Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Blogger Blake Rutherford posts some observations on the March 31st end of quarter filing period for federal office seekers. Those running for the U.S. Senate and Congress must file fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by April 15th disclosing the money they've raised as of the quarter ended March 31, 2010.

The reports will be tell-tale as to which candidates are gaining traction among political supporters. While not always true, often you can follow the money to follow the leader in competitive races.

In the high-stakes races for Congress and Senate, this rule of thumb is usually more pronounced.

Rutherford offers thoughts on expectations for several candidates at his web site, Blake’


Those vying to replace 2nd District Congressman Vic Snyder took to the podium to discuss their candidacies at the Arkansas Farm Bureau annual convention.

Cap-and-trade, health care reform, and opening export markets seemed to dominate the conversation, according to this report from Rob Moritz with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau.

There were several developments on the GOP front in the 2nd District race in the last 24 hours. Candidate Scott Wallace received the endorsement of popular former 3rd District Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt. Wallace also became a grandfather to a new baby grandson.

His primary opponent, Tim Griffin was visited by Republican Minority Whip U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor headlined a fundraiser for Griffin and also stumped for him on KARN Newsradio 920. Jason Tolbert with our content partner, The Tolbert Report, files this post.


Stephens Inc. CEO Warren Stephens writes a guest editorial for Fortune magazine, sharing his thoughts on financial reform legislation under consideration.

Stephens thinks that more government regulation of the industry will do more harm than good. He suggests that some consumers will be protected by the scrutiny, but more will lose access to credit.

So while it might protect a few from abuse, it will inhibit access to credit for tens of thousands. Without that access to credit, economic recovery and job growth will be even more anemic. Consumers would suffer, even though the role of consumer credit in the financial crisis appears minor at best -- especially when we have much bigger issues.

His thoughts really delineate the raging debate in our country right now: there are those who advocate greater government intervention and regulation versus those who want a smaller government role.

Stephens suggests that current law could be modified to force the “too big to fail” financial institutions to improve their financial conditions.

They (government regulators) should also require higher capital ratios at commercial banks and at the holding-company level. Why not create a sliding scale on capital requirements? The bigger your balance sheet, the higher percentage of capital you should have to maintain. That would allow small banks that are no systemic threat to have lower capital ratios while the very large institutions that are "too big to fail" would have a greater equity capital cushion if a crisis did occur.

You can read his full comments at this link.


Former President George W. Bush will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Academic Signing Day for the El Dorado Promise scholarship program.

Bush is scheduled to speak on April 22nd at El Dorado High School, where more than 250 graduating seniors will receive scholarships as part of the $50 million program funded by Murphy Oil Corp.

“President Bush wanted to recognize the El Dorado Promise and to congratulate these students,” said Madison Murphy, president of the Murphy Foundation. “We are honored and privileged to have him for a return trip to El Dorado.”

The El Dorado Promise was launched in 2007 to cover college tuition and expenses for graduates of the El Dorado Public Schools.


Entergy Arkansas said that its residential customers will see “a more significant drop in electricity rates than originally projected.”

Company officials announced today that even if the company is granted the full increase in base rates that it has requested from the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Entergy's residential customers will still experience an overall decrease in rates of more than 15 percent on average this summer compared to last summer.

Originally, company officials expected a 10 percent decrease in residential bills. Lower fuel costs and operations efficiencies are credited with the expected larger rate reduction.

“While our customers work hard to conserve energy and pay their bills, at Entergy Arkansas we are also working hard to keep our costs down and help customers save,” said Hugh McDonald, Entergy Arkansas President.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Incumbent Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and his Republican challenger, Jim Keet, talked politics at the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s annual convention.

Beebe cited his record of cutting the food tax and working to lower fuel costs for off-road vehicles to the influential agricultural organization.

Keet reiterated his interest in reducing government growth and spending, highlighting his vow to cut the Governor’s office budget and salary by 20 percent.

Rob Moritz with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, has more in this report.


A GOP Senate candidate goes on the offensive and a Democratic Congressional hopeful responds to an endorsement.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gilbert Baker called on Congressman John Boozman to oppose any future government bailout programs today.

Baker has made an issue of Boozman’s vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. Citing a recent fundraising mailer from Boozman, Baker said, “I have nothing but the highest respect for Congressman Boozman; however, we have a different approach to an activist federal government.”

“It is important for Republican primary voters to know where their next United States Senator will stand relating to the encroachment of the federal government in our lives. I call on Congressman Boozman to join me in pledging to oppose any future government bailouts. As Arkansas’ next U.S. Senator I will be a check and balance on the Obama policies, not another vote in support of big government bailouts,” he added.

Steve Bryles, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, is the first to respond to Congressman Marion Berry’s endorsement of his former chief of staff, Chad Causey.

"I respect Congressman Berry. He has been an earnest, hard working public servant. I believe voters will size up each candidate on his experience, position on the issues and ability to lead,” Bryles said.

“Voters will choose the candidate who will best represent their interests not the one with the most political and special interest endorsements. I believe my deep roots in the district, experience in agribusiness, my work creating jobs and improving public schools will be things people can relate to and voters will strongly consider when choosing their next Congressman,” Bryles added.

In both responses, you can see tamped down rhetoric. It’s a tough tight-rope act for both candidates to follow: scold your primary opponent, but don’t alienate the base.


Yesterday, we brought you a recap of our recent interview with Mike Stock, president and CEO of QualChoice, one of Arkansas’ largest health insurance providers.

A topic of our discussion centered on how the business community is assessing the changes forthcoming in the new health care legislation.

Stock says many questions remain unanswered at this point and businesses are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. However, some firms – such as AT&T, John Deere & Co. and Caterpillar – have already accounted for tax credits they expect to lose related to prescription drug coverage.

From our content partner, The City Wire, Michael Tilley talks with a number of local big businesses in the Fort Smith/Van Buren region. Most expect a negative economic impact, but to what extent they’re unsure.

Cliff Beckham, president and CEO of Van Buren-based USA Truck Inc., said the trucking and logistics company does not extend benefits to retirees and will avoid some of the extra costs on that front. Beckham said the company is in the midst of reviewing what the new law will mean for the trucking company that has financially struggled to survive a national freight recession that began in October 2006.

“There is little doubt in my mind that it will raise costs, but we are not familiar enough with the details yet to speculate as to how and how much,” Beckham said in an e-mail interview.

Officials at Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co. also have not determined the financial impact of the new bill, although they anticipate it will add costs for the company.

“We do know, however, that the legislation which passed last week will have a negative effect on our overall health care costs. Health care costs for our company and our employees will increase next year as a result of the new provisions required by the law,” said Tracy Long, Baldor’s vice president-investor relations.

You can read more at this link.


Arkansas has never elected an African-American to federal office in modern times. Our state is the only Southern state to carry that distinction.

This year, there are two African-American females vying for Congress. Republican Princella Smith is seeking the GOP nomination for the 1st Congressional District seat from which Rep. Marion Berry is retiring.

Smith is a 26-year old Wynne native who has served as a Congressional aide to a representative from Louisiana. She also has worked for former Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller.

State Senator Joyce Elliott represents a portion of eastern Pulaski County. She’s running to be the Democratic nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Rep. Vic Snyder at the end of his term.

