Arkansas Politics

An ex-lobbyist has pleaded guilty in a multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe Arkansas lawmakers and embezzle from a Missouri-based nonprofit where he worked.

Rusty Cranford of Rogers, Arkansas, admitted paying bribes to former state Sen. Jon Woods, former state Rep. Henry Wilkins IV and a legislator identified only as "Arkansas Senator A." Outside his lobbying work, Cranford oversaw Springfield, Missouri-based Preferred Family Healthcare's operations in Arkansas.

Clarke Tucker
Jackson Floyd / KUAR News

Arkansas State Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, won the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2nd Congressional District race Tuesday, avoiding a runoff and moving on to challenge U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, in the general election.

In other races, U.S. Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, were on their way to easily defeating their Republican Party challengers.

Donald Trump speaking at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

As Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson faces a challenge from the right in Tuesday’s Republican primary election, he now has the backing of President Trump.

The endorsement came in the form of a tweet Monday evening after Hutchinson and four other Republican governors dined with the president at the White House to discuss border security and other issues. Trump wrote on Twitter that Hutchinson had “done an incredible job with a focus on lower taxes, border security and crime prevention.”

Baker Kurrus Little Rock School District LRSD
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

And then there were three — again.

On Monday Baker Kurrus announced he would seek the office of Little Rock Mayor, adding his name to the field that includes Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) and banker Frank Scott.

Kurrus said in a short statement provided to Talk Business & Politics:

I have decided to seek the office of Mayor of Little Rock, my hometown. I will be announcing my plans for the campaign and my ideas for our city on or shortly after June 1, 2018. I look forward to an exciting five months ahead.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is expected to appear in court Friday before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. She’s being sued by Alex Gray, a lawyer representing two ballot measure groups, who says she’s not letting the state’s voter-initiated referendum process work.

“Our claim is that the specific subsection the attorney general is using to reject what is now 70 of 70 proposed ballot measures, that provision is unconstitutional,” Gray says.

Actually, another subsection of Article 5, Section 1 of the state constitution — subsection B — allows for the attorney general to rewrite ballot language in anticipation of certification. Rutledge has not done that, Gray alleges in the suit.

An Arkansas Supreme Court justice is asking a judge to prevent several television stations from airing a conservative group's ads targeting her during her re-election bid.

Justice Courtney Goodson filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court Monday seeking an order to block the ads run by the Judicial Crisis Network. The Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks judicial spending, says the Washington-based group has spent more than $519,000 on television ads.

The state's two leading constitutional office holders — Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge — have had very different springs. Both face re-election contests in November, but only one has a GOP primary challenge May 22.

That may explain why he was on his knees, hands cupping an amphibian, waiting for the start of a toad race at the annual Toad Suck Daze in Conway.

jp4ar.com/Twitter

As the May 22 primary election draws near, Democratic voters in Arkansas House District 39 have a choice to make.

Monica Ball and Joshua Price are both looking to unseat Republican three-term incumbent Rep. Mark Lowery. Theirs is the only race in the state with two Democratic primary opponents running to fill a Republican seat.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The governor of Arkansas says he's opposed to raising the state's sales tax on groceries after a legislative panel voted to study the idea as a way to pave the way for further income tax cuts.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told lawmakers Thursday he's opposed to raising the 1.5 percent sales tax on groceries, which is set to decrease next year to .0125 percent. A task force looking at ways to further reduce income taxes voted last week to study proposals to raise the tax and, in conjunction, creating a credit or rebate for moderate and low income residents to offset the hike.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

With early voting for primary elections set to begin May 7, the four Democrats seeking to run against Republican incumbent French Hill for Arkansas’s 2nd District U.S. Congressional seat gathered for their second debate Monday.

Leslie Rutledge
Governor's Office

A proposed ballot initiative that would raise the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 per hour has been rejected by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The language and title of the proposal, authored by Little Rock attorney David Couch, is almost identical to a measure he proposed in 2014 that raised the minimum wage in Arkansas from $6.25 to its current $8.50. The 2014 ballot measure was approved by then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and became law with 66 percent voter approval.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new survey of likely Republican party primary voters in Arkansas shows that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has a nearly two-to-one lead over over challenger Jan Morgan.

The latest Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of 676 GOP voters puts Hutchinson with 57.5% support compared to Morgan’s 30.5%. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided. The poll was conducted on April 17-19 and has a margin of error of +/-3.8%.

Jury selection is underway in the trial for a former Arkansas state senator accused in an alleged kickback scheme.

Former Sen. Jon Woods faces 15 fraud charges. Prosecutors accuse of him of taking kickbacks from former Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III in exchange for directing state funding to the college.

Paris pleaded guilty last week to one count of fraud and agreed to testify for prosecutors. Woods' attorney, Patrick Benca, has said his client is innocent and that defense attorneys will prove that, despite Paris' guilty plea.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola in calling for systemic changes to address gun violence in both cities.

Landrieu spoke as part of a day-long community safety summit at Little Rock’s Heifer International Village and sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin heads the Common Core task force.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin on Tuesday endorsed Gov. Asa Hutchinson in his bid for re-election against Republican primary challenger Jan Morgan.

