Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

TOP STORY >> GOP fights with itself for control

By JOHN HOFHEIMER AND JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Republican Party has sufficiently matured—at least in the Cabot area—to splinter into a more strictly conservative group led by former state Rep. Randy Minton, which is fielding primary candidates against other, less doctrinaire Republicans.

Minton’s group, a local branch of the national and state Republican Assembly, has endorsed a field of candidates that includes challengers to Republican quorum court members Gina Burton and Marty Stumbaugh.

In a full-page ad in the Lonoke County Lincoln Day Dinner program, Minton endorsed a slate of “conservative Republicans,” including incumbent Larry Odom over Cabot Alderman Patrick Hutton, Casey Van Buskirk against Burton, and Mark Edwards against Stumbaugh.

Stumbaugh believes the Republican Assembly targeted him for a primary race opponent because he favored letting residents vote on a new tax to expand and repair the jail instead of redistributing the existing county sales tax at the expense of towns and cities, which depend on that money. Stumbaugh also crossed party lines to vote with Democrats on occasion.
Stumbaugh’s brother Stubby is the Cabot mayor.

Burton said she fell from grace when she refused to vote for a proposed resolution favored by other Republicans, but which she had not had time to read and study.

“Our mission is to strengthen the Republican Party by registering voters, recruiting members, developing party leadership, endorsing candidates and supporting officials who share out beliefs and principles,” according to Patrick Briney, president of the Arkansas Republican Assembly (ARRA). Briney said ARRA is “the Republican wing of the Republican party.”
Republicans are facing off in four quorum court primary races, while Democrats will face off in two primaries.

DISTRICT 2

Jannette Minton of Austin is the Republican incumbent, challenged by one Republican and one Democrat. “I’m a fiscal conservative,” Minton said. “I just want to see the county live within its budget.”

If she is reelected, Minton said she wants to look into buying office supplies in bulk. Now, all the elected department heads have their own budgets and buy their own supplies. If bulk purchasing would save money, it should be considered, she said.
Minton says the Lonoke County Republican Assembly has endorsed her because of her conservative values, not because she is married to Randy Minton. “There are several of us on the quorum court who are conservative, and we hope to keep the conservative momentum going,” she said.

Minton’s Republican challenger, Vincent B. Ables of Buterville, sees similarities between his work for Lockheed Martin at the air base in Jacksonville and the work he hopes to do for the county. “I manage accounts,” Ables said. “What the quorum court does is manage the money that’s divided among the different departments. I’d like to see the county run more efficiently with a little less confrontation. Every time you pick up a newspaper, you read about them fighting,” he said.

“I’m not a fierce political opponent,” he said. “This is my first race, and if I don’t win I might run again in a couple of years. Am I worried about not getting elected? No. If there was somebody out there more qualified I’d vote for them myself.”

The winner will face Larry Ridge-way, a Democrat, in November. Ridgeway, a former quorum court member, lost to Minton in 2004.

DISTRICT 3

Patrick Hutton of Cabot, in his fourth year on the Cabot City Council, says he is running for the quorum court because it is time to move on from the city council and let someone else have a chance.

“I believe in self-imposed term limits,” Hutton said. “There are people out there who could do the job as well as I can, and who knows, in a few years I might be back.”

When the Republicans on the quorum court divide, the split is 5-2, with Alexis Malham, Donna Pedersen, Janette Minton, Larry Odom and Lynne Clark voting against Gina Burton and Marty Stumbaugh. Hutton is Burton’s brother-in-law. Odom, his opponent, has been endorsed by the Lonoke County Republican Assem-bly. Odom, in his 16th year on the quorum court, said his goal if elected to a ninth term is the implementation of the road plan released earlier this year by the county’s long-range transportation plan. “Our community of northern Lonoke County can’t continue to grow if we don’t solve our transportation problems,” Odom said. “The people are going to look elsewhere for homes.”

The county plan includes an additional interchange between the two existing interchanges and a railroad overpass in the vicinity of Richie Road as well as new roads to loop the city.

Much of the plan is long range, but an offer by the county to replace seven one-lane bridges with round culverts for $75,000 instead of the $750,000 the city intended to spend on square culverts has been neither accepted nor turned down by the city council in two months.

“One thing I’d really like to get done is replacing those Mickey Mouse, Model-T bridges on First Street,” Odom said.
Odom, who is endorsed by the Lonoke County Republican Assembly, says he doesn’t represent any special interest group.
“I just try to judge every issue and make a call,” he said.

DISTRICT 12

Burton,, 42, running for her third term, works for the state Depar-tment of Finance and Administration. “We’ve been instrumental in getting the jail issue addressed,” she said. “It’s a Band-Aid. We need to secure funds for it without raising taxes.”

Burton, chairman of the insurance committee, said “We saved $87,000 on insurance last year, and there was no (increase) this year.”

“We think we run on bare bones, but there must be some areas we can tweak. We run efficiently, but we must account for every dollar spent.

She said she’d there was about half a million dollars sitting in the County Library fund that she’d like to see made available for the county to use—if that’s possible.

“We need to readdress the percentages (of the county tax) she said.

She and Odom have gotten crossways she said, because Odom thought she should have voted for a resolution that he vouched for but she hadn’t read. “They felt I should have taken his word about it,” she said. “A prudent elected official reads what they vote on. I vote my conscience,” she said. “Sometimes with Democrats, but I’ve voted many times with Republican values.

Burton’s opponent, Casey Van Buskirk, 32, describes herself as a stay-at-home mom, running for office for the first time.
She has some college education, mostly general education and in sign language. “I think transportation is an issue, especially in Cabot,” she said. She favors a transportation plan promoted and undertaken by Odom and Troutman.

“I’m in support of that, but not increasing taxes. Deciding where the tax dollars go is purpose of the job,” she said.
Van Buskirk said she’s been going door to door, handing out cards and putting the word out. “I’m excited for the opportunity,” she said. “I’m learning more about our government and I feel very patriotic.” The winner between Van Buskirk and Burton will face Democrat Patty Knox in the November general election.

DISTRICT 13

Stumbaugh, 32, a lieutenant with the Cabot Fire Department, is running for his third term. “We’ve seen a lot of change,” said Stumbaugh. “I’m proud what we have done, Republicans and Democrats.

One of battles is space for jail and clerk’s office, he said. “We’re going to be able to remodel what the county has and upgrade the space. It’s going to help us tremendously.”

He said the improved and expanded jail would let the sheriff “Put people where they need to be instead of bonding them out.”

“We’re trying to get as much help as we can with county roads.

“Our budgeting process is not where I would like it to be, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Stumbaugh said he believed that Randy Minton and Lynn Weeks Clarke sought an opponent for him because he didn’t always vote they way they thought he should.

Of his primary opponent, Stum-baugh said, “The only way he’ll beat me is to outwork me.”

That opponent, Mark Edwards, 35, is a loss control engineer for St. Paul Travelers Insurance.

Edwards said this was his first attempt at political office and that ironically, he was encouraged to seek office—not necessarily that office—by Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, his opponent’s brother. “No one had filed as JP in my district,” he said.
He said several people had encouraged him to consider running. “I think there’s some things in the county I’d like to see taken care of. He said in the past year or two, progress had been made on some of them, like the jail problem and traffic problems. “There’s a difference of opinion on how things should be handled,” he said of Cabot-area congestion. He said Stumbaugh didn’t attend enough quorum court meetings. “I believe if someone is elected to perform a certain job, they need to show up.” Edwards said he had been to two quorum court meetings, both since he decided to run. He said he had met with Minton and the Republican Assembly. He and his wife Frances have a 4-year-old daughter.