What has motivated both of these women to run for Congress? What are the issues and principles they find uncompromising? Can either appeal to a broad base of voters?

Smith sat down with Talk Business content partner Jason Tolbert for a one-on-one interview. Elliott recently visited with Talk Business contributor Kerri Jackson Case.

Both women are chasing history in their efforts to become the first African-Americans elected to federal office from Arkansas in the modern age. Find out more on their candidacies at this link on our YouTube Channel.


Stephens Media columnist John Brummett dissects Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s advertising claims against her primary challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

In two TV ads and one direct mail piece, Lincoln has played up Halter’s would-be role in a company’s outsourcing efforts and another one’s legal complications.

Says Brummett:

Lincoln’s first salvo was dishonest. The second was a smear.

This is the cynical demonization process that is part of a cancer on our politics. It’s not enough to distinguish yourself from your opponent by performance and policy. You must delve into his past and overstate any association that might make him seem more than someone with whom you merely disagree, but someone who is a sinister threat, near-criminal.

You can read more at this link.


Acxiom Corp. officially opened a service center in China this week in the city of Nantong.

The center will provide services including software development, systems management, data analysis and statistical analysis to Acxiom clients in China and around the world. Little Rock-based Acxiom also has a major service center in Poland.

“The international service outsourcing market is moving towards China and the development of the Chinese outsourcing industry has been vigorously supported by the government,” said Nantong Mayor Ding Dawei. “Nantong will make the most of its regional advantages and talent pool to seize the best opportunities for supporting international enterprises such as Acxiom”.

“China is one of the most populous nations in the world with a growing sophisticated consumer base,” Acxiom CEO John Meyer said. “Marketers are seeing an increased need to invest in interactive approach to tap on this expanding sophistication. Acxiom is looking forward to working with our clients to create and manage a more personable dialogue with their customers through our range of multi-channel marketing solutions.”

Monday, March 29, 2010


Ben Ponder, a Mountain Home candidate for Congress, announces that the first 1st District debate has been set for his hometown.

The Baxter County Democrats and Arkansas State University-Mountain Home, in cooperation with KTLO Radio and the Baxter Bulletin, have announced a debate for the Democratic candidates in Arkansas’ First District congressional race. The debate is scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, from 7-8 pm in the McMullin Lecture Hall on the campus of Arkansas State University, Mountain Home.

Bob Knight of KTLO Radio will moderate the debate between candidates Steve Bryles, Chad Causey, David Cook, Terry Green, Ben Ponder, and Tim Wooldridge.

The debate will focus on the topics of healthcare, the economy, and foreign policy. Each candidate will be allowed to make a one minute opening statement and a two minute closing statement. Each candidate will also be asked to respond to three questions related to the debate’s topics and formulated by the editorial staffs of KTLO and the Baxter Bulletin. Candidate answers to those questions will be limited to about one minute each.

Admission is free.


Congressman Marion Berry says he will announce his endorsement of Chad Causey, his former chief of staff, on Wednesday, March 31. The two politicians will also make four stops in the district on that day to tout the endorsement.

Causey is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 1st District Congressional seat from which Berry is retiring.

“Chad was a great public servant for the First District, and will make a great Congressman. He has my vote,” said Berry. “For nine years, Chad worked closely with constituents from all 26 counties helping them navigate the federal government and find solutions to their problems. He helped me work on two Farm Bills and to get new programs started at our local colleges that help train workers and get them back to work.”

“I am honored to earn the Congressman’s endorsement,” said Causey. “No one knows the people of this district better and no one has helped them in Congress more than Marion Berry has.”

The pair will make stops in Stuttgart, Lonoke, West Memphis and Jonesboro. Berry has been working behind-the-scenes and publicly to help Causey raise money. His endorsement does not come as a huge surprise.

Other Democrats seeking the House seat include David Cook, Ben Ponder, Steve Bryles, Tim Wooldridge and Terry Green.


Windstream has applied for $238 million in federal stimulus grants to expand broadband availability and offer faster Internet speeds to more than half a million homes and businesses in rural areas in 16 states.

The Little Rock-based rural telecom would provide $80 million in funding under the grant applications submitted to the Broadband Initiatives Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The total cost of the proposed project would be approximately $318 million.

"Windstream has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to deploy broadband services to virtually every community in our network and now serves more than 1.1 million high-speed Internet customers," said Mike Rhoda, senior vice president of government affairs for Windstream. "But the costs to deploy broadband to the vast majority of our remaining, unserved customers are prohibitive. The federal grants offered by RUS cover up to 75 percent of the costs and greatly improve the economics for deploying broadband deeper into rural America. The grants create opportunities for further broadband deployment that otherwise would not exist."

Windstream would expand its fiber network by more than 7,000 miles and install additional equipment in its facilities to expand and enhance broadband service to about 500,000 homes and 80,000 businesses within 320 exchanges under the project. If approved, the project would enable Windstream to make high-speed Internet available to 93 percent of the company's three million voice lines, up from 89 percent currently. Maximum speeds for the stimulus project areas would range from 6 Mbps to 12 Mbps.


The latest report from the Arkansas Realtors Association shows that overall home sales slipped 8.7% in February compared to one year ago. However, there were pockets of good news in key metro and suburban areas.

Total home sales collected by the ARA showed that February units sold were off and there was a mixed bag in the top 5 markets. Pulaski County home sales were unchanged with the same number of homes being sold in February 2010 and 2009.

Benton County home sales tumbled 8%, while Washington County sales fell 10.6%. Saline County saw home sales rise 24% during the month, while Garland County homes sold retreated 9.6%.

Statewide average home prices declined 4% during the month to $136,088.

Home sales in Craighead County were off 11.3%. Sebastian County home sales were down 23.5%. Faulkner County home sales dropped 26.7%.

Conversely, Green County home sales rose 28% and White County home sales were up 4.7%.

You can read the full report at this link.


As Democrats and President Obama declared with certainty that new health insurance reforms would force immediate and long-term changes to the nation’s health care system, business leaders are expressing caution while addressing the new provisions.

“There’s confusion out right now about how these things get implemented,” said Mike Stock, president and CEO of QualChoice, one of Arkansas’ largest health insurance providers.

“While the law may say, ‘This goes into effect 6 months after enactment,’ does that mean that 6 months down the road every insurance policy out there gets that or does it mean 6 months after enactment new policies written after that date it goes into effect on? Nobody knows right now,” Stock tells Talk Business.

Several cornerstones of the new health care reform law are subject to major interpretation, Stock contends. For instance, how will the “no pre-existing conditions” clause exactly work?

“That’s a fine line in the industry that we understand but the general public doesn’t,” he said.

“Guaranteed issue” means no matter what your medical condition you get health insurance coverage. “No pre-existing condition” means insurance companies have the ability to accept or reject you, but if they accept you, then previous conditions don’t allow them to drop your coverage.

“It’s not clear in the law and there’s different interpretations being made about that,” Stock added.

Several large companies warned before the legislation’s passage that their companies could take major hits to health care plans. Caterpillar, John Deere, and Verizon are a few firms that expressed concerns.

On Friday, AT&T took a $1 billion write-off on its financial statements to account for a tax credit loss it expects to lose related to prescription drug coverage for its current and retired employees.

Stock warns that for most employers there will be months before the rules and interpretations will make clear what the law’s application will be.

