Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Ted Harden believes his experience with county government makes him the right choice to serve as county judge.
Harden, a Republican, is seeking to replace County Judge Mike Holcomb, who is seeking a seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
Harden is opposed by former Democrat Dutch King, a former Pine Bluff mayor.
“When Mike Holcomb decided not to run, he and I visited with each other, and I believe we need continuity in the seat,” Harden said. “County Judge is a multifaceted position because the county judge is really the CEO (chief executive officer) of the county.”
A 16-year member of the Quorum Court, Harden is currently chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and also serves on the Finance, Community Development and Grants and Education committees. He is a member of the Finance and Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee of the National Association of Counties.
“My service on the Quorum Court prepared me for the next step and that’s county judge,” Harden said.
“This county has had a $29 million budget and the work never stops,” Harden said. “There are actually several different budgets we have to deal with and I’ve been part of the approval process for those budgets.”
He said Jefferson County has 972 miles of county roads, as well as an additional 30 miles that are not owned by the county but maintained by the county.
“The judge is actually directly responsible for seeing that those roads are maintained,” Harden said.
He said if elected, one of his priorities would be to revise the budget process, and “make it more realistic.”
“Every year, we end up having to do supplemental appropriations and some of them start right after the first of the year,” Harden said. “Last year we had $900,000 in supplemental appropriations so we need to come up with something we can live with, even if we have to bite the bullet the first year.”
Another priority if elected would be to convene what Harden called a “quasi-summit” on economic development, which would include mayors of cities and towns in the county, educators, the chairman of the Tax Board, and others.
“We need to be a positive force in revitalization and to do that, we need a strategy, a plan to attract industry, and a work force that is available and trained for that industry,” Harden said. “If we can spawn growth, we can increase the tax base and make life better for everybody in the county.”
He said public safety would also be a priority for him if he is elected, as would be assisting all areas of the county with road repairs.
“We’ve got some roads that are impassible right now and I want to work on that,” Harden said.
Even though Harden is one of only two Republicans on the Quorum Court, he said his political affiliation has not been a concern, and the same would hold true if he were elected.
“It’s all about doing what’s best for Jefferson County,” Harden said. “The voters are going to look for the best qualified person, a person who knows what’s going on, and I’ve been a part of the process for 16 years.”
In addition to running for county judge, Harden is unopposed for another two-year term on the Quorum Court, and has said he would resign from that position if elected county judge.