A Pulaski County circuit judge on Wednesday rejected state House candidate Tony Furman's request to rule that his opponent, Marietta McClure, is ineligible to run for the House District 28 seat under residency requirements.
Circuit Judge Mary McGowan ruled that McClure resides at a home in House District 28 and she has established a domicile there, based on both testimony and documentary evidence presented at trial. McGowan also denied Furman's request to bar Saline County election officials from certifying votes for McClure.
In the March 3 primary, Benton Republicans McClure and Furman are vying for the House seat held by first-term Rep. Jasen Kelly, R-Benton, who isn't seeking reelection this year. The winner of the primary election will be unopposed in the Nov. 3 general election.
In Furman's petition for writs of mandamus filed Jan. 28, Furman claimed that he is the only qualified candidate to be on the ballot in House District 28 because he has been living in a home on Cherry Crossing in Benton for more than a year preceding the March 3 primary election.
Furman contended that McClure's home is in House District 23 on Demuth Lane in Benton and she "has purchased in the eleventh hour, a small unsuitable residence in District 28 [on West Narroway Street], and she has not resided there for the requisite one year" before the election.
Under Article 5, Section 4, of the Arkansas Constitution, "No person shall be a Senator or Representative who, at the time of his election, is not a citizen of the United States, nor any one who has not been for two years next preceding his election, a resident of this State, and for one year next preceding his election, a resident of the county or district whence he may be chosen."
In her six-page ruling Wednesday, McGowan said she held in a 2018 ruling that the election referred to in Article 5, Section 4, was the general election -- not the primary election.
McGowan said the Arkansas Supreme Court stated in a recent decision that in considering the residency of public officials, it considers whether a person was physically present in a particular location or whether a person intended to establish domicile in a particular location.
McClure testified that she and her husband, Kent McClure, purchased the house on West Narroway Street in August, and a copy of the real estate contract signed by the couple and the sellers on Aug. 27 was introduced into evidence, according to McGowan's ruling.
Because of issues in the estate of the sellers, McClure and her husband had to delay the purchase, but rented the house from the heirs under a lease agreement was signed Oct. 30, the circuit judge said. The warranty deed to the West Narroway Street property in House District 28 was filed Dec. 23 with the Saline County clerk.
McClure testified that the West Narroway Street home was minutes away from her business, McClure Fitness, a short walk to her children's school and very close to her church, and that she changed her driver's license and voter registration to reflect that home's address, according to McGowan.
Furman contended that because McClure, her husband and her four children could not live in a 1,042-square-foot home with only one bathroom, that "the family basically resided at the Demuth house located in District 23," McGowan wrote.
But McClure introduced pictures of the West Narroway Street house, which showed furniture in the rooms. clothing in the closets, pictures on the walls and children's toys throughout the house, and provided an architect's drawings for enlarging the home, according to the circuit judge. But McClure also testified that her family spends time as well at the house on Demuth Lane, which is for sale.
"As this Court stated in [a 2018 ruling in a residency challenge of state Rep. Marcus Richmond, R-Gravelly], there is no requirement that candidates for political office sell property they own in order to qualify for office," McGowan said. "The issue is where the candidate resides."
McClure said Wednesday in a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that all of her opponent's "attempts to go negative have fallen flat, including this frivolous lawsuit."
She said that she appreciates the court's handling of this case and looks forward to getting back on the campaign trail, "where I can continue talking about conservative values, better education and less government."
Furman, who is a Realtor, said Wednesday in an interview that he doesn't plan to appeal McGowan's ruling.
But he said in a text message that "the ruling today is an unfortunate one.
"The ruling allows someone to call any property they simply own or lease their place of residency and be able to run for office in that particular district," he said. "My opponent clearly does not live there."
However, "we remain focused on winning this race and letting the people know the truth about my opponent," Furman said.
He suggested that McClure, who was a field representative for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor from 2010-12, is a Democrat running as a Republican. McClure has disputed that assertion and said her work for Pryor was nonpartisan constituency work across 25 counties in Arkansas.
A few hours after McGowan issued her ruling, Furman announced that Republican Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin endorsed him.
"Tony Furman is the clear conservative choice in his race for State Representative," Griffin said in the news release. "Tony understands that we need a leaner, smarter government that spends tax payer dollars wisely. He will be a strong conservative voice in the legislature, and the people can count on Tony to fight for our conservative values."
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchison is remaining neutral in the race, said Hutchinson's chief political strategist, Jon Gilmore.
McClure approached Hutchinson and apologized to him for her appearance in an ad for the Democratic Governors Association that criticized Hutchinson in the 2014 election in which he was elected as governor, and "he accepted that and said he understood how those things come about," Gilmore said.
"He's watching the race, believes there are two good candidates, and he will remain neutral," Gilmore said of Hutchinson.
Gilmore said Hutchinson indicated when he met with McClure that "she demonstrated to him that she was a conservative and whoever wins will represent the district well."
McClure said Monday in a text message that "my views have evolved since the commercial ... was made."
"That doesn't change the conservative convictions I've always held," she said. "I am looking forward to helping my district instead of playing Washington-style politics."
Metro on 02/13/2020
Print Headline: Candidate remains in House race, judge rules