“Employers, in general, are kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude, I think,” he said.

Stock also noted that there are some positives that will come from the landmark legislation, although it will help groups of uninsured at the expense of others. He said that uninsured individuals and small businesses that haven’t been able to find coverage should benefit from the tax credits in the bill.

“That’s a positive for those people, but somebody else is going to pay for that. There’s no free lunches.” Stock said.

“I think the big picture is that with any kind of legislation this massive, there’s going to be a lot of unintended consequences. What this legislation really does is create expanded access,” he said. “But it really doesn’t do anything to tackle the real problem of why the cost of care is so expensive in the first place. That’s because of the way that we finance health care in this country.”

Stock advocates more money in the pocket of employees and consumers to allow them to make informed health care decisions through free market forces.

“Today, almost everyone in the country buys access to their health care where they only pay something like less than 20 percent of what the true cost of the care is. A third party – whether that’s the state through Medicaid, the federal government through Medicare, or your employer is picking up the other 80, 85 percent. As long as that system exists in the country, you’re going to have inflated demand and demand that can’t be met.”


Trucking industry watchers continue to be optimistic about improving conditions in a sector that is considered a bellwether of the national economy.

The American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.5% in February, following a revised 1.9% increase in January. The latest drop put the index at 108.5 (2000=100), down from 109.1 in January.

Compared with February 2009, seasonally-adjust tonnage increased 2.6%, which was the third consecutive year-over-year gain. For the first two months of 2010, tonnage was up 3.5% compared with the same period last year. For all of 2009, the tonnage index contracted 8.7%, which was the largest annual decrease since 1982.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said the February tonnage report obviously includes the severe winter storms that reduced truck freight movements, especially on the East Coast. Costello said anecdotal reports continue to point to sector gains despite the slight downturn in February.

“I continue to hear from motor carriers that both the demand and supply situations are steadily improving,” Costello said in an ATA statement. “Certainly it will take a while to make up the ground lost during the recession, but the industry is on the path to recovery.”

You can read more on this subject from our content partner, The City Wire, at this link.


Today, we resume our analysis of the down-ballot constitutional races for statewide office. As we’ve already looked at the Governor’s race, the remaining offices to examine include: Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and Commissioner of State Lands.

As a general rule – based on history – Democrats win down-ballot races. The Arkansas Election Line does not see a divergence from this typical trend in this election year.
  • In the race for Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Commissioner of State Lands, we view the seats all trending “Lean Democrat.”
Lt. Governor:
Republicans will have a contested primary for the nomination to challenge unopposed Democratic candidate State Sen. Shane Broadway.

Restaurateur Mark Darr of Springdale will face Donnie Copeland, a North Little Rock minister.

Darr has been willing to personally finance his campaign, which could give him a competitive advantage. Copeland has church connections throughout Arkansas that will allow him to establish some semblance of a campaign organization.

The Republican primary will be largely influenced by strong voter turnout in northwest Arkansas (advantage - Darr) and a religious base (advantage – Copeland). With little political experience in this race on the GOP side, it is hard to predict at this juncture how the primary plays out.
  • The Arkansas Election Line rates the Republican primary for Lt. Governor as “Toss Up.”
Secretary of State:
Three Democrats - Pulaski County Circuit/County Clerk Pat O’Brien, Sebastian County Clerk Doris Tate and Commissioner of State Lands Mark Wilcox - are all vying for the open seat of Secretary of State. Republican State Rep. Mark Martin is the lone GOP candidate.

The Democratic primary has some interesting dynamics that make it difficult to predict an outcome.

Wilcox is a statewide office-holder and has an established campaign organization in all 75 counties. As land commissioner, he has had the opportunity for nearly 8 years to network with influential county elected officials – a strong base that propelled him into office originally. He has raised adequate money to fund his campaign operations, but trails O’Brien in this effort.

Curiously, Wilcox left his title of Commissioner of State Lands off his candidate filing. Typically, it helps to have a title in front of an office-seeker’s name for statewide office.

O’Brien’s fundraising is his strength today, but he has also been effective in networking throughout the state. He has been active in Democratic Party politics for two decades and he too has courthouse support in some areas. With more than $200,000 raised, O’Brien is expected to place a significant media buy to boost his name ID.

While Tate trails both men in this primary race in terms of fundraising, she could be the spoiler. Tate has some county courthouse connections through her years of service as Sebastian County Clerk. Her regional appeal – from western Arkansas – could also produce enough results to force a run-off in this race.

Tate also chose to not put her title on the ballot, perhaps to avoid any anti-incumbent sentiment that is resonating in the electorate.

A run-off election in a down-ballot primary race like this tends to be more influenced by campaign organization versus money. Four years ago, state Treasurer Martha Shoffner beat a well-funded challenger who took to the airwaves. She was elected to office (despite being outspent) due to her political connections throughout the state.
  • With a run-off expected, the Arkansas Election Line ranks this Democratic primary race “Toss Up.”
Commissioner of State Lands:
Republican John Thurston is the only GOP candidate for the office. He will face one of three Democrats seeking the nomination.

Rep. Monty Davenport, who has a background in real estate, has been raising money and attempting to build a campaign organization for the better part of a year. His legislative contacts give him reach into most counties throughout the state. Davenport has also been working the crucial county courthouse vote, which helps tremendously with a down-ballot race like this one.

Mike Berg, a commercial real estate broker, is immensely qualified for the office. While he has been quietly, but visibly, active in Democratic Party politics for decades, Berg’s political base is much more limited than Davenport’s, but he is willing to put some personal money in the race.

L.J. Bryant climbed into the land commissioner race on the last day of filing. He has the toughest row to hoe in making his candidacy competitive. Bryant starts from scratch with fundraising and he lacks the depth of statewide political connections that Davenport has.

Davenport could win this election without a run-off. If a run-off occurs, however, he should still have the advantage due to his courthouse and legislative contacts.

  • The Arkansas Election Line views this primary seat as “Leans Davenport.”
Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report – Constitutional Offices
Blake Rutherford at Blake’s Think Tank – Constitutional Offices

Sunday, March 28, 2010


All 8 Senate GOP candidates are confirmed for a Friday, April 2nd debate in Little Rock. Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet will moderate the forum, which will be held at 6:30pm at the Holiday Inn Presidential center.

The event is being sponsored by the Pulaski County Republican Committee.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The state AFL-CIO’s voting body officially endorsed three federal office-seekers today at its Hot Springs meeting.

The AFL-CIO endorsed Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in the U.S. Senate race, a move long predicted by their visible support of his candidacy. Second District Congressional candidate State Sen. Joyce Elliott, a Democrat, was also endorsed by the group.

In the First Congressional District, Democrat Chad Causey received the AFL-CIO endorsement.

Of other note, the labor group endorsed Rep. Monty Davenport, a Democrat, in his bid for Commissioner of State Lands.

The AFL-CIO handed out a triple endorsement to all 3 Democratic candidates for Secretary of State - Doris Tate, Mark Wilcox, and Pat O’Brien.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Bank of the Ozarks entered into an FDIC-assisted transaction to take over a failing bank in Georgia.

On Friday, Little Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks assumed substantially all of the assets, deposits and other liabilities of Unity National Bank in Cartersville, Georgia. Bank of the Ozarks assumed approximately $259 million in deposits and acquired approximately $295 million in assets.

