Tuesday marks the start of early voting for the March 1 primary. While much of the political news has focused on folks named Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Sanders, Clinton, and others, voters in Arkansas will also made decisions about Republican and Democratic party nominees for the general election and final decisions on some judicial races.
On our editorial page, we devote time and space to discussing the issues relevant to the readers of Northwest Arkansas, with a major focus on the growing areas of Benton and Washington counties. Come election time, it makes sense to throw our few cents' worth into the discussion involving candidates running for public office. So today, we begin a few days of endorsements, mindful that readers will make their own decisions at the ballot box. Our endorsements, as always, are intended to be a part of the community discussion, not an attempt to dictate anyone's vote. Our editorial board interviewed all the candidates in the last few weeks. Below are our recommendations in races for two quorum courts and for Washington County tax collector.
More endorsements to come Friday morning.
Teresa Soares is the prototypical candidate for down ballot but nonetheless critically important post of tax collector. Soares, 47, has served as the head bookkeeper since 1999, which is two years before current collector David Ruff even took office. She's worked in the office since 1995. With Ruff's decision not to seek re-election, Soares is a natural choice to keep the office running smoothly. She's got an outgoing personality, which will be a benefit for an office that interacts with the public and other government leaders a lot. Her opponent, 34-year-old Angela Wood, has worked in the office 12 years and serves as data processing clerk, but falls well short of the vital experience Soares offers the people of Washington County. Soares is better prepared for taking the reins of this office and represents a trained county employee who could easily transition into the lead role of tax collector.
Justice of the Peace, District 9
This Democratic race is the showdown between current County Judge Marilyn Edwards, 77, and attorney Eva Madison, 44, the incumbent in the District 9 seat of the Quorum Court. This race has two exceptionally qualified individuals running, but it's overshadowed by the personal animosity that has developed between the two candidates over the years. Edwards, who is not running to keep the county judge post, denies the tensions inspired her to challenge Madison. Perhaps that's sincere, as she appears intent on continuing more than 40 years in elective office. Ultimately, however, it's hard to argue Eva Madison has done anything deserving of being turned out of a position she's been elected to three times. Indeed, she takes her role seriously and is devoted to making sure Washington County doesn't operate on the basis of "it's always been done this way." She's unafraid to shake things up when it's necessary and did outstanding work investigating the county's problems with bridge construction, a job Edwards appointed Madison to perform. There's also little indication the two differ significantly on the issues facing Washington County, although their styles might be different. While we have been critical of Edwards most recent years as county judge, we have nothing but respect for the many years of service she's provided the people of Washington County. But Madison is our recommendation to retain her Quorum Court post.
Justice of the Peace, District 13
Incumbent Joel Maxwell, 45, faces a challenge in the GOP primary from Laurie Roy-Smith. Roy-Smith, 31, was a county employee until departing four years ago, and her candidacy appears focused on making the Quorum Court a friendlier place for her former colleagues. Maxwell, who is in the midst of his first term, makes the argument it will take time for a new justice of the peace to get up to speed on county issues. He's right, and Maxwell has done a solid job as in his role on the Quorum Court. He values the role of questioning county leaders about spending and other issues while maintaining a level of professionalism the situation deserves. Our vote goes to Maxwell.
Justice of the peace, District 1
Two years ago, challenger Ron Easley defeated incumbent Republican Justice of the Peace Mike McKenzie by the narrowest of margins, and now, Easley has moved out of the district and stepped down from the Quorum Court. McKenzie, 65, of Rogers is asking voters for another term and faces a challenge by political newcomer Sharon Whelchel, 61, of Garfield. Our support goes to McKenzie, who is focused on ensuring the county performs solidly on maintaining and improving county roads. His previous service on the Quorum Court will be an asset in representing the people of northeast Benton County.
Justice of the peace, District 2
Voters should give GOP challenger Joshua P. Bryant, 37, of Rogers an opportunity to influence county issues. He faces one-term incumbent Sue Shadlow, 55, of Rogers. The former Marine operates a small commercial construction firm, having moved home to the area in 2013 after his military service and working in the Federal Aviation Administration. He's got experience with governmental budgets and with operating a small business. Our chief beef with Shadlow came from a controversial proposal by Trulove Construction to use 8 acres at 3901 S. First St. for heavy equipment and vehicle storage and as a dispatch center for the company. She declined appointment to a panel of justices of the peace to consider the proposal that would directly affect the people of her district. In a tough political situation, she bailed, trying to avoid upsetting people. In doing so, she failed to represent the people who elected her. Bryant's background is commendable and makes him a good selection to represent this area. Whoever wins faces Democrat Ray Hernandez, a resident who opposed the Trulove project, in November.
Justice of the peace, District 11
Will Hanna, 65, who lives near Vaughn, and Bob Bland, 59, of Centerton face off in a contest that has no incumbent. Hanna has significant experience in county government, having worked for five years as the county fire marshal. He's interested in being a strong voice for the "people who were there first" when it comes to clashes between rural residents and the spread of urban areas. Although District 11 voters can't lose with either candidate, Hanna's credentials make him well suited to be engaged as a justice of the peace.
Commentary on 02/11/2016