A Democrat has launched an exploratory committee for the race for central Arkansas’s congressional seat which has been held by a Republican since 2011. Paul Spencer, a 50-year old pecan farmer, beekeeper, and long-time teacher at Catholic High School filed paperwork Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the election. Republican U.S. Representative French Hill is in his second term.
Spencer's been active in ballot drives and efforts to curtail corporate influence in politics for several years. He said he's looking at running to put regular people back at the table.
"There is a special group of people. Generally, corporations and corporate people and the donor class with names like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Club for Growth, and Wells Fargo are typically getting the most representation," he said. "We don't get near the representation as these special interests and corporate persons. Often times all that's left is a very, little bit and that's what the average Arkansan gets."
Republican U.S. Representative French Hill, a former banker, sits on the House Financial Services Committee. Spencer is generally in favor of banking regulations like Dodd-Frank passed after the 2009 financial collapse. Congressman Hill wants to peel back many of its provisions and has called it a "wet blanket" on the economy.
Spencer would like to see some changes to the Affordable Care Act but unlike Rep. Hill he thinks it's an improvement over the nation's prior healthcare system.
"Prior to the Affordable Care Act," said Spencer, "we had very little." He continued, "We had tens of millions of people who were entirely uninsured. That step albeit somewhat of a weak step, that was a step forward going from very little social safety net to at least a modicum of a social safety net."
Rep. Hill has supported the repeal of the ACA and backed the latest U.S. House backed replacement plan. He generally favors an approach tied to the private insurance industry while Spencer is interested in a Medicare-for-all styled plan.
"With the Trump-Ryan agenda package that caused a celebration around the Rose Garden amongst the House Republican leadership, that's a step backwards and going in the wrong direction of progress," Spencer said. "There's a grim specter of 56 million people, almost double the amount we're going to see lose access just right now [Congressional Budget Office estimates 23 million would lose coverage by 2026], is that things will not be better tomorrow than they are today."
No other Democrats have announced an interest in running at this date. Dianne Curry ran as a Democrat and secured 36 percent of the vote in her unsuccessful bid against Rep. Hill in the last election. A Libertarian candidate has yet to step forward though Chris Hayes garnered 4.74 percent of the vote in 2016. Rep. Hill has not announced his plans for 2018 and no other Republicans have indicated plans to challenge him in the primary.
Web Extras are featured below.
Spencer's position on abortion is at odds with many Democrats. The Roman Catholic (he attends the same church as Rep. Hill) characterizes abortion as the taking of a life. But referencing Pope Francis, he stressed it's not his place to make a judgment on a woman's decision. Spencer emphasized the need to change the country's economy and support systems to be truly pro-life - not just before birth but after. He said the "lion's share" of abortions are need-based.
He suggested there's not much a U.S. House member could do to change abortion laws and noted substantial court precedent establishing abortion's legality. Spencer said it's an issue in an unwinnable culture war that's only served to divide and distract Americans. He would support banning abortions after 20 weeks, calling it "common sense." Though Spencer said outlawing abortion won't end it, noting "abortion's have been here since the beginning of recorded history."
You can listen to the full interview below.
UPDATE: Roby Brock with Talk Business and Politics reports the possibility of a crowded Democratic primary.
There are other names being circulated as potential Democratic challengers. Attorney Bob Edwards of Little Rock is considering a run and small business owner Natashia Burch Hulsey has launched a web site for a race.