As the Democratic primary to nominate the replacement for Congressman Mike Ross unfolds, it appears that none of the three Democratic candidates comes close to filling his large shoes.
However, the fundraising reports reveal that Hot Springs attorney Q. Byrum Hurst has the most backing of those willing to donate money. But the more we learn about his background, the more you have to wonder why.
Hurst reported raising over $100,000 in the first month of his campaign. His opponents – State Sen. Gene Jeffress and conservative Democrat DC Morrison – did not even raise one- tenth of that.
But there are things emerging in Hurst’s past that should make Democratic voters think twice about making him their nominee.
For starters, the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct sanctioned Hurst 10 times from 1983 through 2009. The list includes five reprimands and five cautions, with the most recent including a $25,000 fine.
The sanctions are for a range of professional rules violations but mainly revolve around former clients of Hurst who believe he mishandled their case in some way.
When asked about this by a Little Rock reporter, Hurst dismissed the sanctions as “just a part of practicing law.” Of course, that is absurd. An attorney, particularly a small office trial lawyer, might get hit with one or two sanctions during his or her career, but 10 is a troubling pattern.
And it seems this pattern is not limited to only his professional life. Last week the Hot Springs newspaper reported that Chambers Bank filed a notice of foreclosure on property owned by Hurst. The filing claimed Hurst has defaulted on a $100,000 mortgage on property in Hot Springs, owing $65,973.69 in principal and about $1,500 in late fees and unpaid interest.
In a statement to the local paper, Hurst denied that he is behind on payments. His campaign went even further, claiming this was “another example of a financially troubled bank wrongfully foreclosing on an individual and making it harder on every future property owner or person in need of a loan.”
The campaign also implied the bank president was playing politics with the loan, pointing out that he contributed to Republican 4th District candidate Tom Cotton’s campaign.
Digging into the foreclosure documents a bit deeper, I discovered that the foreclosure might be the tip of the iceberg. It seems Hurst also has some tax problems.
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration filed a notice as part of the foreclosure of a tax lien against Hurst to the tune of $10,050 for failure to pay state income taxes. The DF&A file also included a garnishment for a bank account that showed the lien involves back state income taxes from 2002.
There’s more. A separate foreclosure filing, which since has been resolved, tipped me that Hurst has some problems paying his Garland County property taxes on time. Just last week, Hurst cleared his overdue property tax bill by paying more than $4,000 in delinquent taxes for 2009 and 2010, including almost $700 in interest and penalties.
I say cleared, although it appears a business interest of Hurst still owes more than $3,800 in taxes that were due last year. It was the foreclosure filing from the mortgage holder of that property that pointed me toward the problem. The mortgage holder had to pony up the property taxes for 2008 and 2009 because they were not paid on time.
A representative of Hurst’s campaign said nobody wants to comment on the allegations.
If the Democratic establishment was looking for someone with the ability to raise cash against well-funded Republicans in the 4th District, it appears Hurst was their man. Jeffress is running a grassroots campaign and has shown no interest in raising money. Morrison endorsed the Republican candidate in the last election.
Whether Hurst was recruited by party regulars or decided on his own to make the race, it’s clear that if he’s the nominee, the party will have to deal the the baggage that accompanies him.
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Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.