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The Insider Feb. 10

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The new Democrats Now that Jason Willett has been installed as the new chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, attention is turning to who will take over as the party’s executive director. (Willett’s first action as chairman was the firing of the previous director, Michael Cook.) The Insider hears that Chris Masingill, the district director for U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, will assume the role on an interim basis while Willett considers a permanent choice. Willett confirmed that he would appoint an interim director, but he did not specify it would be Masingill. Leading candidates for the permanent position include Masingill; Gabe Holmstrom, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Marion Berry who assisted Willett in the chairman’s race; Rodney Shelton, who directed the 2004 Democratic coordinated campaign in Arkansas; Cydney Pearce, a project coordinator and manager of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s Arkansas office; and Michael Teague, a deputy district director for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor who also worked in the Clinton White House. Sounds of silence KUAR-FM’s Ron Breeding last week followed up the Arkansas Times’ reporting on the refusal by the Governor’s Mansion administrator, First Lady Janet Huckabee and members of the non-profit Mansion Association to provide information on a new residence on the Mansion grounds, despite the work of public employees in raising money for the project and coordinating the work. Though Gov. Mike Huckabee had said he welcomed inquiries from the “legitimate” press (as opposed to us), Breeding didn’t do much better with the Huckabees. His report did reveal that plans on file at the Arkansas Building Authority show the new residence, envisioned in 2002 as 7,000 square feet, is now 8,700 square feet. But Mrs. Huckabee abruptly terminated Breeding’s interview when he dared to ask for details. (Blueprints for the new mansion and a recording of Breeding’s interview may be found at www.kuar.org.) To follow up on the KUAR story, the Times called Kathy Crass, vice president of the Mansion Association. She could not comment, she said, on particulars such as cost, money on hand and whether state agencies will oversee the work. She referred us to Mansion Administrator Don Bingham, who Crass said had told her he’d reply to e-mail questions. He had refused repeated attempts to get answers in the past, but, ever hopeful, we e-mailed Bingham again Monday. At press time, we were still waiting for a response. Do you still think the Association is really in charge of this project, or the Huckabee administration?

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