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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas state rep. Jana Della Rosa (from left), Kendon Underwood and Chris Latimer are candidates for Arkansas House District 90.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton and Washington counties must stay together in the upcoming redrawing of congressional districts by the state Legislature, an incumbent lawmaker cautioned at a state House candidates' forum Thursday.

Rep. Jana Della Rosa of Rogers faces two challengers in the upcoming Republican primary in her bid for a fourth term representing District 90: first-time opponent Chris Latimer of Rogers and attorney Kendon Underwood of Cave Springs, who came within three votes of Della Rosa in the 2018 primary.

The three rivals participated in a forum attended by about 40 people and hosted by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Bentonville chamber. The forum began at 6 p.m. at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

The Legislature redraws boundaries for the state's four congressional districts after each U.S. Census to equalize population. The next regular session of the Legislature will draw new boundaries after the census takes its nationwide tally this year. Northwest Arkansas is the fastest growing region in the state, assuring the region's 3rd District will contract in size, moderator Roby Brock reminded the candidates. He then asked which counties the district should lose.

None of the three candidates said which counties should go, but Della Rosa insisted the real priority was to make sure Benton and Washington county stay together. Northwest Arkansas needs to be on guard against any effort to split them or portions of them up, she said.

A plan to strip Fayetteville from the 3rd Congressional District and assign it to south Arkansas' 4th District passed the House in the last redistricting in 2011. Opponents stopped the plan in the Senate in a last-ditch effort joined by most, but not all, of the Northwest Arkansas delegation. South Arkansas senators balked at Fayetteville becoming the largest city in their district overnight, stopping the proposal.

The revised 2011 plan still put Madison County, among others, into the 4th District. Therefore, the 4th District now lies adjacent to both Benton and Washington counties. No buffer zone remains.

Della Rosa, Latimer and Underwood are running for the Republican nomination for Arkansas House District 90. The winner of the March 3 primary will face Democrat Kelly Ross Krout in the Nov. 3 general election. Early voting begins Tuesday. A runoff election will be March 31 if none of the candidates gets more than 50% plus one vote.

Underwood criticized Della Rosa as insufficiently conservative. All three, however, pledged to support the Republican nominee in the general election.

Della Rosa touted her experience, saying key conservative issues are firmly represented in the state Legislature. "You don't have to fight very hard to defend pro-life legislation where there are 76 Republican members of the House," she said. The House has 100 members.

District 90 extends from New Hope Road in Rogers on the north to Bethel Heights in the south. It runs from Old Wire Road on the east through Springdale and Elm Springs to the west, reaching Highfill.

Neither Latimer nor Underwood will vote to extend the half-cent sales tax on the ballot in November for highways, they said. The tax is due to expire in 2023. Latimer opposes the measure largely because the November proposal would make the tax permanent. Underwood said tax surpluses should go to roads. Della Rosa said road funding has been a difficult issue and it took years to reach the proposed compromise and put it on the ballot.

State House members serve two-year terms and have an annual salary of $41,393.

NW News on 02/14/2020

Print Headline: Beware efforts to split Benton, Washington counties, lawmaker warns

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