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Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)
Deep in the heart of the Arkansas Ozarks, at least five Republicans are running for the newly drawn state Senate District 28 seat.The race pits two old foes — state Sen. Bob Ballinger of Oark and former state Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest — along with state Rep. Keith Slape of Compton, Bob Largent, president/CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Theodore Walker of Huntsville.The official filing period for candidates begins Tuesday.The primary elections will be held May 24. The winner of the Republican primary election will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the Nov. 8 general election.So far, only one Democrat has announced his intention to run — Jim Wallace of Eureka Springs, an artist and owner of Paradise Pottery.District 28 stretches from the Missouri state line south to Arkansas River Valley. It includes Ozark National Forest land, part of the Buffalo National River and the cities of Huntsville and Harrison.The district includes all of Carroll and Madison counties and parts of Boone, Franklin, Johnson and Newton counties.White residents make up 85% of the Senate district’s population of 85,216, according to the state’s redistricting website.Ballinger, 48, a lawyer, is considered the incumbent in the race. Since 2019, he has represented the old Senate District 5, which included some of the same territory as the new Senate District28. The districts are redrawn every 10 years after the census.King, 53, a cattle and poultry farmer, announced his candidacy on Friday. He and Ballinger butted heads in the 2018 Senate race that Ballinger u l t i m ate ly won by 374 votes.“It got really nasty last time,” said Ballinger.After six years in the state House of Representatives, King was elected in 2012 to the state Senate, representing what was then District 5.Late in 2017, King said he wouldn’t run for reelection, citing his family farm and frustration with his party leaders in Little Rock.Ballinger, who also spent six years in the House, had already announced his intention to run for Senate District 5.As the filing period approached in February 2018, King jumped into the Senate race, saying Ballinger needed to face an opponent in the primary election.Ballinger defeated King by a slim margin that year.Ballinger went on to win the general election, getting 67% of the vote in the general election against two challengers — a Democrat and a Libertarian.Since then, Ballinger has been a leader among conservatives in the Senate.Ballinger said energy policy is one of his primary issues, but most people know him as a leader on gun issues.In a Jan. 24 news release announcing his bid for the District 28 Senate seat, Ballinger touted his record.“I have led the fight to expand our 2nd Amendment rights, and we have earned the recognition as the No. 1 most pro-life state in the country,” he said in the release. “But now, more than ever, we need to stand strong as we face relentless attacks on Arkansas values and our way of life.” King, in his news release on Friday, said it was time to “drain the political swamp.” “We’ve got a bunch of Republicans in Little Rock masquerading as conservatives, and it’s time to call a spade a spade,” said King.According to the news release, “King has a storied history of standing up to the establishment as he has led audits into state government corruption exposing fraud even by members of his own political party.” “To beat the machine, you have to run against the machine,” said King. “If we truly want to get serious about out-of-control spending, waste, and fraud, then as conservatives we must be willing to stand up to these fake conservatives in our own party.” King said on Friday that he was referring in the news release to legislators voting on things in which they have a financial interest.Slape, 56, was elected in 2018 to serve as state representative for House District 83.Before that, he served for 12 years as New-to n Co u n ty sheriff.In that role, Slape survived a plot to kidnap his son and an 80 mph collision with an elk on the Beech Creek bridge on Arkansas 21 in Boxley Valley.“Apparently, a blue light is like a bug zapper to an elk,” he said of the mesmerized animal.Much of the legislation Slape sponsored in the House concerned law enforcement.He co-sponsored a bill that became Act 946 of 2021, which prohibited parole for convicted felons who are found to be in possession of a firearm.If elected to the Senate, Slape said he will work to toughen laws to keep violent offenders in prison. He said the state’s sentencing guidelines need to be reworked.“The whole gamut has got to be redone,” he said.Slape said changes need to be made to reduce recidivism and bring people released from prison back into the workforce.Slape said he will also work to ensure better pay and retirement benefits for public school teachers.Slape said he will work with city and county officials, as well as rural fire departments, to address their needs.“Whatever makes their lives easier will make the state legislator’s life a lot easier, too,” said Slape.Largent, 75, who announced his candidacy on Jan. 10, said he had no intention to run for office.Largent said some people at church and the grocery store began encouraging him to run for the District 28 Senate seat. At first, he thought it was a joke. But after thinking about it, Largent decided to enter the race.Largent said a group of business leaders and elected officials — mostly from Boone County — had been meeting in a room at the Chamber during the redistricting process last year.The group had outlined seven issues that were important to the region that would become District 28 — tourism, business focused on manufacturing and agriculture, retail, health care, law enforcement, transportation and education.When he began looking at Ballinger’s record in relation to the seven issues above, Largent said he found it lacking.Largent said the majority of Ballinger’s legislation “reeks of headlines from somewhere else — [Critical Race Theory], Second Amendment rights, abortion.” “I am more focused on our needs today and in the immediate future: jobs, agriculture and tourism,” he said.Largent said he wasn’t ignoring those other issues.“I’m as conservative as they come,” he said. “I’m very pro life. I have my concealed-carry permit, although I typically don’t do it back and forth to work.” “Critical Race Theory is divisive rhetoric and radical teaching that distracts from the core mission of our public schools,” said Largent. “If elected, I won’t let radical Critical Race Theorists peddle their anti-America propaganda in our classrooms.” Born and raised in Spring-dale, Largent graduated from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1968, according to a news release announcing his candidacy.For the next 24½ years, Largent held many staff and command assignments, according to the release. Largent earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma in 1982, and graduated from the Air War College in 1989.In December of 1992, he retired with the rank of colonel.Since 1993, Largent “has worked closely with leaders of for-profit and not-for-profit global organizations to help them streamline their operations, save money, improve decision-making, and take advantage of the latest technologies in video communications,” according to the release.He became president/ CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce in March 2019.Last summer, Largent said he will retire from the chamber in 2023.Theodore “Ted” Walker, 55, said he was a combat veteran in Desert Storm from 1990-91 and in the Iraq War from 2008-09. Walker said he achieved the rank of post command sergeant major before choosing to leave the military after 38 years so he could run for office.“During my career, I have found myself shoulder to shoulder with leaders of all kinds,” Walker said in a news release. “Great leaders that always put others before themselves and were always working to improve the situation for those they lead and toxic leaders that always felt they were the most important person and that everything that went wrong was always someone else’s fault.“For as long as I can remember, I have been in the role of servant leader. I have experienced the pains of poverty, the pains of school bullying and the struggles of growing up in a toxic environment. I have endured the pain of loss and I have experienced the joy of reward, as I feel God has given me more than I deserve. I have exceeded all expectations towards success because I learned to bring people together for a common goal and refused to listen to the naysayers telling me to give up. … “I feel this country is being torn apart for personal or political gain and putting in danger the very thing I, and so many like me, fought to preserve, our freedom,” Walker said in the news release. “I have seen what socialism and communism does to nations firsthand and I don’t want that for my kids or your kids. I believe that current state and federal politicians lack the true understanding and empathy needed to represent their constituents with respect and true loyalty.”MORE CONTENTFull coverage of elections in Arkansasarkansasonline.com/elections/
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