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Sanders, Democratic rivals file to run for Arkansas governor

Michael Hibblen
Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders submits paperwork Tuesday to run for governor of Arkansas.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and four Democrats hoping to challenge her for Arkansas governor made their candidacies official Tuesday, as the one-week filing period to run for office in the state kicked off.

Sanders, a Republican who has been running since last year and has more than $7 million in the bank for her bid, was among dozens of candidates who appeared at the Capitol to fill out paperwork to run for state and federal office. Sanders was accompanied by her family, including former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Speaking to reporters after filing, Sanders said she wants to phase out the state income tax and said she believed that it could be paid for by cutting the size of state government. Lawmakers last year approved a massive tax cut package that will eventually cost the state $500 million.

“There’s no one thing that’s going to allow us to do that,” Sanders said. “We have to do it responsibly and we have to do it slowly. It’s not going to be an overnight process.”

Sanders declined to say whether lawmakers should pursue an abortion ban mirrored after Texas’ restrictive law, but praised Arkansas as the “most pro-life state in the country.” Efforts to enact a Texas-styled ban have stalled in the state Legislature, with abortion opponents divided over whether to purse such a measure as a key abortion decision from the U.S. Supreme Court nears.

Democrats face an uphill battle in Arkansas, where Republicans hold majority of both chambers of the Legislature, all statewide office and every seat in its congressional delegation. Chris Jones, a Democrat who filed to run for governor, said he believed a key will be getting voters who are participating involved and noted its ranking at the bottom in voter turnout and registration.

“We’re a nonvoting state. We’re not a solidly red state,” Jones, the former executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, told reporters before filing. “There are a million people who could’ve voted that didn’t vote last cycle.”

Another Democrat who filed Tuesday, former state Rep. Jay Martin, has portrayed himself as a more conservative option and supporters waved signs that read, “pro-life Democrat,” as he waited in line to file.

“Of course Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but if it is overturned we would certainly legislation to limit abortion in Arkansas,” Martin said, referring to the land 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Other Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls filing to run Tuesday included James “Rus” Russell and Supha Xayprasith-Mays. Doc Washburn, a former talk radio host and podcaster, has said he’ll seek the Republican nomination but had not filed Tuesday.

Elvis D. Presley, who performs shows as the late rock legend Elvis A. Presley, filed to run as a write-in candidate for governor. Presley has run unsuccessfully for several Arkansas offices over the years, including Congress. Libertarian nominee Ricky Dale Harrington is also running for governor.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was first elected in 2014, is barred by term limits from seeking reelection this year.

Arkansas’ election season also features several crowded and heated GOP primaries. State Sen. Jason Rapert, former state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb and state Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe filed paperwork to run for lieutenant governor. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who left the governor’s race to run for lieutenant governor, is expected to file later this week. Kelly Krout, the only Democrat who has announced a bid for the office, filed on Tuesday.

Jake Bequette, a former NFL and Razorback football player, filed paperwork to challenge Boozman in the May primary. Boozman is expected to file later this week. Natalie James filed to run for the Democratic nomination.

All 100 House and 35 Senate seats will also be on the ballot his year because of redistricting, and three seats on the state Supreme Court will be up.

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