Leader Blues

Friday, June 09, 2006

TOP STORY >> Conservative vs. moderate in party feud

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Randy Minton rejects the label “ultraconservative” for the Republican Assembly and disputes notion of power struggle in the county party.

The Arkansas Republican Assembly, which has recently asserted itself in Lonoke County by fielding two candidates who—barring a change in Saturday’s recount — un-seated two incumbent Republicans, embraces all the conservative and traditional family values, according to Randy Minton of Cabot.

The ARRA wants to uphold the Consti-tution, promote free-market capitalism and the Bill of Rights, according to Minton, who is a board member.

Minton objects to the characterization of the group as “ultraconservative,” saying it was “mainstream conservative.”
The assembly refers to itself as “The Republican wing of the Re-publican Party.”

Until about 10 years ago, the Lonoke County Quorum Court was strictly the domain of the Democrats. Now all the Cabot-area seats are held by Republicans, who enjoy a one-vote advantage on the court.

But among those Republicans, “some of political principals we be-lieved in were being pushed to the side,” said Minton. That’s why the assembly recruited other Repub-licans to run against Dist. 12 JP Gina Burton and Dist. 13 JP Marty Stumbaugh.

Burton lost her race to newcomer Casey Van Buskirk by only six votes, 115 to 109, and Stumbaugh lost to newcomer Mark Edward 151 to 125.

Both incumbents asked for recounts, which were to have been conducted Saturday.

Stumbaugh says Minton and the others in the Republican Assembly were punishing him for his vote with Democratic JPs on a tax issue nearly two years ago to raise revenues to fix and expand the jail.

“Locally we are concerned about any kind of tax increases, about not being good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” Minton said. “We’re concerned about growth of government and trying to control those type things.”

People should be able to redirect existing taxes, according to Minton. That’s what he and also most of the Republicans on the quorum court tried to do—put a referendum on the ballot to direct more of the county sales tax money to county government, less to the cities.

Stumbaugh voted with the Democrats, who offered a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to fix the jail—a proposal that lost.

Burton said she believed that Minton and the Republican Assem-bly singled her out for replacement because she won the county Repub-lican Party chairmanship and be-cause he was later defeated by a single vote by Prosecutor Lona Mc-Castlain’s deputy, Chuck Graham.

People on Minton’s side claim more moderate Republicans brought in a bunch of ringers to join the party and vote for Graham.

The moderates say they had been recruiting actively for a long time.

Minton said the successful effort to replace Burton with newcomer Casey Van Buskirk was not vindictive, “just a difference in philosophy of governance.”

“In Gina’s case, there were times she voted with the Democrats on the quorum court,” Minton said.

He said there is no schism in the county Republican Party, though he agreed there were factions, like those that might exist on a corporate board of directors.

Minton, who is on the board of the ARRA and is president of the Arkansas chapter of the equally conservative Eagle Forum, says he doesn’t have time to seek the county chairmanship next time.

But he said he wouldn’t rule out other races. State Rep. Susan Schulte, R-Cabot, will be term-limited in 2007 and state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, will be term- limited out of the Senate after four more years.

Glover beat Minton in the 2002 general election.

In theory, Minton could serve two years after Schulte, then run for Glover’s seat.

Minton said the number of contested Republican primaries is an indication of the growth of the party.

“When a party changes from minority part to majority party, you always have people who see the change and want to be on the winning side,” Minton said. “The Republican Assembly wants to make sure that we have people who are elected who believe in conservative principles.”

The assembly is also trying to grow its influence statewide and to make sure that the leadership of state party reflects more closely the conservative values.

As for the victories by Van Buskirk and Edwards, majority of the credit needs to go to those two candidates, door to door, asking for votes, he said. The assembly ran newspaper ads endorsing a slate that included the two, JP Larry Odom and for Cabot mayor, Bill “Pete” Pederson, who lost to Eddie Joe Williams.

They also distributed 3,500 door hangers.

As for President Bush, Minton said the Assembly thinks he’s done a good job on family-value issues like abortion, gay marriage and cutting taxes and fighting terrorism abroad, but not such a good job holding down spending, expansion of federal education budget and dealing with illegal immigration.