by Max Brantley
A lawsuit was filed today to force Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Bill Halter off the ballot. It claims he doesn't meet the state Constitution's seven-year residency requirement.
John Mark Clement of Bismarck named Halter, along with election officials in a suit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
The suit contends Halter has lived outside Arkansas for more than 20 years. Halter has answered this previously by saying he has maintained legal residency in Arkansas for the required seven years by maintaiing his voter registration here. He worked a number of years in Washington as a member of the Clinton administration.
Clement is represented by attorney Joe Woodson Jr. of the Little Rock firm Whetstone and Spears. Judge Mary McGowan was assigned the case. Because the court requests an order compelling election officials to remove Halter from the ballot or not count his votes, a hearing is required in two to seven days.
Don Spears of the law firm said in response to a question that members of his firm were split on the primary race, should you be looking for any partisanship in the filing. He raises an interesting point: "We don't want a state office of this magnitude to go by default." That is, what if Halter were to win the primary and a residency challenge filed later with only a Republican as the alternative candidate should a challenge be successful? "We don't want people wasting their votes," Spears said. "This issue should have been cleared up long ago."
UPDATE: The Halter response is that (this is my characterization, not their words) this is a desperate ploy by the Hathorn campaign. Noted: The Whetsone Spears firm has made a $1,000 contribution to Hathorn. Full news release from Halter camp on the jump.
UPDATE II: From the Hathorn campaign, a we-don't-know-nothing response, also on the jump.
Halter's press release:
There is a deliberate effort underway to exploit the court system for the purpose of influencing an election and restricting voters’ choices. This is the latest example of another politically-motivated attempt to take down a candidate for public office, rather than allow voters to make their own choice on May 23rd.
A lawsuit challenging Bill Halter’s residency has been filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court by John Mark Clement of Bismarck, AR. The law firm representing Mr. Clement, Whetstone and Spears, is a campaign contributor of Mike Hathorn, a political opponent of Mr. Halter in this month’s Democratic Primary. (source: Campaign and Contribution Report – Third Quarter -- Whetstone and Spears, 8/8/2005, $1,000)
Bill Halter has been a resident for well-over seven years in Arkansas. He has paid taxes in Arkansas, voted in Arkansas, and has held a driver’s license in Arkansas for nearly thirty years.
Voters will be outraged to learn that there is a small group of individuals attempting to prevent them from making their own choice as to whom their next lieutenant governor should be. It is unfortunate that the manipulation of the court system is diverting time and attention away from the issues important to Arkansans that Bill Halter continues to talk about every day.
We are confident that this lawsuit lacks merit. We are equally confident that voters will also draw their own conclusions about its merit given its timing and lack of substance.
The Hathorn Statement
Mr. Hathorn was made aware of this today when he received a phone call while campaigning around the state. As a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he has many contributors from the legal community across the state, and he has not spoken to this particular firm since last year. Mike Hathorn is focused on moving Arkansas forward by serving as an advocate for our seniors, children, and working men and women.