Lieutenant governor candidate Rutledge says bipartisan group’s ethics complaint against her a ‘political attack’

65 Project claims nominee amplified election claims

Candidates for Arkansas Lt. Governor, center, take the stage for a debate at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
Candidates for Arkansas Lt. Governor, center, take the stage for a debate at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

CONWAY -- Republican Lt. Gov. nominee Leslie Rutledge said Tuesday that a bipartisan accountability group's ethics complaint alleging that she used her office as the state's attorney general to bolster claims over the 2020 election is "nothing more than a political attack" and "absolutely frivolous."

About a month ago, the 65 Project filed complaints against Republican attorneys general in 15 states, contending they tried to overturn the 2020 election results. The group is called the 65 Project after the initial lawsuits that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The group's complaint against Rutledge requests that the Office of Committee on Professional Conduct in Little Rock review her actions for lending the legal profession's credibility to amplify what they say are false assertions and frivolous claims. The complaint states that Rutledge joined with other attorneys general and submitted a brief in support of the Texas' bill of complaint in Texas vs. Pennsylvania before the U.S. Supreme Court and the filing was an example of political propaganda masquerading as analysis.

During the Arkansas PBS debate among three candidates for lieutenant governor, Rutledge dismissed the complaint's charges.

She said she has been very clear that she accepted Democrat Joe Biden was elected as president of the United States over Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 general election.

Rutledge, of Maumelle, said she has filed more than 100 legal actions against Biden for what she called his illegal actions as president.

Democratic Lt. Gov. nominee Kelly Krout, who is a licensed social worker from Lowell, said it is interesting that Rutledge is against frivolous political attacks.

She said Rutledge has wasted taxpayer dollars by filing frivolous lawsuits against Biden, and that has not helped the state.

Libertarian Lt. Gov. candidate Frank Gilbert of Little Rock, who is retired, said the ethics complaint filed by the 65 Project against Rutledge is a ruthless and unnecessary personal attack against her.

Rutledge said she has filed legal actions against Biden for actions ranging from the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline to the cancellation of $400 billion in student loan debt in order to protect Arkansans.

Krout countered that Biden's cancellation of some student loan debt will put more money in the pockets of some Arkansans and help the average Arkansan.

Rutledge, Krout and Gilbert are vying to succeed term-limited Republican Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin in the Nov. 8 general election. Griffin is running for attorney general in the general election.

The lieutenant governor is considered to be a part-time elected post, with a state-paid salary of $46,704 a year. Under the Arkansas Constitution, the position's duties are to preside over the 35-member Senate with a tie-breaking vote and to serve as governor if the state's chief executive is impeached, removed from office, dies or is otherwise unable to discharge the office's duties.

Rutledge said she has worked with the legislature on difficult issues over the past eight years as the state's attorney general, and she hopes to bring the same sort of civility in presiding over the state Senate and to make sure that all sides are heard.

Americans and Arkansans are tired of the divisiveness in politics, she said, and "we need to be able to get things done."

Gilbert lamented that politics in Arkansas is more divisive than it has ever been in his lifetime, with the "red tribe" and the "blue tribe" in opposing corners.

Krout said she has the ability to communicate and to work with both sides, and she has Republican friends who are campaigning for her.

Rutledge said "I don't know that we are going to be able to get the Senate to sing 'Kumbaya,'" but senators advocating their positions should be treated in a respectful manner by the lieutenant governor.

Gilbert said the lieutenant governor has little to do, and the state Senate does not want an executive overlooking the chamber. The part-time post probably should not exist, he said.

Gilbert said he has been a member of the Oath Keepers.

The group's members are on trial for sedition and other charges linked to violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Gilbert distanced himself from the violence that transpired at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

He said he would not call the group a paramilitary organization.

Gilbert said he joined the Oath Keepers about 10 years ago as a constable after he was approached by a law enforcement officer about joining the group, and he joined the group because it opposes unconstitutional orders.

Law enforcement officers and the military should not follow unconstitutional orders, he said.

Gilbert said he is no longer a member of the Oath Keepers because the group did not renew his membership.

Krout said she was disappointed with the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the U.S. Capitol should not be attacked.

Every election denier and person siding with President Trump paved the way to the violence that day at the U.S. Capitol, she said.

Rutledge said the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was "absolutely unnecessary," and it is important that Americans "move past" that. She said she was nowhere near Washington, D.C., that day.

She said it is important for state leaders to stand up to all violence.

Krout said she opposes the proposed constitutional amendment that would require a 60% of voters rather than a majority of voters for voter approval of proposed constitutional amendments, because the minority would rule under the ballot proposal. The proposed constitutional amendment is Issue 2 on the general election ballot.

Rutledge said it is important to read the four proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Arkansas' constitution has been amended more than 100 times, and it should be difficult to amend the constitution, she said. She said she does not want the Arkansas constitution to be changed "willy-nilly" with out-of-state money. She stopped short of taking a position on the proposed constitutional amendment.

Gilbert noted that the legislature in each regular session every two years already is allowed to refer up to three constitutional amendments.

He said he is qualified to be the state's lieutenant governor because he has served as mayor of Tull for eight years, Grant County coroner and Dekalb Township constable, and he served well in these positions.

Krout said she would be an advocate for policies important to children and families as the lieutenant governor.

Rutledge said she is prepared to step in as governor if called upon to do so, and she wants to be an economic ambassador for the state to increase its number of jobs and to work with Republican gubernatorial nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders to ensure that the state eliminates the income tax.

Sanders is competing against Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the Nov. 8 general election.

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