All former Unity National Bank locations will open at normal banking hours on March 27, 2010 as Bank of the Ozarks locations.

The move is Bank of the Ozarks’ first foray into the Georgia market. The financial institution will have five offices in four communities, including Adairsville, Cartersville, Calhoun and Rome, Ga.


Two weeks after buying a troubled Orlando, Florida-based financial institution, Home Bancshares is at it again.

The Conway-based parent company of Centennial Bank acquired Key West Bank in an FDIC-assisted transaction. Home Bancshares already has banking interests in the Florida Keys.

Two weeks ago, Home Bancshares acquired Orlando-based Old Southern Bank under similar circumstances.

Today’s transaction adds only one full-service location to Home Bancshares’ banking group in Florida. The company will also assume assets of $87.5 million and deposits of $67.7 million.

The FDIC will cover approximately $72.4 million in assets as part of the deal.


Arkansas moved up in per capita income state rankings to its highest level ever, in large part due to other states’ misfortunes.

According to new statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Arkansas ranked 45th with per capita income of $31,946.

Arkansas placed higher than Kentucky, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah and Mississippi. Last year, Arkansas ranked 46th in per capita income, an improvement from the previous year’s position of 48th.

While Arkansas rose in the rankings, it actually saw per capita personal income fall by about one percent. The $31,946 figure is less than $32,257 reported in 2008.

Among all states, per capita personal income declined an average of 2.8 percent in 2009, according to the government report. Per capita personal income is calculated by taking the total personal income of residents of a state and dividing it by the state’s population.

You can read more here.


Arkansas’ monthly unemployment rate climbed one-tenth of a percent in February to 7.7%.

One year ago, the state’s jobless rate stood at 6.8% as a fast rise in layoffs took their toll. The national unemployment rate remain unchanged from January to February at 9.7%.

“The change in Arkansas’ unemployment rate is a typical increase for February based on historical data,” said Dept. of Workforce Services Communications Director Kimberly Friedman.

On a very positive note, manufacturing gained 1,300 jobs. All growth was posted in durable goods, as some facilities have recalled workers and others reported increased hiring – a sign that economic activity in factories is stirring.

However, construction jobs fell below 50,000 in February - their lowest level since December 1998.

The largest monthly decline occurred in trade, transportation and utilities, which lost 2,600 jobs. Government employment rose on seasonal gains to add 3,800 jobs. Employment levels, particularly in state government have rebounded from previous declines related to winter break at public schools, according to DWS.

In a trend we’ve been monitoring, the overall gap between government employment (220,800) and jobs in the trade, transportation and utilities industries (223,300) shrunk. The state’s top two job sectors are now only separated by 2,500 jobs.


Iowa Telecom announced that its shareholders voted to approve a previously-announced merger with Little Rock-based Windstream Corp.

Nearly 98% of shareholders voted in favor of adoption of the merger agreement.

The Windstream-Iowa Telecom merger was announced in November 2009. Under the merger agreement, each outstanding share of Iowa Telecom common stock will be converted into the right to receive $7.90 in cash and 0.804 shares of common stock of Windstream.

The deal must still clear several regulatory hurdles, but is expected to close in mid-2010.


A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll offers the first public glimpse of the Democratic Senate primary match-up between incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger Bill Halter.

In a head-to-head pairing, Lincoln leads Halter 44-31% with 25% of the primary electorate undecided. The 13-point lead leaves Lincoln below the 50% threshold that is traditionally considered safe territory for an incumbent.

The 25% undecided vote is also an interesting statement. That’s a lot of room for growth for either candidate, but Lincoln is the Democrat with near universal name ID.

Voters with “no opinion” of her sits at 6%. The poll shows that 25% of voters have “no opinion” of Halter. This is an advantage for Halter to define himself to those persuadable voters. Lincoln’s mission – or that of an outside interest group - will be to persuade voters in this category towards an unfavorable view of Halter.

The poll also shows head-to-head match-ups between Democrats and Republicans. In short, Lincoln would lose to several presumed GOP challengers (although non-candidate Tom Cox is included in the match-up for some strange reason). Halter fares better than Lincoln against everyone but John Boozman.

You can access the poll’s results here.

The Research 2000 Arkansas Poll was conducted from March 22 through March 24, 2010. A total of 600 likely voters who vote regularly in state elections were interviewed statewide by telephone. It has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Conservative opponents of the recently signed health care reform law better hope that their legal attempts derail efforts to enact the measure.

There are a number of reasons why all efforts to stop enactment of the lopsided Democrat-supported measure will require high hurdles.

First and foremost, the argument for repealing the law would require a landslide takeover of Congress by Republicans. Not only would they need to win a majority of seats – they would require a supermajority and here’s why.

If the GOP succeeded in winning Congress and passed a full-throttle repeal, it would still require a Presidential signature to become law. Improbable, considering Obama will sing the praises of the reform measure as a signature accomplishment of his administration.

So one could reasonably expect a veto of a repeal effort, which would then require a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress to overturn. That means the Senate would have to find 67 sympathizers and 288 would be needed in the House of Representatives. I’ve yet to see any projections that would come close to this political outcome in November and we’ve seen how difficult the threshold is to get 60 Senators to agree to anything.

That leaves repealers with the prospect of delaying or denying the new law’s impact through legal remedy. Several national articles have quoted constitutional scholars who say that the argument for states’ rights over this federal law remain a possibility, but a long-shot. Others are more conclusive in their analysis claiming that legal challenges won’t derail the new law.

While it’s under review, an injunction could be ordered, which might stall the immediate changes the law requires.

Still, it’s the best prospect that the repeal movement has. While the political rhetoric of a repeal pleases those who want to see the reform measure scrapped, the political reality is that the courts may be the only route to make that happen. Taking over Congress by a large enough margin would require a more historic act than the signing of the health reform law itself.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Bloomberg reports on what will become law immediately now that President Obama has signed off on the controversial and recently-passed measure aimed at reforming the nation’s health care system.

The new law delays some aspects of the reform legislation for a number of years, and it also will require rules and regulations to be promulgated – a process that could be years in the making.

On the immediate front, it appears that insurers must cover children with pre-existing health problems within the first year of the legislation and let parents keep children on their insurance plans through age 26.

Insurers will also be banned from revoking coverage because of severe illness and from limiting lifetime or annual benefits.

But other provisions, such as Medicare reimbursement cuts, taxes on high-cost “Cadillac” health plans, and insurance exchanges will be years away from implementation. Some of these changes will be subject to years worth of regulation debate.

You can read more at this link.


A threat of violence at a Hewlett-Packard office in Conway leads to the firing of an employee and a request for police protection.

The Log Cabin Democrat reports that police were summoned to the HP facility after a 27-year old employee, Ryan Patrick Williams of Conway, allegedly threatened to “come back after lunch with two guns and shoot some people.”

“(This witness) said that he (alluded) to the fact that he was going to kill people,” The officer wrote in his report, summarizing the written statement. “(Williams) told her he would come back after lunch with two guns and shoot some people. She said he stated the names of (three employees) and then told her that if she was the snitch that she could choose to live or die. He said she could choose between being skinned or fingers pulled off. (This witness) stated that as random people would walk by (Williams) would nod at them and say them also.”