“I’m going to be supporting the Governor, no question. Look, I think what he’s doing on this transformation stuff is, first of all, it’s my passion, and I am so excited that he’s aggressively pursuing this. [I’m] absolutely supporting the governor,” Griffin said in a Talk Business & Politics Daily interview.

A newspaper says a former Arkansas lawmaker who became Jefferson County's chief administrative officer will resign after a federal prosecutor revealed the official had received $100,000 in bribes.

The Pine Bluff Commercial reported Monday that County Judge Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV sent a resignation letter to the governor, effective Thursday. In the letter, Wilkins said he was sorry his own actions made the resignation necessary.

Arkansas House Speaker-Designate Matthew Shepherd
KATV, Channel 7

Arkansas Speaker of the House-designate, Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, won’t take office until January 2019, but he’s already rolling up his sleeves to gear up for the transition.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Shepherd said he wants to find ways to optimize House members’ leadership roles and he’s keen on working with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reduce the size of state government.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced his plan to reorganize state government and reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies reporting directly to him by at least 50 percent.

The governor announced his plan following the conclusion of the fiscal session of the Arkansas Legislature Thursday, saying his administration has worked to maximize government efficiency since he first took office.

Bill Clinton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Bill Clinton was known as the rock ‘n’ roll president – the first from a generation that grew up on the music to reach the highest office in the nation. Sunday, he spoke at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock at the opening of a temporary exhibit that looks at the impact rock music has had over the years on politics and social movements.

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas' governor has signed into law legislation to continue the state's Medicaid expansion, which will impose a work requirement on thousands of participants this year.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office said Thursday the Republican signed the budget bill for Medicaid and the expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. More than 285,000 people are on the program, which was created as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

President Trump hosted lawmakers from both parties to discuss gun policy and school safety on Wednesday.

During the freewheeling meeting, Trump appeared to support a number of conflicting measures. NPR journalists have annotated a transcript of the exchange, adding context and analysis.

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Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers are beginning work on school security proposals they want to take up during next year's session in response to the recent Florida high school shooting.

Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Mark Lowery said the Joint Performance Review Committee will hold a series of hearings this year and work on a package of bills to recommend aimed at improving student safety. The Republican lawmakers co-chair the committee.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and potential candidates Frank Scott, Jr. and Warwick Sabin.
Arkansas Times

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit by the city of Little Rock that attempted to stop two potential candidates for mayor from using exploratory committees to raise money.

The city argued that Frank Scott, Jr. and Warwick Sabin should follow a city ordinance that prohibits raising campaign money until June. But the ordinance doesn’t mention exploratory committees for all but formally declared candidates like Sabin and Scott.

Asa Hutchinson Jonathan Dismang Jeremy Gillam
Arkansas Times

Arkansas Legislative leaders are asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a special session to pass legislation that would license and regulate pharmacy benefit managers through the Arkansas Insurance Department. The governor is to address the request during a 3 p.m. press conference Monday.

Identical letters to that effect were written Friday by Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.

Election vote
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

After a day of special legislative elections, one race is final, one primary is decided, and a run-off will occur in a third match-up for three different legislative seats.

Voters in State Senate Districts 16 and 29 and State House District 83 turned out Tuesday to fill vacancies that have occurred in the last few months. The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office provided the following election results.

C-SPAN
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The television network C-SPAN is visiting Arkansas. The non-commercial network, best known for its uninterrupted gavel-to-gavel feeds of the U.S. House and Senate, is touting its educational resources and recording videos from visitors for its “Voices from the States” segment.

Its high-tech C-SPAN Bus is traveling the country on a 14 month “50 Capitals Tour” and Tuesday morning was parked in front of the Arkansas State Capitol. Gov. Asa Hutchinson boarded the bus for a live interview on the network’s Washington Journal call-in program.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called for a $180 million annual tax cut for the state’s biggest earners during his State of the State address Monday kicking off the 2018 fiscal session.

 

Hutchinson said the goal is to compete with other states for business investors. He said that at a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, he was asked how much top earners pay in Arkansas state taxes.

"And I said, ‘Well, it’s 6.9 percent, and they looked at me and responded, ‘That is worse than Connecticut.’ That story emphasizes the competitive nature of taxes in a mobile society.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson giving his State of the State address to Arkansas lawmakers at the start of the fiscal session Monday.
ArkansasHouse.org

Arkansas' governor says he wants to cut the income tax for the state's top earners by $180 million, and says his plan to set aside $48 million in surplus money will help set the stage for that reduction.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told lawmakers Monday he'll push for cutting the state's top income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. Hutchinson issued the recommendation as lawmakers convened for an abbreviated session focused on the state's budget.

Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will likely see most of his approximately $5.6 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2018-19 adopted without changes. It goes to the House of Representatives this week, where three in four voting members are Republican, and the Senate, with its strong Republican majority.

"I created a balanced budget that actually has a $64 million surplus that funds education, the priority needs of our state," Hutchinson said. "I'm hoping the legislature will greet that well, and will pass that, and as I give the State of the State address" today, "that'll be something I emphasize."

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