LITTLE ROCK — One statewide race is on Tuesday’s ballot, a Republican primary runoff between two candidates for attorney general.
Also being decided Tuesday are runoffs in a Republican state Senate primary in northern Arkansas and a Democratic state House primary in the Pine Bluff area.
Turnout is expected to be low for the runoff election. Secretary of State Mark Martin has predicted that 71,200 of the state’s 1.6 million registered voters will cast ballots, or 40 percent of the number who voted in the Republican primary in May. The Republican Party had a much longer ballot in May than the Democratic Party.
Two Little Rock lawyers, Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling, are vying for the Republican nomination for attorney general. The winner will face Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash in November.
Rutledge, 37, has served as a judicial law clerk, a Lonoke County deputy prosecutor, counsel for Mike Huckabee when he was Arkansas governor and in his 2008 presidential bid, an attorney for the state Department of Human Services, deputy counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and counsel for the Republican National Committee.
She now is in private practice, focusing on administrative law, state and local government and election law.
Sterling, 45, is a former assistant city manager of Hope who has been in private practice for the past 15 years. He specializes in business, commercial and contract law.
Rutledge received 47 percent of the vote in the May 20 primary, and Sterling received 39 percent. The third candidate, Patricia Nation, received 14 percent and later endorsed Rutledge.
Rutledge and Sterling both say they want to defend Arkansas from an overreaching federal government. Both are pro-life and both support the death penalty.
Sterling has advocated bringing back the electric chair for executions until Arkansas resolves issues surrounding lethal injections. Rutledge opposes using the electric chair.
Rutledge has been targeted by advertising from an out-of-state group, the Judicial Crisis Network, that criticizes her for not advocating a “Stand Your Ground” law. Sterling has said that as attorney general his legislative agenda would include a Stand Your Ground law; Rutledge has said she does not have a legislative agenda but is a strong supporter of gun rights and self-defense rights.
Rutledge has criticized Sterling for having represented Cupid’s Lingerie, an Arkansas-based seller of adult novelty items, and for having accepted a $2,000 campaign contribution from Ace Cash Express, a Texas-based payday lender.
Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel ordered payday lenders to stop doing business in Arkansas in 2008.
“To me that (contribution) is of grave concern,” Rutledge said. “The exact role of the attorney general is to protect Arkansans from predatory businesses such as payday lenders.”
Sterling said he represented Cupid’s in a breach-of-contract case and said he believes everyone has a right to an attorney. He called Rutledge’s criticism regarding Ace Cash Express “a red herring.”
“She’s making a charge that I’m accepting money from a payday lender who doesn’t even do payday lending in the state of Arkansas because she’s desperate to divert attention from the fact that she’s run this whole campaign as a lifelong Republican, and yet recently we see revelations that she’s been voting at Democrat primaries in five recent elections and donated money to the Democrat Party of Arkansas,” he said.
Rutledge said she voted in Democratic primaries when no Republican candidates ran in local races. She said that what the Democratic Party reported as a contribution from her was her purchase of a ticket to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s 2007 inaugural ball, an event which a number of Republicans attended.
Both candidates claim to have superior experience. Rutledge said she is “the only one with experience fighting crime, the only one with experience fighting the overreaching federal government.”
She said her experience fighting the federal government includes working with the Republican National Committee to develop legal strategies on issues such as health care, campaign finance and voting rights.
Sterling said he has more courtroom experience and is the only candidate to have federal court experience.
“The AG’s office is essentially Arkansas’ largest law firm, and I think that the voters want a serious and responsible and experienced attorney leading that law firm,” he said.
In state Senate District 17, which includes parts of Baxter, Boone and Marion counties, state Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, and Bull Shoals businessman Scott Flippo are in a runoff for the seat now held by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home. No Democrat filed for the office.
The outcome of the race could have implications for the so-called private option, the state program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. Burris was an architect of the program and is one of its foremost advocates; Flippo opposes it.
In state House District 16, which includes parts of Jefferson and Lincoln counties, state Workforce Investment Director Ken Ferguson and real estate agent Win Trafford, both of Pine Bluff, are in a runoff for the seat now held by Rep. James Word, D-Pine Bluff. No Republican filed for the office.