The Democratic Party of Arkansas has sued to stop an attempted 11th-hour maneuver by the Republican Party to field a candidate for Washington County judge.
State Rep. Micah Neal was expected to be the Republican nominee. But he decided June 30 not to seek the office, citing a desire to devote more time to business and family. That excuse wasn’t sufficient for a party to replace a nominee. So Neal then announced that he would move out of Washington County, to Benton County. When a candidate moves out of a district that can be a reason for a party to find another candidate. The Democratic nominee is Mark Kinion.
The lawsuit, filed for the party and County Democratic Party Chair Tyler Clark by Chris Burks, says Neal did not “lawfully withdraw” and they are trying to protect a fair and orderly election process. The suit is against the Republican County Committee and the State Party as well as those seeking to have the nomination and the county clerk.
The lawsuit notes that Neal changed his stated reason for dropping out July 1 after a newspaper article appeared quoting his original statement. In this subsequent statement, he said he was “moving.” But on July 1, he remained on the voter rolls at an address in Washington County. In a letter to the county clerk, also a defendant, Neal said he wanted to withdraw because he’d be moving by August. The lawsuit notes that Neal’s business is in Washington County and his only property in Benton County is an investment property he owns with Lance Eads in Gentry. It also notes that though Neal says he is moving outside of Washington County he has given no indication he intends to resign from his state legislative seat, representing a district entirely within Washington County.
Burks argues that a vacancy occurs only when a nominee dies, is seriously ill or moved out of the area from which he was nominated. When that happens, a political party has five days to notify the governor and then a proclamation must be made on filling the vacancy.
Neal did not give a lawful reason for refusal of the nomination. His subsequent attempt to supplement or alter the reason was a “mere pretext for the reason reason,” Burks said.
“This after-the-fact attempt to cover up the real reason for Neal’s refusal is inconsistent with the democratic process and must be rejected as violating both the letter and spirit of Arkansas election law pertaining to vacancies in nomination.
“Moreover, as of the date of his refusal of nomination, Neal had not moved out of Washington County. A possible move at an unspecified future date does not satisfy the requirements of Ark. Code. Ann. § 7-7-104(c)(1).
The suit says Neal remains a Washington County resident and representative and his withdrawal failed to meet the five-day notice requirement. It asks the Washington Circuit Court for a declaratory judgment that the Republican Committee is not permitted to field another candidate.
Could Neal change his mind and run for judge after all? Said Burks:
“We trust that the Court will make all parties follow the law. We do not believe that there will be a Republican nominee for Washington County Judge because the lawful process was not followed in the time for it to be followed.”