Filling legislative vacancies | Arkansas Blog

Filling legislative vacancies

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A few more thoughts on the House District 24 vacancy created by the untimely death of election winner Keith Crass of Hot Springs, a Republican.

Everybody looks a little unseemly in this. Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel seem happy to throw term-limited incumbent Rep. Rick Saunders, a solid legislator, under the bus. McDaniel has bluntly suggested that Saunders resign so a vacancy can be declared and a special election held.

Republicans, with good reason, smell Democratic blood in Garland County. Huge margins for nuts like Mark Martin and nearby legislator Loy Mauch are additional evidence on top of Keith Crass' posthumous victory that they can undoubtedly find a semi-sentient being somewhere in reddening Garland County, slap on R it and waltz to election over whoever the Democrats field.

But do you REALLY think Doyle "Where there's a will there's a" Webb, the GOP chairman, would be calling for Saunders' resignation if he was a term-limited Republican in similar political circumstances? Of course he wouldn't. That's not how Webb rolls. He'd be playing the angles and hoping to hold the seat by whatever means, including the statutory provision that officeholders remain in office when a successor isn't available. So give McDaniel credit for doing otherwise, I guess.

But Saunders was elected to serve through the end of 2010. He should serve out the term to which he was elected. There's no way in hell, even if he resigned tomorrow, to have a special election in less than about three months (the time necessary for a couple of recent legislative vacancies). That would be at least midway through the legislative session. By statute, it could take a great deal longer if a primary contest developed.

When his term's up, then Rick Saunders must decide. He could decline the holdover authority to which an attorney general's opinion says he's entitled and leave office. A vacancy would be declared and the governor would call a special election that would fill the seat in due course. It would almost certainly mean a legislative session in which District 24 would have no representation. If Republicans and other district voters prefer no representation to continued service by Saunders and a later special election, they should say so.

Just so you'll know, here's the statute on filling a seat by special election. It can take a long time.

7-7-105. Filling vacancies in certain offices — Special primary elections.

(a) Nominees for special elections called for the purpose of filling a vacancy in office for a member of the United States House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor, or for a member of the Senate or House of Representatives of the General Assembly shall be chosen as follows:

(1) The Governor shall certify in writing to the state committees of the respective political parties the fact of vacancy and shall request the respective state committees to make a determination and notify him or her in writing within ten (10) days with respect to whether the political parties desire to hold a special primary election or a convention of delegates held under party rules to choose nominees; and

(2) (A) If the state committee of any political party timely notifies the Governor that it chooses to hold a special primary election, any political party desiring to choose a nominee shall choose the nominee at a special primary election.

(B) The Governor's proclamation shall set dates for the special primary election and the runoff primary election to be held if no candidate receives a majority of the vote at the special primary election; and

(3) (A) A special election to fill the vacancy in office shall be held on a date as soon as possible after the vacancy occurs, but not more than one hundred fifty (150) days after the occurrence of the vacancy.

(B) The special election shall be held in accordance with laws governing special elections.

(C) (i) If a nominee is to be chosen at a special primary election and if, after the close of the filing period, only one (1) or two (2) candidates have filed for the nomination of a party holding a primary, the state committee of a party holding a primary shall notify the Governor.

(ii) The Governor shall issue a new proclamation setting the special election for an earlier date so long as the earlier date is in accordance with state laws governing special elections.

(b) If no state committee of any political party timely notifies the Governor of the desire to hold a special primary election or convention, the Governor, in issuing his or her proclamation calling for the special election, shall declare that the nominee of a political party shall be chosen at a convention.

HISTORY: Acts 1969, No. 465, Art. 1, § 5; 1971, No. 261, § 3; 1972 (Ex. Sess.), No. 42, § 1; 1975, No. 700, § 1; A.S.A. 1947, § 3-105; Acts 1987, No. 248, § 1; 1993, No. 512, § 8; 1997, No. 1082, § 2; 2005, No. 2145, § 13; 2007, No. 1049, § 23; 2009, No. 1480, § 42.

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