Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TOP STORY >> Race for Congress starts

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Citing health problems, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Gillett), who has represented the First District since 1997, announced Monday morning that he will not run for re-election.

Another Democrat, Second District Rep. Vic Snyder of Little Rock, also announced recently he would not seek re-election this fall.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who has been a frequent visitor to Berry’s Washington office in the past three years trying to get money for various projects in the city, says the congressman has been very helpful.

The new railroad overpass in Cabot is supposed to be the first step toward building a north interchange. Williams said Berry promised him the interchange would be started before he leaves office, and if all goes as planned it will be.

Williams said Tuesday that $1.1 million for right-of-way acquisition and engineering for the north interchange is “in the pipeline” and should be appropriated in February.

Berry was also instrumental in getting the $10 million to build a National Guard armory in Cabot and in getting a contract post office across the railroad tracks on Main Street.

Although Berry said his staff got the official word on his retirement at 4 p.m. Sunday, a list of possible candidates was posted online before then.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Davy Carter has already quashed rumors that he will run. Carter, a banker in Cabot, grew up on a farm in Lee County and has strong ties there, which could have made him a viable candidate in the district that has not elected a Republican since 1875.

But he said in a written statement Monday afternoon that his other commitments would not allow him to run.

“I will not be entering the 2010 race for Congress. Although I sincerely appreciate the encouragement, I am committed to my role at Home Bancshares (Centennial Bank), raising my young children, and serving my constituents in the Arkansas House of Representatives,” Carter wrote.

Former Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, who ran against Berry in 2006, said Tuesday that he had received about 150 calls about running again but he is not running. His commitment is to Cabot.

“I’m running for mayor,” Stumbaugh said. “I appreciate Marion for the work he has done for our district but I think he is a wise man to step down.”

On the Democratic side, Chad Causey, Berry’s chief of staff, has confirmed that he is definitely considering a race for his boss’ job.

“I have prayed about this and continue to discuss it with family and friends,” Causey said Tuesday.

Causey, from Jonesboro, has worked for Berry for nine years, the last four as chief of staff.

“I know how to avoid the potholes,” he said of his experience in Washington.

During a press conference, in which he refused to elaborate on his ailments, Berry, 67, said he wasn’t leaving because he thought he couldn’t win. Polls showed he was well ahead. Neither was he leaving because of frustration with President Barack Obama over health-care reform and climate change legislation, issues for which he has criticized the president.

“All White Houses are frustrating for Congress, and it doesn’t matter who the president is,” Berry said, adding he has been frustrated with Obama, but he was more so with President George W. Bush.

Berry, a pharmacist by training and a farmer by heritage, said by following his doctor’s orders he will be able to complete this term in office, but that spending his youth working with a shovel had taken a toll on his health.

Gabe Holmstrom, the Cabot native who is now working to get Sen. Blanche Lincoln re-elected, called Berry a mentor. Holmstrom was Berry’s campaign manager in 2006, and he also worked for Berry in Washington.

“Right out of college, I put 90,000 miles on a car with him riding shotgun,” Holmstrom said. “I learned more from that experience than from any college course. I’ll always be in his debt.”

Accolades and best wishes for the congressman followed close on the heels of the announcement that he would not run for an eighth term.

“I want to thank Marion Berry for his outstanding leadership and service to the First District of Arkansas. His many accomplishments will stand as a testament to his dedication to the working families he represents,” wrote Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

McDaniel, a Democrat, has also said he will not run.

Other possible Democratic candidates are former state Rep. Scott Ferguson of West Memphis; Sen. Steve Bryles of Blytheville; former Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro; Rep. Keith Ingram of West Memphis; state Treasurer Martha Shoffner; former Sen. Henry Boyce; Prosecuting Attorney Tim Wooldridge of Newport.

Also former Democratic Party chairman Jason Willett,; Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould; former House Speaker Benny Petrus of Stuttgart; former Sen. Kevin Smith of Hot Springs; former Rep. Chris Thyer of Jonesboro; Rep. David Dunn of Forrest City, and former Rep. Becky Lynn of Heber Springs.

Possible Republican candidates include Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home; former Cong. Tommy Robinson of Brinkley; GOP congressional staffer and Wynne native Princella Smith; former Rep. Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, and Woody Freeman of Jonesboro, former GOP candidate for governor.

Rick Crawford, a farmer and agriculture reporter from Jonesboro, announced in August that he would run.

Berry is known for his support of farmers. He said during the Monday news conference that he was proud of the 2002 farm bill and disappointed with the 2008 farm bill.

He said he regretted his vote to allow the president to send troops into Iraq and his vote for the first Patriot Act.

He is disappointed that his attempts over the past 13 years to lower the cost of prescription drugs have failed.

To help agriculture, he said attitudes about trade agreements need to be reassessed. He called the embargo against Cuba “foolish.”