- James Matthews
- GOING BOTH WAYS: Former state Rep. Andy Mayberry says people want to support both him and his opponent in the District 27 race, former Rep. Mike Creekmore. "It confuses people," he says.
In East End, there is a large brick home with a semicircular driveway. Flanking each entrance are two political signs: one for Republican Andy Mayberry, the other for Republican Mike Creekmore. The odd thing is that Mayberry and Creekmore are running against each other in the March 1 primary for Arkansas House of Representatives District 27.
Andy Mayberry has noted the same phenomenon while driving around the district, which is composed of southeastern Saline County (East End, Shannon Hills and parts of Alexander and Bryant) along with a small sliver of south Pulaski County. "It is kind of interesting. ... A lot of places you'll see an Andy Mayberry sign and a Mike Creekmore sign right next to each other." People want to be supportive of both candidates, Mayberry said, and added, "It confuses people sometimes."
Andy Mayberry and Mike Creekmore have each held the legislative seat in recent history. Creekmore previously served as the representative from District 27 as a Democrat but is now running as a Republican. Creekmore and Mayberry faced off once before, in the 2000 general election, which Creekmore won.
But the real confusion sets in when you delve deeper into the provenance of the District 27 seat. Follow along if you can.
Since 2014, the position has been occupied by Rep. Julie Mayberry, wife of Andy. Julie was preceded in the post by her husband. Andy Mayberry gave up his place in the legislature to run for lieutenant governor in 2014 — he lost — after having twice won the District 27 seat, in 2010 and 2012.
Creekmore held the District 27 House seat for three terms, from 1998 to 2004 (before boundaries were redrawn in the 2001 redistricting, it was known as District 51). But wait. Who served as representative in the six years between Mike Creekmore and Andy Mayberry? That would be Dawn Creekmore, Mike's wife, who — is it a sign of things to come? — still holds the Twitter handle @RepCreekmore. Both Creekmores "termed out," since state representatives were limited to three two-year terms at that time. But in 2014, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment watering down term limits, and now a representative may serve up to 16 years in the same office.
(An aside: The Creekmores meanwhile moved to the western end of the district, where Mike has twice been elected to the Saline County Quorum Court. Now that he's leaving that post to seek the House seat again, who's running to succeed him as justice of the peace? That's right: his wife, Dawn.)
So to recap, for the better part of two decades, the position of District 27 representative has been occupied by Creekmore (husband), Creekmore (wife), Mayberry (husband) and Mayberry (wife). And now the two husbands are facing off against each other in the primary.
Has this ever happened before? "The husband/wife scenario, while not super common, does occur from time to time in legislatures," said Tim Storey, a director at the National Committee of State Legislatures, when reached by email. "However, I've been studying legislative elections for over 25 years, and I've never heard of a legislative seat being held by two couples over time, as you describe." Storey couldn't say for certain that it has never happened, since his organization doesn't keep records of such events, but he said, "I strongly suspect that this is a first."
"It's an interesting little dynasty they have out here," said Melissa Fults, the lone Democrat running for House District 27. ("I wouldn't like to refer to it as a dynasty," Andy Mayberry said to me, but Fults is not beholden to anyone else's semantic wishes.) Fults, a 30-year resident of East End, has seen the seat passed between Creekmores and Mayberrys for much of her time in the community. "I just think that we need new blood in there."
Fults is not a vocational politician. She has never held elected office. She describes herself as a grandmother, a dairy goat farmer and a political activist. For five years, she and her husband, Gary (also not an elected official), have championed the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. Fults is convinced voters will approve a medical marijuana initiative this year and feels there are other battles she now needs to fight. She ticks off a list — pre-K education, college-preparedness in high school, help for struggling families. "Somebody needs to stand up for those people," Fults said. "I reached a point in my life where I couldn't stand by."
Whoever wins the Republican primary in March will face Fults in the general election. But after it's all done, the three candidates will all still live in the same small communities. Outside of the political arena, how do the candidates see each other?
"We get along fine, always have," Andy Mayberry said of Mike Creekmore. "I like Andy. Andy and I have known each other for years," Melissa Fults said. No word on who Mike likes, since Creekmore did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails asking for comment for this article.