Filing period for office in Arkansas for 2016 election kicks off with Huckabee first in line

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first in line Monday to make his bid official as the White House hopeful helped kick off the one-week filing period in his home state for candidates in next year's election.

Huckabee, who served 10½ years as governor, said he was pleased that his home state temporarily moved up its primary from May to March next year, part of an effort to create a regional nominating contest among Southern states. Supporters have dubbed the contest the "SEC primary," after the Southeastern Conference.

"It's going to be an important part of our strategy of winning the nomination and on to the White House," Huckabee told reporters after filing his paperwork at the Capitol.

Representatives of several other Republican presidential campaigns, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, filed paperwork at the Capitol Monday. Representatives of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, also filed at the Capitol.

Secretary of State Mark Martin said the interest from the White House hopefuls shows the earlier primary, enacted by the Legislature earlier this year, is already a success. Martin, a Republican, said he thinks lawmakers should look at keeping the earlier primary date permanent at least for presidential election years.

"In the past, the Arkansas primary was so late and the presidential selection process had already occurred and that was all she wrote already," Martin said. "I think it's really made (the state) a player where Arkansans can play a bigger role in influencing candidates."

The filing period kicked off nearly a year after Republicans completed a sweep of statewide and congressional offices in the state. The GOP also holds a majority in both chambers of the state Legislature. By day's end, 237 people had filed for state, federal and nonpartisan judicial offices. The secretary of state's office said 139 of those filings were on Monday, while the rest were judicial candidates who had filed by petition in September rather than pay filing fees.

Democratic Senate hopeful Conner Eldridge also filed his paperwork to try and unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman. Eldridge, the former U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas, said he believed voters want a change in Washington.

"People in this state are frustrated with Washington and they want something done," Eldridge told reporters after filing. "They want Washington to pay attention to real problems that we have in Arkansas and they're frustrated Washington is not doing that."

Justice Courtney Goodson, who's running for chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, who is running for a Supreme Court seat, also made their candidacies official Monday. Neither faces announced opposition yet in their bids for the state's highest court.

"As I've been traveling across Arkansas, what I've heard from Arkansans is they want an open and accountable Supreme Court," Goodson said after filing her paperwork. "I want to be a chief justice who promotes just that."

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