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Today is the first installment of our editorial board's endorsements in legislative races in Benton and Washington counties.

The good news is voters have choices to make in many of the contests for the Arkansas House and Senate. That's always a positive, even though many incumbents hope to keep their office without having to face a challenge. We're glad to see people willing to step up and be considered, some of them against long odds. We commend all the candidates, incumbents and challengers, for their willingness to be involved in leadership at the state level.

We'll have more recommendations for other races in the state House of Representatives and state Senate in another edition.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Early voting continues until the day before.

Arkansas House of Representatives

District 80

Republican Charlene Fite, 68, is in her third term representing this district that stretches from south of Cedarville to the Wheeler community just west of Fayetteville. She's challenged by Lou Reed Sharp, a 66-year-old Democrat from Springdale, and Casey Copeland, a 41-year-old Libertarian from Prairie Grove. We recommend re-electing Fite, who chairs the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee, is well positioned for influence in the Republican-controlled House. At first opposed to Medicaid expansion, we respect that she didn't dig in her heels and has come around to support Arkansas Works, the state's current version of the expansion.

District 84

One of the most closely watched House races in the state is between Republican Charlie Collins, 55, best known as the impassioned advocate for opening college campuses to those licensed to carry concealed handguns, and Democrat Denise Garner, 61, who criticizes the four-term incumbent as becoming more extreme the longer he serves. Garner, who said she owns guns herself, said she was offended that Collins charged ahead with his agenda regardless of the objections of his constituents and college campus administrators. Collins is among the most articulate and intelligent lawmakers in Little Rock, but has seemed to be to some extent at war with his own district. Collins is hoping the usual cry of "liberal" will eliminate Garner's chances, but we believe Garner will return the office to one in which the constituents' views are valued more than the officeholders'. We recommend a vote for Denise Garner.

District 89

Democrat Megan Godfrey, 34, is an impressive candidate in the Springdale contest against incumbent Republican Jeff Williams, 55. She has articulated strong positions with passion and intelligence that eclipses many of the people who serve in the Legislature. But she's gone up against Williams, who has established himself first and foremost as a state representative whose concerns remain focused on constituents within his district. Whether it's working to battle domestic vilence with legislation allowing them to break cell phone contracts they entered with their abusers or working to establish a local mental health crisis stabilization unit, he's listening to local needs and using his influence in the Legislature to make progress. That's the best kind of lawmaker, and one that gets our support. Jeff Williams earned our recommendation.

District 92

Gayla Hendren McKenzie, a 53-year-old Republican from Gravette, is the kind of candidate capable of continuing the style of representation this northwest Benton County district is used to having. She comes by it honestly, as she's the daughter of Kim Hendren, the current representative and former state senator. She wants to work to improve education with a public schools first mentality that ensures the successes of charter schools are incorporated into the public school system. She supports Arkansas Works and appreciates the way it has helped rural hospitals. Her opponent is Democrat Chris Birch, who campaign has been nominal.

District 94

Republican Rebecca Petty, 48, was elected in 2014 in large measure as a result of her passion for criminal justice reform inspired by personal tragedy. We appreciate that, but her representation of this Rogers district has hardly expanded beyond that focus. We'd like to see more depth in a representative because not everything boils down to criminal justice. Her challenger, 41-year-old Jené Huffman-Gilreath, perhaps has the political misfortune of a Democrat label in prime Republican territory, but she has far more potential to lead on a multitude of issues at the State Capitol, from education and increased teacher pay to infrastructure and small business development and workforce education. Voters in District 94 could benefit from broader and deeper representation, so we recommend Gilreath come Nov. 6.

District 96

Two-term Republican state Rep. Grant Hodges, 28, is challenged this fall by Democrat Christie Craig, 38, in this northeast Benton County district. He combines a conservative point of view concerning government with a goal of addressing some of the ethical challenges of fellow lawmakers. He says he wants a level of transparency that, at the least, will expose conflicts of interest. He also supports the idea of recall elections and plans to pursue legislation creating a process for that. Grant Hodges' continued representation makes sense for the people of District 96.

State Senate

District 3

Cecille Bledsoe, 74, has six years in the House and 10 in the Senate, making her one of the most experienced lawmakers in Little Rock. She faces a challenge from 68-year-old Democrat Jon Comstock, who no doubt would serve well but who ran for the office because nobody else did. If voters have been satisfied with Bledsoe for so long, we didn't hear any compelling case to replace her before the state's term limits usher her out (after the next term).

Commentary on 10/25/2018

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