You can read more at this link.

Monday, March 22, 2010


3rd District Republican Congressional candidate Gunner DeLay was a supporter of pro-union legislation during his State Senate service earlier this decade, but the Republican hopeful now says that support was a mistake.

Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, interviews DeLay and recounts the controversial part of his legislative record. Pro-business GOP challengers are likely to make an issue of DeLay’s previous union support in the 2010 primary.

Today, DeLay says he regrets his pro-union efforts and touts his opposition to card check legislation, a major campaign issue splitting labor and business interests.

“Although my heart was in the right place, my head was not. In retrospect, I deeply regret the position I took because it greatly upset the business community, and I could have helped the people I wanted to in other ways such as targeted tax relief,” said DeLay.

He says that, if elected, he’ll oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to form.

“This legislation would allow union bosses to know how each worker votes when deciding to unionize. Not only is this concept un-American, it will kill jobs,” he added. “As 3rd District Congressman, I will fiercely oppose card check legislation and will work for reduced taxes and regulation on all businesses, both large and small.”

You can read more at this link.


Editor’s note: We will update this post throughout the day as more comments are received.

While Arkansas’ House members quickly put out statements regarding their positions on last night’s health care vote, the contenders for House and Senate have also been making noise.

Not surprisingly, Republicans have been in lock-step in their opposition to the vote and their opposition to the bill passed by the House. 3rd District Congressional challenger Gunner DeLay seems to have carried the rhetoric the farthest so far with his call for “civil disobedience.”

In a press release distributed this morning, DeLay called on a “people’s crusade” to “take back their government” similar to the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

“As 3rd District Congressman, I would be committed to supporting this movement, including any acts of civil disobedience that may be necessary to affect change,” said DeLay.

The Democrats had more nuanced and varied responses. Several leading Congressional candidates weighed in late in the day. The following is a round-up.

U.S. Senate:
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D)
“The United States House of Representatives voted to approve the Senate Health Insurance reform bill that I helped craft and which I supported last year. I now look forward to the President signing this historic legislation into law,” said Lincoln. “Even with its imperfections, this bill represents the most morally and fiscally responsible approach to health reform. I have fought for health care reform to reduce costs for small business owners and the self-employed so they can reinvest the savings in their companies and hire more workers.”

Lincoln warned that a misinformation campaign would continue on what’s in the bill. She also reiterated her opposition to the reconciliation process.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D)
Halter, who has expressed support for the reconciliation process, said, “I urge Senator Lincoln to join me in putting Arkansans first by supporting passage of this bill as soon as possible,” continued Halter. “Arkansans have waited too long for health care reforms. It's time to say no to the insiders, lobbyists and special interests who have fought against progress for Arkansans and to pass this legislation now.”

Congressional Dist. 1:
Chad Causey (D)
“After more than a year of vigorous debate, Congress voted last night to pass health insurance reform. After talking with and listening to many Arkansans, I am more convinced than ever that we must improve our health care system. However, there are too many pieces of the bill that passed last night that I remain uneasy about,” said Causey. “Many of the mandates placed on individuals and small business are coming at a time when our economy can least afford it. I have great concerns about increasing taxes, cutting Medicare and the way this bill will impact future deficits. One thing is for certain, the road to reforming America’s health care industry will be a long one. If elected to represent the people of Arkansas in Congress, I will work to improve upon the bill that was passed last night.”

UPDATE: A spokesman for Causey clarified to Talk Business that Causey would not have voted for the bill presented during the House debate on Sunday night.

Steve Bryles (D)
“I was not a part of the discussion, debate or negotiation of the health care bill. The bill that passed the House last night contains many details only those in the discussions were privy to, so I can’t honestly say I would have voted for or against it,” said Bryles. “What I can say is that I support health care reform. The current system is broken and must be fixed. Too many people are going without care, insurance companies have too much influence on health decisions and the cost of health care is skyrocketing out of control. If elected, I will work to insure that health care reform provides affordable access to all Americans without bankrupting the budget.”

Tim Wooldridge (D) - “Tim Wooldridge does not support the current health care bill as it is written. As a constituent of our sitting Congressman, Mr. Wooldridge knows and respects the job he is doing. The number one function of a member of congress is to do his constituents bidding and Mr. Wooldrigde is confident that Congressman Berry is taking the wishes of his constituents into account on his vote,” said Tina Coggin, spokesman for Wooldridge’s campaign.

Congressional Dist. 2:
David Boling (D)
"I applaud last night's passage of historic health insurance reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Boling, who also outlined some of the expected reforms from the measure.

“This legislation is a middle-of-the-road, sensible approach that incorporates good ideas from both sides of the aisle. It is not a perfect bill, and I look forward to addressing ongoing health coverage concerns as a member of Congress. It is, however, a profound step in the right direction.”

Joyce Elliott (D)
While not a formal statement, Elliott made comments on her Facebook page last night as the vote took place.

“I'm so proud of the work that is being done today on Capitol Hill,” she wrote. “The fight is not over but we're sure getting closer. Healthcare for our citizens should not be a political issue, rather an issue of the morals we value as a society.”

Robbie Wills (D)
“Health insurance reform is needed. Health insurance should be more affordable, portable, and take care of the most vulnerable. The recent vote would have been a very close call for me. Without a commitment from House leadership or the President that addressed Arkansas' unfunded Medicaid mandate, I couldn't have supported it,” said Wills. “The fact is, I was not there to fight for my principles of lowering costs and protecting our budget. My hope is that this bill, now passed, will work as advertised and reduce the deficit and remove the burden of rising health care costs from small business.”

“As Speaker, I've had to balance a state budget. I agree with Governor Beebe that it is something we will have to address here in Arkansas. No one in this race has done more to improve the quality of or the access to health care in Arkansas. As our next Congressman, I will fight for those same principles. Arkansans can know that I will protect our interests and get the job done. My primary focus is to create jobs for Arkansans and get this economy back on track. Removing the burden of rising health care costs from our economy will help us do just that,” Wills added.


The Republican Party of Arkansas landed a credible and formidable opponent for Governor this year in businessman Jim Keet, but popular incumbent Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is the strongest political brand in state politics.
  • The Arkansas Election Line rates the Governor’s race “Safe Democrat” today.
Beebe has a massive fundraising advantage in the race over late-comer Keet. Beebe’s job approval and popularity have consistently remained above 70% throughout a tumultuous year of politics that has badly damaged the reputation of incumbent federal lawmakers.

Beebe’s common sense and conservative governing style, especially on budget issues, have thrust his tenure into the national spotlight as a model state chief executive.

He is not branded with the Obama, Pelosi or Reed monikers as easily as Democratic Senate and Congressional candidates. There is a clear distinction between an Obama Democrat in Arkansas and a Beebe Democrat as we’ve written before.

Still, Keet will have ammunition to use against the popular Governor. A doggedly high unemployment rate, net job losses, budget challenges at the state level, and voter angst toward all incumbents will give Keet opportunities to make the race more competitive.

He will struggle to match Beebe’s fundraising war chest, which will limit his viability, but gubernatorial candidates do get much more earned (free) media exposure than most other races.

If you polled this contest today, Beebe wins in a landslide by a 70-30% margin. However, there are many months to go before November and while Keet will meticulously chip away at this lead, there will have to be a huge reversal of fortune for Keet to upset Beebe this fall.

