LITTLE ROCK — Campaigning across Arkansas’ sweeping 1st and 4th congressional districts in advance of Tuesday’s primary runoff may be grueling for the candidates, but it’s even worse on the state’s wildlife.
“Three deer (have been) killed with this red car we’re traveling in,” said 4th District candidate state Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann. “One at Crossett, one at Fordyce and one in the city limits of Murfreesboro.”
Run-ins with deer can happen when you have as much ground to cover as the candidates competing for the Democratic nominations in the 1st and 4th districts.
Both districts were greatly expanded during last year’s redistricting because of population increases in Central and Northwest Arkansas and population decreases in South and East Arkansas. All four campaigns have the same theme: bringing jobs to Arkansas.
In the 1st District, Jonesboro Prosecutor Scott Ellington and state Rep. Clark Hall of Marvell are competing for the Democratic nomination and the chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
Ellington, who filed to run on the last day of the filing period, surprised many by capturing 49.5 percent of the vote in the May 22 three-way Democratic primary, almost avoiding the need for a runoff.
Ellington, 48, is known for brokering a plea deal that freed three men convicted in the 1993 deaths of three West Memphis second-graders. Hall, 64, a third-term state House member and former Marvell mayor, is known for authoring the congressional redistricting map the Legislature approved last year, which included the new boundaries of the district he now seeks to represent.
Ellington was asked last week what he would do to create jobs.
“One of the ideas I have about jobs is to actually marry, try to fund, research and development and job training with two-year colleges up and down the 1st district, so we could marry businesses with those and provide training and prepare a workforce for just that type of an industry that would be coming in and try to court an industry to come in,” he said.
Ellington said Mississippi’s two-year schools teach robotics, which helped that state land an auto dealership that Arkansas had pursued.
“We were not reaching robotics, so we didn’t have a prepared workforce,” he said.
Hall said the 1st District was redrawn to put eastern Arkansas into play as a unified, agriculturally oriented entity, and as congressman he would take advantage of that opportunity to create jobs.
“We’re going to be able to move our agriculture industry to a next level of opportunities for not just our agricultural but those industries that feed off of agriculture,” he said. “And we need to look at a regional approach — it’s not just Jonesboro or Mountain Home or Lonoke, it’s the fact that we can regionally create the secondary jobs.”
Ellington said he believes is the better candidate to take on Crawford because, like Crawford, he lives in Jonesboro.
“I think I can at least position the Democratic Party on common ground as far as location goes, and then we’ll duke it out over issues,” he said.
Hall said he is the better candidate to take on Crawford because of his experience in government.
“I am the only candidate, including Rick Crawford, that’s ever had to balance budgets, both a city’s and the state’s,” he said. “I’m the only one who’s ever created jobs and economic opportunities for the citizens at large. I am the only one who has had the experience of moving legislation through a hostile environment. On-the-job training is not what we need in this country right now.”
In the 4th District, Hot Springs lawyer and business owner Q. Byrum Hurst and state Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann are in a runoff for the Democratic nomination and the chance to take on the Republican nominee, Tom Cotton of Dardanelle. There is no incumbent in the race because U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, chose not to seek re-election.
Jeffress, 63, a retired teacher who has been in the state Senate since 2003 and previously served two terms in the House, received the most votes in the three-way Democratic primary with 43 percent. Hurst, also 63, received 35.7 percent.
Hurst said he would create jobs by giving tax incentives to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“We need to recognize that the engine of our economy is small business, and instead of continuing to give tax advantages and tax breaks to the larger corporations, we need to shift that downward,” he said.
Jeffress said that as congressman he would work to improve education so that Arkansans are prepared to take high-paying jobs.
“I live in an industrial area that has an industrial park that’s got thousands and thousands of people at work, and you’ve got to have a good education to work there,” he said. “There are people coming in to Camden, Arkansas, from other countries taking jobs because we don’t have people to work there in the defense plants, like at Lockheed Martin. … We’ve got to have folks that are educated in the right fields to do those jobs.”
Jeffress said he did yet know exactly what he would do in Congress to improve education, but “you’re not going to have someone that’s in some other area be as supportive, I don’t think, as Gene Jeffress. … That’s been my life.”
Hurst said his experience makes him the best candidate to face off with Cotton in November.
“I think my law degree gives me an advantage in being able to interpret laws, and it gives me an advantage in that I have been a trial lawyer for 38 years,” Hurst said. “I have learned the skills of negotiation, I have participated in mediation and I understand not only law but how you get things done with other people.”
Hurst also said that running his business, which finds people jobs as caregivers to the elderly, has taught him about the needs of seniors.
Jeffress also named experience as the reason he should be the one to take on Cotton.
“I’ve had the experiences of a legislator, I’ve had the experiences of an educator,” he said. “(Hurst) will tell you that being a lawyer is the best experience, but I’ve got news for him: It’s not. He calls me a career politician; it’s not a career politician when you’ve taught school for 28 years and drove a yellow school bus for 27 of them.”
Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for the runoff election.
Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.