Four candidates contest special Republican primary for state Senate District 7 race
SPRINGDALE — The special election in state Senate District 7 drew a half-dozen candidates. Four of the six are in the Republican primary where early voting begins Tuesday.
The four Republicans, in alphabetical order, are: Jim Bob Duggar of Tontitown; Colby Fulfer of Springdale; Robert “Edge” Nowlin of Fayetteville; and Steve Unger of Springdale
District 7 opened when Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, resigned Oct. 28 to take a lobbying job. This leaves the district with a vacancy for the rest of Eads’ four-year term, which began after his unopposed reelection in 2020.
The Arkansas Constitution requires the governor to call a special election to fill legislative vacancies. Gov. Asa Hutchinson picked Dec. 14 as primary election day in this race with the general election Feb. 8. A runoff primary, if needed, is set for Jan. 11. Anyone who votes in the Democratic primary won’t be eligible to vote in a Republican primary runoff.
Jim Bob Duggar
Duggar began seriously considering another race after a failed Senate vote regarding exemptions to vaccine mandates, he said. Duggar said there was a bill earlier this year exempting workers from employer requirements to get vaccinated against covid-19 if they already had natural immunity from having had the disease. However, the bill needed an emergency clause approved to take effect in time to forestall such an employer mandate. Emergency clauses allow a bill to take immediate effect. Such a clause require a two-thirds vote, 24 votes in the 35-member Senate.
The emergency clause vote fell short in part because Eads did not vote for it, Duggar said. Yet the people of District 7 support such a bill, he said. Legislative records show Eads voted against an emergency clause on Senate Bill 739 of 2021 once. He changed his vote on another attempt to pass the clause, but it still failed.
“This is big business bullying their workers,” Duggar said. The Senate vote happened during a special legislative session in October. Then Eads resigned Oct. 28. Duggar announced for office the next day.
There are numerous other issues that already were making him think of running for office again, Duggar said. Those include the rights of parents to make their own decisions about their children’s education and health care. He would also like to ban the pill that induces an abortion and pass legislation similar to the bill in Texas that allows clinic providing a abortion to be sued.
Duggar would like to continue his efforts, picking up where he left off as a state representative, to reduce and ultimately eliminate the sales tax on used cars that cost $10,000 or less. Poor Arkansans could barely afford state sales taxes on cars before recent supply shortages drove prices up, he said.
“I think there are two kinds of politicians: those that cause problems and those that solve problems,” Fulfer said. “I consider myself a principled conservative problem-solver.
“I think people who know me would say I’m a principled conservative who can find a solution consistent with those principles that other people can agree with,” Fulfer said. Lawmakers have concentrated too much on issues that divide them and that they can fight over rather than problems they can all work to solve, he said.
Working with city finances both when he was a Springdale City Council member and then as chief of staff for the city would be valuable experience for any legislator, Fulfer said. The city is in a strong financial position because of the attention he brought to city spending, he said.
“Sales tax collections have been great, but you have to pay attention to spending,” he said.
His previous experience as a small businessman left him with an appreciation of how tough the covid-19 pandemic has been on such businesses — a situation often made worse instead of better by government mandates on closures, social distancing and other such safeguards, he said. The biggest problem with those safeguards is how they were changed so often and inconsistently, he said.
The crisis of the pandemic overshadowed another crisis going on at the same time, Fulfer said: opioid abuse.
“Yes, it was a crisis, but the response to it was knee-jerk,” he said. “My mother was getting cancer treatment and all she was given for pain was Tylenol because people were afraid of being accused of over-medicating.
“I understand it when people say we should follow the science, but the first step in the scientific method is observation,” Fulfer said regarding both covid and opioid abuse. “You have to observe effects of what you’re doing,” instead of over-relying on lab research, he said.
Robert “Edge” Nowlin
Nowlin moved to Northwest Arkansas in 1990, an early arrival in one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States. The migration of creative, independent people to this region should be encouraged to both continue and to spread to the rest of Arkansas, he said.
“We’re all family here,” Nowlin said. “That adds a sense of peace and makes it a good place to live.
“You have to attract the right kinds of jobs, professional jobs where people can work from home if they want to,” he said. “That has positive effects on families and on liberty.” Such jobs are mainly in technology, he said.
“Having families at home is almost like getting back to the agrarian society that built this country,” Nowlin said.
Laws that foster growth in skilled, independent professionals could include a tax deduction for contributions to someone else’s college education, Nowlin said. Someone who spots talent in a young person — whether they are related or not — should be encouraged to contribute to that young person’s college or technical education, he said. The state should also provide more opportunity for technical education for those already living here, he said.
The Legislature should also do whatever it can to protect basic freedoms such as freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the right to bear arms, Nowlin said. The federal government too often encroaches on those freedoms, he said. The states are supposed to be a check and balance against that, he said. This is what the nation’s founders intended, he said.
“We do a fairly decent job on roads, but I-49 needs to be extended,” Nowlin said. When complete, this interstate highway running through Northwest Arkansas will link Kansas City, Mo. to New Orleans, La.
If the state models its economic development after what is already happening in Northwest Arkansas, the whole state will benefit, Nowlin said, and Northwest Arkansas’ way of life will be protected.
Unger describes himself as a “platform Republican,” someone who will stand firm on core issues such as civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, but who will work with others to solve problems and mind the public’s business.
One issue of particular importance to District 7 and to the rest of Northwest Arkansas is the Eco-Vista Landfill in Tontitown, Unger said. The region is dependent upon this one landfill, yet its useful life cannot be extended forever.
“We should have started working on an alternative 10 years ago,” he said. “We are going to grow and this is not sustainable.”
Prison reform is an issue the state needs to tackle much more effectively, Unger said. In particular ,prisoners need job options when they get out.
“Now they’re going right back to the environments they came from,” he said.
Unger became a chaplain during his career in the U.S. Navy. He volunteered to become a brig chaplain — the navy’s equivalent to a prison pastor — when no one else wanted the assignment, he said.
“Our prison system is like an old house that doesn’t need to be torn down, but it definitely needs some repairs and some additions to it,” he said.
Inmates are not the only ones who need more job opportunities, he said. Greater technical education opportunities are needed for all Arkansans, he said. Unger said he saw raw recruits enter the Navy “who slept through high school” became jet engine mechanics before they left.
“It changed their lives,” he said. They went into high-paying civilian jobs, he said. “I’ve been in countries where people have lost their civil liberties, where they can’t criticize their government, peacefully assemble or bear arms,” Unger said. But protecting liberty does not require constant fighting in the Legislature, he said.
“I believe the people here are sick of political fighting and would like to see some leadership and for their government to work,” Unger said.
This special election is not affected by the recent redrawing of legislative district boundaries. Those boundaries will apply to the 2022 general election. Legislative district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after each U.S. census to equalize district populations.
The existing boundaries of Senate District 7 includes most of Springdale and Johnson plus southern Tontitown, all of Goshen and Elkins and eastern bits of Fayetteville. The district stretches to the eastern border of Washington County and touches both the southern and northern county lines.
The state has 35 senate districts.
State senators serve a four-year term and receive a base salary of $42,428. They also receive per diem and reimbursement for expenses.
Early voting in the special election for state Senate District 7 begins Tuesday in the County Clerk’s office in Suite 300 of the Washington County Courthouse, 280 N College Ave in Fayetteville. Early voting with continue through Monday, Dec. 13 but not on Saturday or Sunday. Office hours for early voting are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Election day is Tuesday, Dec. 14.
Source: Washington County Election Commission