The other factor Keet brings to this race is the ability to limit Beebe’s influence in other races in Arkansas. While Beebe will certainly campaign for other Democrats, he won’t campaign nearly as aggressively with Keet’s challenge and that could be a difference-maker for other Republican candidates.

Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report – Governor’s race
Blake Rutherford at Blake’s Think Tank – Governor’s race

Sunday, March 21, 2010


In a rare Sunday night session, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a national health care plan that would seek to provide health insurance to an estimated more than 40 million uninsured Americans.

The vote followed heated debate on the House floor with the final vote on HR 3950 pulling 220 votes for and 211 votes against. The measure needed 216 votes to pass, and all 220 votes were from Democrats. There are currently four vacancies in the 435-member U.S. House.

Congressman Vic Snyder (D) was the lone Arkansas representative voting in support of the measure. Congressmen Marion Berry (D), Mike Ross (D) and John Boozman (R) all voted against the bill.

The resolution now heads to the U.S. Senate where Democratic leaders say they have the votes to pass it. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days.

• A Democratic summary of the bill:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care and will create the transformation within the health care system necessary to contain costs. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has determined that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended, is fully paid for, provides coverage to more than 94 percent of Americans, bends the health care cost curve, and reduces the deficit by $118 billion over the next ten years, with additional deficit reductions in the following years.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes immediate changes to the way health insurance companies do business to protect consumers from discriminatory practices and provide Americans with better preventive coverage and the information they need to make informed decisions about their health insurance.

Uninsured Americans with a pre-existing condition will have access to an immediate insurance program to help them avoid medical bankruptcy and retirees will have greater certainty due to reinsurance provisions to help maintain coverage.

New health insurance exchanges will make coverage affordable and accessible for individuals and small businesses. Premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance will help those who need assistance.

Insurance companies will be barred from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, health status, and gender.

A substantial investment in Community Health Centers will provide funding to expand access to health care in communities where it is needed most.

• A Republican summary of the bill:
H.R. 3590 is intended to expand access to health insurance, reform the health insurance market to provide additional consumer protections, and improve the health care delivery system to reduce costs and produce better outcomes.

While the bill would expand insurance coverage to 94 percent of the legal population (24 million Americans would still be without coverage) and could improve the functioning of the individual and small group insurance markets, many experts question whether it will effectively control costs or reform the health-care delivery system.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the coverage provisions in the bill will cost $848 billion over 10 years (fiscal years 2010-2019). However, the major provisions in the bill would not take effect until January 1, 2014, meaning the bill uses 10 years of revenue to pay for six years of coverage. Republican staff on the Senate Budget Committee estimates that the total spending in the bill over 10 years of full implementation (FYs 2014-2023) would exceed $2.5 trillion.

To pay for the expansion of insurance coverage, the bill increases taxes by $493.6 billion, and reduces Medicare spending by $464.6 billion. Specifically, the bill would cut $134.9 billion from hospitals, $120 billion from Medicare Advantage (MA), $14.6 billion from nursing homes, $42.1 billion from home health agencies, and $7.7 billion from hospices.

Among the more prominent taxes, the bill includes a new 40 percent excise tax on health insurance plans that exceed $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families, raising $149.1 billion over 10 years; a new Medicare payroll tax on higher-income individuals that raises $53.8 billion; a $60.4 billion tax on health insurers; a $22.2 billion tax on drug manufacturers; and a $19.3 billion tax on medical device manufacturers.

The bill would create a tax on employers with more than 50 full time workers if their employees receive a subsidy through the exchange. This so-called “free rider” mandate would increase taxes on employers by $28 billion.


Political columnist John Brummett with the Arkansas News Bureau provides an assessment of the recent GOP Senate debate featuring 7 hopefuls and the absent Cong. John Boozman.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the debate’s substance. There wasn’t much. The candidates got only one minute to answer questions. There was no follow-up. Not all candidates got a shot at all questions.

Anyway, the ever-predictable answer was always the most conservative available — against illegal immigration, against Obamacare, against bailouts, against deficits, against attacks on the freedoms that God, not our country, supposedly gave us.

Brummett declares that the winner of the debate was the stand-in for Boozman, Sarah Huckabee.

This winner came to the event with little more than her political gene.

This was Sarah Huckabee, 27-year-old daughter of Mike Huckabee and the campaign manager and surrogate debater this night for U.S. Rep. John Boozman in his bid for the Senate.

Read more of Brummett’s analysis and opinion at this link.


Stephens Media columnist Jason Tolbert explores an idea being promoted by a 2nd District Congressional Democrat John Adams to simplify the tax process that haunts so many on April 15th.

John Adams, a long shot in the Democratic Primary in the 2nd Congressional District and a Little Rock tax attorney, supports a plan that would introduce “The Simple Return.” It is not a new idea, as Adams points out. He drew his ideas largely from Austin Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.

The proposal would have the IRS send taxpayers a completed tax form based on information already being submitted by employers and banks. By some estimates, nearly two-thirds of taxpayers could participate in the simple plan proposal, which could make it easier for those who scramble to find their paperwork every year.

Of course, some have problems with the plan. Read more at this link.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


For political followers, the Republican nominee for Governor – Jim Keet – has launched his official campaign web site. Keet was a late announcement to enter the Governor’s race and has been assembling a campaign organization in the last several weeks.

The web site – – provides more background on Keet, who is a newcomer to younger GOP voters not familiar with his previous years of public service.

Keet’s web site also has some of his positions laid out on economic development, education, crime, health care and government spending.

The site utilizes the latest social media tools for following Keet’s campaign including Facebook and Twitter. You can access the web site at this link.

Keet is the only major party challenger to Democratic incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe, whose web site can be found here.

Friday, March 19, 2010


All of Arkansas’ 8 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) saw a big jump in unemployment rates in January after months of steadiness, slow decreases or marginal gains.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jump in MSA unemployment was pronounced in a year-over-year comparison, but all metro regions of the state saw big jumps from December 2009 to January 2010, too.

While the big jump doesn’t look good, it may not be as bad as it looks, said economist Jeff Collins. He said the numbers likely reflect the reduction of jobs that end after the busy holiday retail period.

“This is not good news, but it’s not unexpected nor does it mean that the local economy is deteriorating faster than the state or national economy,” Collins said.

He added that high jobless rates at the local, state and national level also support his belief that an economic recovery may not result in a hiring recovery.

“Even though output is starting to recover, and we’re seeing that, we’re not seeing that translate into increased hiring, and, quite frankly, hiring lags because they (businesses) are more fully utilizing the labor they have instead of taking the risk of making new hires,” Collins said.

The Arkansas unemployment rate in January was 7.6%. The U.S. unemployment rate in January was 9.7%.

January 2010: 6.8%
January 2009: 5.8%
December 2009: 5.7%

Fort Smith
January 2010: 8.9%
January 2009: 7.7%
December 2009: 7.9%

Hot Springs
January 2010: 8.6%
January 2009: 7.2%
December 2009: 7.5%

January 2010: 8%
January 2009: 6.5%
December 2009: 7%

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
January 2010: 7.4%
January 2009: 5.9%
December 2009: 6.5%

Memphis-West Memphis
January 2010: 11.3%
January 2009: 8.7%
December 2009: 10.3%

Pine Bluff
January 2010: 10.5%
January 2009: 9.4%
December 2009: 9.7%

January 2010: 7.8%
January 2009: 5.8%
December 2009: 6.5%


It’s an easier task to assess the political environment in the 4th Congressional District because, quite frankly, it is represented by incumbent Democratic Cong. Mike Ross.

