our children and also to be able to pay our teachers wages that show the respect that we have for them and the difficult job they do.”
Both Collins and Depper are well educated themselves.
“I attended public schools in El Dorado and then went to the Arkansas School for Math, Sciences, [and the Arts] in Hot Springs, then the University of Arkansas, and the University of Texas for law school. I came back to Arkansas in 2009 to clerk for a federal judge for about two years. I also clerked for a state court judge and then went out into private practice. Today, I’m a practicing attorney. I do civil litigation and criminal defense work,” said Depper.
Collins attended Little Rock schools, graduated from Duke and Columbia Law School, and went on to work as a Washington D.C.-based attorney. In 2011, he moved back to Arkansas to work in his family’s real estate business, Cypress Properties. He has served on the Board of Directors of Our House.
His campaign's fundraising ability has vastly outstripped Depper's operation. Collins has raised more than $97,000 while Depper clocks in just under $16,000. Campaign expenditures in Collins's camp run at $65,474 while Depper has spent $11,486.
They generally align on key Democratic issues, like opposing Governor Hutchinson’s plans to lower income taxes for high income earners. Collins does see some room for cuts though.
“I do think we need tax reform in our state but I have a feeling it would be very different from what the governor is proposing. We have one of the highest sales tax burdens in the country in our state. It’s a regressive tax that ends up hurting the poor and working class more than anyone else, proportionately. We should be looking at reforming our sales tax,” said Collins. “But I would not be looking to cut taxes for higher income people who frankly just don’t need it.”
Depper also opposes tax cuts for higher income earners, “I think we need to oppose tax cuts that would reduce taxes for the wealthiest people. It’s just not fair, we live in this great nation, in this great state of Arkansas, and in so doing we owe taxes. We owe taxes to make sure that our public schools get funded and our kids get educated. If we do that we’re going to boost the economy of Arkansas.”
Both candidates have been approved by the gun control group, Mom’s Demand Action. Collins has even sent out a mailer touting the need to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, promoting so-called red flag laws. That’s something Depper supports too. And while both want to tackle violent crime, and minimize the change a firearm will be used, they see plenty of room for reform when it comes to non-violent offenders and Arkansas’s nationally high incarceration rate.
“Prison overcrowding is really to me one of the big issues that the state Legislature can help with,” said Collins. “If we are doing some of the right things with some of our people who are mentally ill, who have drug use problems, I think there are more appropriate places for them a lot of times than being locked up.”
Depper thinks current Arkansas law is too tough on parolees, leading to unjustly high prison populations.
“There was one recent piece of legislation that said for anyone who is on parole or probation, if they get charged with a sexual offense or another felony they are automatically to have their probation or parole revoked. They’re entitled to a parole hearing but otherwise, they’re not entitled to a bond hearing, they’re going to be held until their trial date. That’s only increasing our prison population,” said Depper. “I get the point behind that but to give someone who is charged the opportunity to go before a judge, that’s not saying you’re going to get out…without providing them that you could have innocent people sitting in a prison for could be a year if not more, these criminal trials take a very long time to got to court."
Early voting is underway. The Democratic primary is Tuesday, May 22nd.
The Democratic nominee in House District 35 will face Republican Judith Goodson and Libertarian William Barger. Outgoing state Rep. Clarke tucker ran unopposed in 2016. In 2014, he bested Republican Stacy Hurst in one of the most expensive legislative contests in the state 52.8-47.1 percent.
Editor's note: this article previously incorrectly stated Collins campaign fundraising totals based on general election contribution reports. According to primary election fundraising totals, Collins raised more than $97,000.