by Jamie Barker
By now everyone in Arkansas politics has to be sick of reading about the massive Republican shift that has occurred in our state since 2010. There are only so many ways to declare Arkansas a Republican stronghold without being redundant. Republicans hold every federal office, all constitutional offices, and three-fourths of the state legislature. The Republican Party of Arkansas is experiencing record numbers and there must be nowhere to go but down… right?
Well, you really cannot win much more at the top or middle of the ticket than the AR GOP already has, but there are many more races down the ballot that are often overlooked since they are not seen as quite as impactful when looking at them as a standalone. County courthouses, despite the wave of red that washed over the legislative and federal seats, have continued to resist switching jerseys – at least at the pace of the higher offices. That is not to say Republicans have not made in roads into the most local of politics because they have. Republicans in countywide offices and justices of the peace have pretty much doubled since 2010. However, doubling a number that was in the single digits still leaves a lot to be desired from a party perspective.
In my view, the two main criteria for Arkansas Republicans to follow if they want to spread the good word further down to the local level to command the courthouse alongside the state house. The first will seem obvious. We have to file candidates as Republicans- and we did that extremely well. A large number of people (relative to the past few cycles) filed to run as Republicans for County Judge, County Sheriff, and other countywide posts. Not only were many of those running in potentially winnable counties, many filed without Democrat opposition and face only a primary opponent or opponents. There were also formerly elected Democrats, like Sheriff Ricky Roberts of El Dorado, who filed as Republicans despite no opposition on either side. Fundamentals in anything are important, and without this first piece of the puzzle the rest would be irrelevant.
The second part is probably much more difficult and is not the same for each part of the state. Republicans have to ask themselves, “Why is it that despite everyone I know supporting President Trump, Sen. Cotton, and Gov. Hutchinson our Democrat county officials keep winning?” Of course, in areas where there has never really been Republican opposition, that is an easy answer. However, assuming the Democrat would have been elected anyway even if opposed, we still need to be able to answer.
Looking to most every Republicans favorite President will help give us a good answer. Why did so many hardcore Democrats cross over and vote for Ronald Reagan? The Reagan Democrats were very similar in dynamic to the rural local democrat voter of Arkansas. They felt disenfranchised and no longer saw their values relevant to a party to which they were so loyal of and they found the first Republican they could vote for who focused first on what it meant to be a conservative and why that makes you a Republican second.
I have worked with multiple local and state house candidates over the past three election cycles, and my advice for talking to voters is almost always the same. Tell ‘em why you’re a conservative, what that means in how you will do the job (reflect family values, lower taxes, smaller government), and then once they like what they’re hearing tell them that you’re a Republican. Yes, they may go to Sunday school with Sheriff Jimmy who’s “not like those liberal democrats”, but Jimmy is still filing to run on a platform that most Arkansans have rejected when voting at the state and federal level in the past eight years.
Republicans hold a few seats south of fifty percent in countywide offices as of today. We’re running a whole lot more candidates this time and the focus will be completing the Republican trifecta of a red federal delegation, state government, and local government. If our candidates can show the voters that the Democrat party, even Sheriff Jimmy, has taken a left turn leaving them behind, I am sure we’ll see a continued growth of the Republican Party of Arkansas. I’m not tired of winning, and there’s a lot of winning left to do.
(Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics will feature exclusive op-eds provided by members of the Republican Party of Arkansas. For the party’s latest, click here, only on AMP.)
Jamie Barker is the communications director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s reelection campaign and serves as the Chairman of the Arkansas Federation of Young Republicans. He has worked for Sen. Tom Cotton, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Republican Party of Arkansas. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in Biology. Jamie is was born and raised in Smackover, but he now resides in Little Rock with his wife, Allie, and their three sons: Luke, Tucker and Tripp.