Ross has been one of the most - if not the most - politically attuned Arkansas lawmaker with his constituents during the past year. He comes home nearly every weekend and not to kick back and relax. Often, he’s working some part of the district’s 29 counties.

When the wheels were falling off the health care debate, Ross became a national public face for the Blue Dog Democrats. He was an early reader of the tea leaves on the controversial cap-and-trade legislation – in large part due to his recognition of how it might impact El Dorado-based Murphy Oil, one of the largest companies in his district.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Ross has sided with his constituents' sentiments in near-perfect lockstep.
  • For the reasons just outlined, The Arkansas Election Line ranks the 4th Congressional District “Safe Democrat.” Ross will have to screw up royally to give a Republican a thread of a chance to knock him out of office.
There are two Republicans who are vying for the nomination to take on that Herculean challenge. Glenn Gallas, a Garland County Republican, has solid roots in the district, particularly the Hot Springs area – a pivotal voting region in the district.

Gallas has strong ties with the TEA Party movement in the district, too. We think this will serve him well in attracting conservative voters to his candidacy.

His challenger is Beth Ann Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas from Magnolia, in the southern part of the 4th District. She brings a lot of district contacts and some name ID to the table from her pageant experience.

More notably, she served in former Gov. Mike Huckabee's administration. His endorsement and political assistance is expected if not already at work. Huckabee has deep roots in several quadrants of the 4th district and this should benefit Rankin.
  • Today, we rate the Republican primary a “Toss Up.”
Neither candidate has made much of a splash in terms of earned media or fundraising. It will be easier to determine a front-runner in this primary after first quarter fundraising reports are made public. Still, their candidacies are long-shots at best.

Jason Tolbert with The Tolbert Report – U.S. Congress, Dist. 4
Blake Rutherford with Blake’s Think Tank – U.S. Congress, Dist. 4

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Arkansas Baptist College is investing $18 million in new facilities and property acquisition for its Little Rock campus.

Financing for the expansion is being provided by First Security Bank with assistance from federal tax credit incentives.

The money will be used for:
  • A new general education building
  • Expansion of the cafeteria from 77 seats to 322 seats
  • A new 190-bed residence hall
  • Purchase of additional properties surrounding the campus to prepare for future growth
  • A community union that will include a coffee shop and lounge-study area, food court, office space, conference room and loft apartment living for students


NanoMech, a Springdale-based designer and manufacturer of nanoparticle coatings and additives, has selected a new CEO.

Successful start-up entrepreneur Keith Blakely has joined the company, which has received several lucrative contracts in the last six months.

Blakely has a history of successfully transforming startup companies into major technology enterprises. He spearheaded development of one of the leading advanced ceramic companies in the U.S. – Advanced Refractory Technologies – building it from a one-person startup to a multi-national operation with multiple manufacturing facilities and over 325 employees.

“I am very pleased to have Keith on board at NanoMech. He has a great track record and I am confident in his ability to lead the company to the next level,” said Jim Phillips, Chairman of the Board at NanoMech. “We are already seeing tremendous interest from world class businesses around the country in partnering with or investing in NanoMech, and Keith’s vast experience just adds to the excitement in what we can accomplish here.”


Arkansas’ statewide home sales fell 1.3% in January 2010 compared to one year ago, although two of the state’s largest counties saw double-digit declines.

The Arkansas Realtors Association reports that overall sales dropped in three of the five largest markets in the state. Pulaski County home sales tumbled 12.5%, while Benton County saw an 11.3% decline and Sebastian County sales dropped 11.1%.

Washington County home sales rose 3.4% and Saline County sales grew by 1.6%.

Average home prices trended higher in January. The average home price in Arkansas rose 2.6% to $139,220.

Analysts suggest that the troubled economy and job insecurity contributed to the mediocre report.


Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District may be the easiest and hardest race to predict in 2010. First, the easy part.

The 3rd District will stay in the GOP column this year. The Arkansas Election Line rates the district as “Safe Republican.”

Barring a major upset in the Republican primary, there are a number of GOP candidates that could beat Democratic nominee David Whitaker based purely on the voter demographics of the district.

Now, the hard part: Which of the 8 GOP Congressional nominees will win the nomination? We’ve talked to a wide variety of contacts and sources in the region and conclude there are several scenarios that could play out.

There is a consensus sentiment that State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers, former State Sen. Gunner DeLay of Fort Smith and Rogers Mayor Steve Womack are the likeliest contenders to make the run-off.

But, a number of spoilers could ultimately re-arrange the finish of the race.

1. Gunner DeLay could lead the ticket into the run-off based on regional candidate appeal. DeLay is the only candidate south of the Bobby Hopper Tunnel, the dividing line between northwest Arkansas and the River Valley.

As much as 25% of the voter turnout in the statewide GOP primary may come from Benton County alone. With 6 of the 8 candidates having some sort of political base in Benton County and adjacent Washington County, there is the possibility that those candidates carve up the votes in such a fashion that DeLay’s Fort Smith regional appeal propels him to the forefront.

However, he’ll face challenges in a run-off as the northwest Arkansas region will coalesce behind his ultimate competitor under that scenario. DeLay has been in this position before when he competed in a run-off against John Boozman in a Congressional special election in 2000.

2. Cecile Bledsoe has several advantages that give her contender status. First, she is the only female in the race. Her appeal with conservative women voters and a strong Republican women’s grassroots network will work in her favor in the primary.

She has the endorsement of former Cong. Asa Hutchinson and she’s using consultants also working with current Cong. John Boozman’s Senate run. The Hutchinson and Boozman connections won’t hurt her. However, Bledsoe was elected to the State Senate unopposed in 2008; she hasn’t had a contested election in nearly a decade.

3. Steve Womack has been the most aggressive campaigner and fundraiser to date. Womack, whose military background and no-tax reputation, positions him as friendly to business and attractive to conservative GOP voters. However, in the past he has espoused anti-immigration rhetoric that would make one large regional employer – Tyson Foods – a bit nervous about his candidacy.

Womack and Bledsoe will compete for some of the same voter base, but there are a lot of votes in the region where they will compete strongest – enough that even with split-voters they could both make a run-off.

Mike Moore is the Boone County Judge, a sizeable population base in the eastern part of the district. Harrison, the county seat, is a GOP haven unattached to Benton and Washington counties where the University of Arkansas, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt dominate.

Moore is well-liked and respected and should do well in his home county. His ability to peel votes from other candidates should not be enough to propel him into a run-off, but he siphons votes from the 3 front-runners, possibly DeLay more than the other two.

Bernie Skoch has been in the race since before Boozman announced his Senate bid. He is a TEA Party activist and enjoys support from the organization in northwest Arkansas. Skoch’s ultra-conservative base is unlikely large enough to gain him a run-off spot, but again, he could slice votes from one of the front-runners who might have appeal to this crowd.

