Land Commissioner, Legislator Face Off In Republican Secretary Of State Primary

May 20, 2018

Rep. Trevor Drown and Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston are vying to be the Republican candidate for Arkansas Secretary of State.

Of the many possible shake-ups following the May 22 primary election, one is for Secretary of State. Two Republicans are facing off to replace term-limited incumbent Mark Martin.

State Rep. Trevor Drown and Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston are seeking to be their party’s choice to face Democrat Susan Inman and Libertarian Chris Olson in the November general election.

Rep. Drown, who did not respond to several requests to be interviewed, is a former Green Beret and represents Arkansas House District 68, northeast of Russellville. Thurston, a former minister and graduate of Agape College in Little Rock, is the first Republican to hold the office of Land Commissioner since it became an elected office in 1874.

Thurston told KUAR News his office is mainly concerned with tax-delinquent properties, and uses his position to invest in counties.

“In this particular race, though, I am the only candidate that has actually run a constitutional office. I’ve been through four budget cycles… and I’ve been responsible for an annual budget of $40 million,” Thurston said. “We have forwarded around $120 million back to Arkansas counties.”

Rep. Drown ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as an Independent in 2010, on a platform of opposition to universal healthcare and limited federal government. Drown cites his military background as why he would be a good fit for Secretary of State, the office responsible for securing the Capitol grounds.

Another responsibility is elections. Thurston cited a figure of $20 million needed for updated voting machines in Arkansas, of which counties must pay half. Thurston said creating an ongoing funding mechanism and opening up the bidding process could help drive that cost down.

“I’m by no means saying that we’re going to go cheaper. I’m by no means saying we’re not going to stick with the current vendor. I’m simply saying we’re going to open it up and have a bidding war, if you will,” Thurston said. “Also I will look for funding within my own budget. And thirdly, I’m going to camp out on the governor’s steps, because elections are the most important thing that government does. Everything else is secondary.”

The Secretary of State will also be responsible for overseeing the re-districting process. Though redrawing of district lines won’t take place until after the 2020 census, Thurston said counties are already feeling the effects of illogically drawn districts.

“The old voting equipment is having trouble with the multiple ballot styles. There’s too many ballot splits. That’s another reason to draw lines that make sense.”

Rep. Drown supports the state’s voter identification law, which he said he fought for as chair of the House Subcommittee on Elections. Thurston also supports the law, which is up for a vote as a constitutional amendment in November.

“[In] Kansas, you have to verify your citizenship to register. Now, obviously that would have to be legislation passed, but I would like to even see that, that there be a verification of citizenship when you register to vote,” Thurston said.

Thurston also supports doing away with the $50 dissolving fee businesses must pay to go out of business. The Secretary of State’s office is tasked with overseeing business license applications and collecting dissolving fees.

The winner of the May 22 Republican primary will face Democratic candidate Susan Inman and Libertarian Chris Olson in the November general election.