A new governor will work with a 37% new Senate | Steve Brawner

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Steve Brawner
Steve Brawner

Arkansas’ new governor next year will be working with a Senate where many of the faces will be new, and many of the most recognizable ones will be gone.

At least 13 of the 35 senators won’t be returning after two incumbents lost in their Republican runoffs Tuesday, and after two other incumbents earlier had been defeated in their primary races.

There won’t be much change after the November elections. The real danger for most incumbents is in the primaries.

In Senate District 28, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, was defeated by former Sen. Bryan King in a rematch of their race four years earlier, when Ballinger ousted King from his seat. King faces Democrat Jim Wallace in November. In District 22, Sen. James Sturch, R-Batesville, was defeated by Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn.

Ballinger, a jovial conservative culture warrior, has been one of the more visible senators in recent years, while King was well-known as a conservative Republican senator who often didn’t get along with his own party. Sturch is less conservative and populist than Payton and less of a fit during the Trump-era, which is a big reason he lost.

Two other incumbent senators had already been ousted in the Republican primary elections May 24. Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, lost to Matt McKee. He faces Democrat Cortney McKee in November. The two are not related but are well acquainted after she unsuccessfully opposed him twice for the Garland County Quorum Court. First-term Sen. Charles Beckham, R-McNeil, lost to Magnolia alderman Steve Crowell.

In addition to the four incumbents who lost, nine other senators won’t return because they didn’t run for reelection, ran unsuccessfully for another office, or are term-limited.

Among those are Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who led the charge in passing Arkansas’ pro-life legislation and also sponsored the legislation installing the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol. He ran for lieutenant governor but was steamrolled, like the four other male candidates, by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Also not returning will be Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, who did not run for reelection. Hendren, who is Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew, was a leading Republican who served as the Senate president pro tempore. After the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, he announced he had become an independent and formed Common Ground Arkansas to elect less partisan candidates.

One of Hendren’s political adversaries also did not run for reelection. Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, is a strong supporter of former President Trump who relishes political combat and is often highly critical of Hutchinson. His father-in-law, Republican Matt Stone, faces Democrat Garry Smith in the race to succeed him.

The most visible Democrat leaving office will be Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, an outspoken liberal who ran twice unsuccessfully for Congress and is term-limited. Also term-limited is another Democrat, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, who usually votes with Republicans. A third Democrat, Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, did not run for reelection.

Also leaving office are Sen. Cecille Bledsoe, R-Rogers, who is term-limited; Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer; and Sen. Colby Fulfer, R-Springdale, who was elected in February to fill a vacated seat and did not run for reelection.

The Senate in recent years has been not dysfunctional, but definitely has been disagreeable. What will it be like now that it will be at least 37% different? It will depend on many factors, some emanating outside Arkansas. The Legislature is a reflection of the larger political climate. At the least, it might take some time for personalities to clash. Some of the biggest ones are leaving, but big ones are coming in, too.

Much will depend on how the new governor – we know it probably will be Sarah Huckabee Sanders – governs. After Hutchinson was elected, the Legislature largely followed his lead and passed what he wanted it to. Sanders could have that same kind of power, if she chooses to use it and is able.

Also unknown is how new lawmakers will govern once they enter office. Sometimes people’s stances on particular issues change – not necessarily because they’re hypocrites, but because they learn new information and have new experiences.

We’ll know a little more in November after the general election, and a lot more starting next January when lots of new faces start convening.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: A new governor will work with a 37% new Senate | Steve Brawner