U.S. Senate race – The GOP Senate primary will drive turnout in the 3rd District. Roughly 50% of the total statewide Republican primary vote will come from the 3rd District. The Senate race, with its numerous northwest Arkansas candidates, will definitely boost turnout for the Congressional race. Higher turnout aids the candidates in the two major counties in the district, Benton and Washington.

Voting records – All 3 front-runners have a public record that could be exploited. Bledsoe’s legislative record is strong pro-life, but she did vote for a tobacco tax increase tied to health care expansion (and a satellite medical school campus in northwest Arkansas) in the most recent legislative session. Expect that vote to become an issue. DeLay carried a load of labor legislation in the twilight of his legislative career. Support for labor, a whipping post for conservative voters, could certainly be exploited by DeLay’s opponents. Womack has scores of administrative decisions from his years as Mayor of Rogers. Opposition research will surely dredge up an issue or two from his past.

Money is tight – With competitive Senate primaries, 3 open Congressional seats in Arkansas, and a full slate of statewide constitutional and local offices, the purse strings for political contributions are severely limited in this election cycle. While individual businesspeople are giving money to favorite candidates in the 3rd, corporate donations are adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude. None of the candidates in this primary have the ability to fully self-fund a competitive race.

So with all of that background, The Arkansas Election Line, rates the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary “Toss Up,” although we do see front-runners establishing themselves. This will be one of the most interesting races to watch unfold.

Your thoughts and tips? Send them to

Jason Tolbert with The Tolbert Report – U.S. Congress, District 3
Blake Rutherford with Blake’s Think Tank - U.S. Congress, District 3


Arkansas News Bureau columnist John Brummett writes what all of us in the press are saying privately.

We grow weary of the daily tit-for-tat of press releases from campaign surrogates in the Lincoln v. Halter Democratic primary (other races, too).

Brummett singles out Halter spokesman Bud Jackson and Lincoln spokesman Steve Patterson – the two doing most of the traditional message response for their respective candidates. Says Brummett:

I don’t give a flip-fly what Jackson or Patterson says. I’m interested in what Lincoln and Halter have to say.

So let’s have a debate.

Let’s see if Lincoln and Halter can find time to talk directly to and about each other.

They’ll have to get out of the television studio where they are merely play-acting as self-styled heroes in an ongoing TV series — Halter as a grocery-bagger and Lincoln as one tough lady and the only grown-up in a romper room of wild children.

You can read Brummett’s full column at this link. He was our guest on Talk Business this week, too. Watch the interview here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, follows up with a story from earlier in the week. A court-appointed company operating C. Bean Transport will close the trucking operations, but keep a warehouse operation open.

Ron Fuller, a spokesman for Bell Receivers, issued this statement late Tuesday: “We continue to work diligently for what is best for the employees and their families, the creditors, and the investors. Effective today (Wednesday, March 17th) the company has ceased its over the road operations.

The company will continue to operate the Fort Smith, Arkansas warehouse facility. As the receiver I will be issuing additional statements as needed. I understand how difficult this has been for everyone associated with the company and we sincerely appreciate the cooperation and understanding that has been shown by everyone involved.”

Fuller did not have information available on the number of jobs lost as a result of closing the trucking operation.

You can read more at this link.


The debate regarding Cong. John Boozman’s absence from Tuesday’s GOP Senate forum has been elevated a day after the event.

Today, a Democratic Party of Arkansas official suggested that Boozman’s reason for missing the debate – he was fighting the Democratic health care bill in Washington – doesn’t hold up to public scrutiny.

DPA spokesman Gabe Holmstrom highlighted Boozman’s four public votes in D.C. yesterday, none of which had any connection to the health care debate. Boozman cast votes on four innocuous resolutions regarding the post office, American Red Cross, Vancouver Olympics and a Chinese spiritual movement.

“After looking at the votes John Boozman cast yesterday, it is very clear he was not fighting anything when he voted for each of these resolutions,” said Holmstrom. “Why was Mr. Boozman’s campaign saying one thing in Arkansas while he was doing something else in Washington?”

Holmstrom noted that last night marked the third time Boozman failed to take part in a GOP debate.

“What is he hiding? What is he afraid of?” Holmstrom added.

Boozman campaign spokesman Patrick Creamer tells Talk Business, "Mr. Holmstrom seems very keen on getting Cong. Boozman away from his colleagues in the House in an effort to silence the overwhelming opposition to Obamacare that the people of Arkansas have to it. Apparently, he is in denial of the pressure that his good friends Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid are applying on members of his own party to support this flawed initiative. Cong. Boozman is in Washington to fight their roughshod tactics on behalf of Arkansans. Political posturing from Mr. Holmstrom won’t silence that voice."

Add to the record this video from Boozman’s official Congressional web site. Boozman spoke on the floor of the House yesterday afternoon condemning the “deem and pass” procedure being debated in Washington.

“How in the world do you pass a bill without voting on it?” Boozman asked in a one-minute member speech.

Holmstrom, who attended the GOP forum, responded, “Well, each of the seven candidates last night pledged to do a lot more than give a one minute floor speech at 3 in the afternoon if they were in Congress.”

Creamer told Talk Business a day earlier that Boozman is expected to participate in future debates when “he is not required to be in D.C. representing his constituents, especially with a vote of this magnitude pending before the week’s end.”

On Wednesday, Republican Senate challenger Gilbert Baker’s campaign also responded to Boozman’s absence at the Tuesday forum.

“Interesting to learn the House actually did not have a scheduled vote on health care Tuesday,” said Baker campaign manager Alice Stewart. “Sen. Baker is committed to being in Arkansas, not inside Washington, to discuss the issues with the other U.S. Senate candidates during this campaign. We hope Cong. Boozman will join in the debate soon."


Last Friday, we reported that Conway-based Home Bancshares acquired the assets and deposits of Orlando, Florida-based Old Southern Bank.

Full terms of the FDIC-assisted deal were not disclosed, but local reports provide a few new details.

From CFNews Channel 13, a reporter notes that Old Southern had nearly $380 million in assets and 1,700 accounts. “Centennial paid a one percent premium for each account,” according to the story.

It further stated that with the acquisition, Centennial will top $3 billion in assets.

The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported that as many 300 Old Southern investors lost “nearly $60 million in the bank's demise.”

There had apparently been a boardroom blow-up in the past year as the bank’s financial woes became public.

Also, there was a last-minute attempt to raise about $45 million in capital to satisfy federal regulators and stave off the bank’s closure. For unknown reasons, that effort did not satisfy bank regulators.


Sen. Blanche Lincoln counters Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s Coach with her own Farmer.

Today, Lincoln debuted a new TV ad that plays up the strength of her chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The ad, which you can view here, notes that it took 184 years for an Arkansan to receive the Ag chairmanship. It also states that Lincoln “forced the Department of Agriculture to put 700 Arkansans back to work in the Ouachita and Ozark forests.”

"It took us 184 years to get that chairmanship. I don't know why we'd want to give it up,” asks Lonoke County farmer L.D. Brantley.

We'll see if the ad shores up or improves Lincoln's standing in rural Arkansas. In October 2009, Talk Business polled the issue of the Ag chairmanship for Lincoln. Roughly one-quarter said it would influence their vote, another quarter said it would not. 47% said it made “no difference.”