Fox 16's David Goins reports that state Rep. Rick Saunders of Hot Springs, a Democrat, will complete his current term and then leave office at the first of the year. The governor can then declare a vacancy and put in motion a special election to fill the seat. District 24 will be without a representative in the interim. Republican Keith Crass was elected, days after his sudden death, to succeed the term-limited Saunders. By law, people holding office are able to hold over in the seat when such a circumstance occurs, but Sanders' situation was complicated by term limits. The attorney general issued an opinion saying the holdover provision should prevail over term limits, but Republicans had objected to Saunders' continued service and Saunders said he'd decided it wouldn't be in best interests of constituents for him to continue to serve.
I think Saunders made the best choice for next year. He also was under no obligation to leave his term prematurely. Had he resigned early, it likely wouldn't have produced a replacement for any meaningful portion of the coming legislative session.
On the jump is the statutory process for filling vacancies. It can take time.
PS — The Republican Party is now saluting Saunders for his decision. Earlier, several were pushing for Saunders to resign before his term expired to hurry the replacement process. Not very democratic, that. Gov. Mike Beebe praised Saunders, too, and said he'd move expeditiously when the time arrived.
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.