Arkansas Set To Exit SEC Primary After Senate Defeat, Second Try Promised

Jan 27, 2017

State Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) presenting his bill on the Senate floor.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An effort to keep Arkansas’s election primary in early March rather than late May faced a bi-partisan defeat in the state Senate. A bill to keep the earlier date, part of a so-called SEC Primary, was shot down on Thursday but its sponsor plans to bring it back up next week.

Senator Garry Stubblefield, a Republican from Branch in northwest Arkansas, argued the earlier date made the state more relevant in the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m not saying drawing that attention is the most important thing. But at least our votes collectively with these other states did make a difference and it brought candidates here who probably would not have come here,” Stubblefield said on the Senate floor. “It did give Arkansas some relevance."

Democratic Minority Leader of Keith Ingram of West Memphis argued it would lead to year-long campaigns for the state Legislature and other state offices.

State Sen. Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis).
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

“We have just gotten through with a major election and in less than a year we’re going to be hitting our voters up to get back involved in campaigns," said Ingram. "Let’s give the voters a break."

The senator from the banks of the Mississippi River proceeded to make an appeal to conservatives from northwest Arkansas in the chamber.

“Just a hypothetical, that we had a Constitutional officer [candidate] that was from northwest Arkansas and we had a Constitutional officer [candidate] that might reside in Pulaski County. And in northwest Arkansas we get a massive ice storm and the candidate can’t get his votes out. That would influence this election,” said Ingram.

The bill was defeated by the narrowest of margins, just one more ‘yes’ vote would have flipped the result and kept the March primary date in place. The body approved a motion to allow Stubblefield to bring the bill back up for debate later this session.

A GOP-split between a row crop farmer and a dairy farmer also emerged. Sen. Blake Johnson of Corning said the March date presents a barrier to office seekers who work in agriculture, “it puts a burden on what I do for a living, for real.”

Senator Stubblefield, a dairy farmer, said his agricultural work “may even be more intensive” and said it’s a matter of running for the right reasons despite potential hardship.

Stubblefield told reporters he may try again next week. It failed to gain a majority of the 35 member chamber on a 17-13 vote. Several members didn’t vote, voted present, or were absent.