As we turn the page on 2019, another chapter awaits — one destined politically to be as eventful and historic as any year in recent history. A presidential election year, 2020 is bursting at the seams with significant legislative issues for the state that promise to pique the interests of political junkies and carpers alike.
For starters, 2020 is one of those “every-four” annuals where the race for the White House will dominate the coverage of virtually every news network in the country as we build up to November’s general election. But the docket is far from Sharpie ready. First, the country will vote in the primary elections to determine who the nominees will be. Arkansas joins 13 other states holding elections on March 3, dubbed Super Tuesday. Early voting starts on Feb. 17.
As it stands, 18 presidential nominees will be on the Democratic primary ballot in Arkansas — many of whom have already dropped out of their respective races. Many more are expected to do the same by the time the state votes. Three names are on the Republican ballot in Arkansas; incumbent Donald J. Trump is expected to carry the state with ease. The last sitting president to face a serious primary challenge was George H.W. Bush in 1992, who was challenged by Pat Buchanan. Bush was also the last incumbent to lose re-election.
For Democrats, the selection of a candidate feels much more up-in-the-air (as is pretty standard for the opposing party). According to FiveThirtyEight’s average of qualifying national polls as of December 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden is still leading the pack at 27 percent, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (17 percent), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (14 percent), Pete Buttigieg (8 percent) and Michael Bloomberg (5 percent). These numbers are sure to fluctuate by the time Super Tuesday rolls around, with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all voting in the month of February. At this point in past primary seasons, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were the frontrunners in 2008, Newt Gingrich led in 2012, and in 2016 both Clinton and Trump already were leading their party’s polls significantly. Anything can happen.
What might have been an otherwise standard election year has turned into anything but. Impeachment is on the table. The U.S. House of Representatives just voted to impeach President Trump on two articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But the House represents just one part of the impeachment process with the Senate holding the power to either convict or acquit an impeached president. With conviction requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote and the Republicans holding 53 seats, anything but an acquittal would be surprising.
The Senate is expected to hear the case this month. Arkansas Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton will participate in the proceedings but in a strong pro-Trump state, neither should feel the need to worry about re-election ramifications should they vote to acquit, as is expected.
Boozman is not up for re-election until 2022 and Cotton’s 2020 opponent on the Democratic ticket, Josh Mahony, dropped out of the race after the filing deadline, leaving the junior senator with no opposition.
With no major party rival, the November ballot for U.S. Senate in Arkansas will pit Cotton against Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. and independent Dan Whitfield.
Things are a little more interesting in Arkansas where the U.S. House of Representatives is concerned. In the First District, incumbent Rick Crawford (R) is running unopposed. GOP incumbent Steve Womack is running for re-election in the Third District against lesser-known candidates Celeste Williams (D) and Michael Kalagias (L), while the race in the Fourth District pits incumbent Bruce Westerman (R) against William Hanson (D) and Frank Gilbert (L).
Meanwhile, the state’s most high profile race is in the Second District, which covers central Arkansas. Republican incumbent French Hill (R) will face popular Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott and independent candidate Glenn Smith. With Republicans holding all six of Arkansas’ congressional seats, Democrats would be happy to claim just one of these House seats.
Also on Arkansas ballots in November will be at least three measures referred to voters by the Arkansas legislature: a permanent extension of a half-cent sales tax for highways that was set to expire in 2023, restrictions on constitutional amending and a term-limit bill that would restrict state legislators to 12-consecutive years of service with the opportunity to return after a four-year break.
A number of potential measures that may end up on the ballot including two marijuana legalization initiatives and a marijuana criminal expungement amendment, three different redistricting initiatives (as 2020 is a census year), voting-rights restoration for individuals with prior felony convictions and an amendment to authorize coin-operated gambling machines for those 18 and older.
Also coming down the political pipe in 2020 is the Arkansas General Assembly’s biennial (not biannual) fiscal session which convenes on April 8. With many state lawmakers up for re-election in 2020, it will be interesting to see what does, and does not, shake out of this year’s session. In fact, the most interesting news may not be related to legislation. Current Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren (R) will not seek a second term in the role, as he weighs a decision to run for governor in 2022. Hendren said in December that he expects to announce his plans at the close of the fiscal session.
Will Arkansans vote to legalize recreational marijuana just one cycle after making it medically available? Will the Democratic Party win a few battles, or will Republicans’ stronghold on the state become even more firm? Early voting starts Oct. 9; Election Day is Nov. 3. Buckle up.