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Wives seek husbands' seats

Legislative term limits give spouses a chance.

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  • HUSBAND'S FOOSTEPS? Jennie Goss.

Supporters of legislative term limits argue that the limits result in more women legislators and more black legislators. Term limits haven’t really worked that way in Arkansas, where it’s been mostly white males succeeding white males, but the next regular session may see a significant increase in the number of women, albeit in a way that advocates of term limits didn’t anticipate.

Several wives of term-limited legislators are running to succeed their husbands: Carolyn Boyd, wife of Rep. Travis Boyd of Piggott; Jennie Goss, wife of Rep. Kevin Goss of Wilson; and Johnnie Roebuck, wife of Rep. Tommy Roebuck of Arkadelphia. At least one more is a definite possibility — Dee Blair, wife of Rep. Buddy Blair of Fort Smith — but the final decision has not yet been made.

In addition, Sharon Dobbins has already won a special election to succeed her husband, Rep. R. Dwayne Dobbins of North Little Rock, who resigned his seat in August after pleading guilty to misdemeanor sexual harassment.

All of the women insist that if elected, they will do the actual legislating, not their husbands, though they’ll listen to advice from the former legislators. All are Democrats, like their husbands.

Boyd, 59, said one reason she was running was that “In our area, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of people too learned about what’s going on [in government]. Some of them think Travis is in Washington. We didn’t hear of anybody even thinking about running to succeed him. We were looking for somebody who really cares. It’s hard work. Finally, I got up enough nerve to say ‘I think I could do it.’ … There’s never been a woman from up here [in the legislature].” (After that interview, someone else did show interest. Boyd called back to say that she now has an opponent — Mike Patterson, who has been active in Democratic Party affairs. Boyd is still in the race.)

Though she’s never held office — she was defeated in a city council race — she has experience in government, having worked in U.S. Rep. Marion Berry’s district office in Jonesboro. She’s also a former licensed practical nurse, and said she was “really interested” in health issues, “and of course education.”

Goss, 39, is a realtor. She’s never run for office, but she said she’d held several “leadership positions.” She said her husband told her that “he didn’t mind me running for his seat, but he wanted me to be as good as him or better.” Health care, economic development, agriculture, education, job training, and “community empowerment through home ownership” are issues she’s interested in. “I want to be the voice of the voiceless.”

Roebuck, 63, is the coordinator and professor of educational leadership at Henderson State University. A former public school teacher and administrator, she has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Arkansas. She has never sought office before. She hopes to be “a strong advocate for public education — that’s my career.” Other top priorities are economic development and health care.

The circumstances are different, but another noteworthy female legislative candidate is Donna Hutchinson, 56, of Bella Vista. A Republican, she’s running to succeed a term-limited female Republican, Rep. Shirley Borhauer of Bella Vista. She’s never run before, but she’s worked in many political races. She’s the former wife of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the mother of state Reps. Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock and Timothy Hutchinson of Lowell, and the former sister-in-law of former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, now a Republican candidate for governor. She ran the Bush-Cheney campaign in Benton County in 2004. She worked in the Washington office of U.S. Rep. John Boozman of Rogers. She said that while she was working in the Bush-Cheney campaign, “Shirley began to harass me” about running for the legislature. “Other people encouraged me too, so I said I would.” She said Borhauer had endorsed her. She said she wasn’t ready to talk about issues yet, because a special legislative session is coming up and Borhauer will still be the representative for that.

Timothy Hutchinson reminded a reporter that neither he nor his twin brother will be in the legislature next year. Jeremy is term-limited out, and Timothy chose not to seek re-election. If his mother is elected, the legislature will gain one Hutchinson and lose two.

“I guess the Arkansas Times would think that’s a good trade,” he said.

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