If there was ever any doubt outside groups would play in state legislative races this fall, you can erase it.
Similar to efforts seen in the primary campaigns, Americans for Prosperity has entered the general election campaigns with a mailer this week hitting two Democrats seeking seats in North Little Rock. Talk Business sources confirm other legislative races around the state were also targeted.
Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, and Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, were both criticized in similar direct mail pieces that highlight their legislative votes last year to refer a proposed diesel fuel tax increase for a state highway program.
The near-identical mailers say that the tax increase would make diesel fuel in Arkansas “the most expensive in the entire region” and it questions the potential economic effects of the tax proposal if voters were to approve the measure.
But the diesel fuel tax vote won’t be on the ballot this November.
The mailer cites HJR 1001 for the fuel tax vote. In actuality, HJR 1001 was a referred constitutional amendment for a temporary half-cent sales tax to fund a four-lane highway program across Arkansas. It will appear on the ballot this fall as Proposed Amendment 1.
The diesel fuel tax was HB 1902, which became Act 773, and was sponsored by House Speaker Robert Moore (D-Arkansas City). It allowed the Governor to call a special election or tie the diesel fuel tax vote to a general election. After the state’s trucking industry backed out of support for the diesel fuel tax proposal, Gov. Beebe said he would not call an election on the proposal.
HYDE, NICKELS RESPOND
Nickels, who represents District 43, is seeking re-election to the newly drawn House District 41 in northern Pulaski County. He faces Republican challenger Alan Pogue and Independent Jim George.
“I think it’s dangerous that we could have an election cycle where ultra-conservative billionaires are spending millions to ensure that their extreme right-wing agenda becomes a reality in Arkansas,” said Nickels.
He said he’s planning on communicating with voters that the mailer distorts his record and that he has voted for tax decreases. Nickels did vote to refer the diesel tax and sales tax proposals to voters for consideration.
“As for the tax increase, I voted to let the people decide, is what I voted on,” Nickels said.
Hyde is running for the open Senate District 34 seat against GOP Rep. Jane English. English did not vote to refer either of the two proposals to voters. Hyde was supportive of both proposals.
“Here they go again. My opponent and her supporters are trying to mislead the voters of District 34,” said Hyde, when contacted for comment. “They sent out a mailer drawing people to the conclusion that I voted for a $1.1 billion fuel tax increase. The fact is that I voted to refer that funding mechanism, requested by the highway department, that would be dedicated to the maintenance of our highways and interstates to the voters.”
The AFP mailer is a clue to which legislative races may be viewed as competitive between Republicans and Democrats this fall. Several private polling firms have been frequently polling potential swing legislative districts as Republicans fight to wrestle control from Democrats for the Arkansas House and Senate.
Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4) organization that touts 60,000 citizen political activists in Arkansas. According to the group’s web site, AFP is “committed to advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity.”
It has aligned itself with conservative candidates in the May Republican primaries and similarly criticized GOP candidates who voted to refer tax proposals to voters or supported tax increases in the past.
Teresa Crossland-Oelke, state director for Americans for Prosperity’s Arkansas chapter, says the mailers are fair despite protests from candidates who have been singled out in the group’s mailers.
“We know that currently they don’t have the numbers to pass tax increases forthright,” Oelke tells Talk Business. “They can’t pass it with a direct legislative vote.”
She said that a common maneuver being used by state legislatures nationally is to refer proposals to voters, schedule the timing of the special elections favorably, and succeed in passing tax increases with low voter participation.
“It’s a way they can increase taxes in Arkansas and it’s the only way,” she said.
Oelke also said that this year she expected AFP-Arkansas to participate in “25 or more” legislative races.
“We will participate where we have the greatest opportunity on free market issues,” she said. “We see sizable portions of the state where we can make a case for long-term support on those policies.”