Arkansas state and Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stu Soffer said Friday that he accepts the legality of a resolution enacted by the Pine Bluff City Council that requests recognized political parties to conduct primary elections for city offices beginning in 2014, but believes that the measure was aimed at Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
Earlier in the week, Soffer said he believed the resolution conflicted with state law but Deputy City Attorney Joe Childers said Friday that research indicated the resolution was valid.
The legislation was adopted in a 5-3 council vote in December 2012, a month after Hollingsworth won a nine-candidate, non-partisan mayoral race without a runoff. Then Alderwoman Irene Holcomb — who favored the measure along with Aldermen Charles Boyd, Glen Brown and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker — said at the time that the resolution was not pointed at Hollingsworth and was only representative of the “personal preferences” of its proponents.
On Friday, Soffer called Holcomb’s stance “unbelievable.”
Soffer added that the resolution’s supporters, who also co-sponsored the measure, had been “content” with non-partisan municipal elections until Hollingsworth “cleaned their clocks.”
Soffer, who believes Holcomb and her allies identify Hollingsworth as a Republican, said the legislation illustrates the local Democrats’ desire to discourage increased political participation.
Holcomb said Thursday that she is receptive of Soffer’s views, even if they don’t correspond with hers.
“Differences of opinion make this country the world’s greatest democracy,” she said. “County, state and national elections are partisan, and local elections can also be partisan. The Constitution provides the privilege for any legislative body to craft and pass laws that can muster the challenge of anyone opposing them.”
Ted Davis, chairman of the county election commission and head of the county’s Democratic Party, said Friday that although he respects Soffer’s “knowledge and experience” as a long-time election official, Soffer is not the commission’s spokesman.
Davis served as chief aide to former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., who lost a re-election bid against Hollingsworth. Walker was also an unsuccessful mayoral candidate, as was Alderman Steven Mays. Mays joined Aldermen Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly in opposing the resolution, which is non-binding.
Soffer said Friday that he had not been speaking on behalf of the commission, but rather as its Republican member and as a leader of the county GOP.
Soffer said that as a commissioner, however, he serves everyone regardless of their political affiliations.
“I will continue to look out for the voters of Jefferson County,” he said. “This resolution just didn’t pass my smell test.”
He added that “Republican lawyers” are surveying the legislation and may consider some sort of action.
“But there’s no big hurry,” he said.