28 candidates, including U.S. Rep. Womack, file to seek election in 2024 election

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., speaking Tuesday Sept. 19, 2023 in front of a portrait recognizing his time as House Budget Committee chairman. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Alex Thomas)


Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers filed paperwork Tuesday to seek re-election in the 2024 election, and former Democratic state Sen. John Pagan of Little Rock filed to run for the state treasurer post.

Surrogates for Womack filed papers for Womack to run for Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District seat five days after Republican state Sen. Clint Penzo of Springdale confirmed on Thursday that he is considering challenging Womack in the March 5 primary election.

Pagan filed papers to seek the Democratic nomination for the state treasurer a day after Republican Secretary of State John Thurston of East End filed to run for the position.

On a slow second day of the filing period for state and federal offices in Arkansas, 28 candidates filed to seek election in the 2024 election. A complete list of filings can be found at candidates.arkansas.gov.

Republican presidential candidate Doug Burgum, who is the governor of North Dakota, filed Tuesday to be on the ballot in Arkansas. He joined the presidential candidates who filed Monday, which includes Democratic President Joseph R. Biden and four Republicans -- former President Donald J. Trump, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Arkansas -- along with other states such as California, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Oklahoma -- will hold its primary election March 5, which also is called Super Tuesday. In Arkansas, the runoff election is April 2, 2024, and the general election is Nov. 5, 2024.

Several legislative leaders filed Tuesday to seek re-election.

They include House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado; Senate President Pro Tempore Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs; Joint Budget Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy; Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, and Legislative Council Co-Chairman Terry Rice, R-Waldron.

The 28 candidates for state and federal offices, who filed Tuesday pushed the total number of candidates for state and federal offices who filed during the first two days of the filing period to 165. That's in addition to 78 judicial candidates who qualified by submitting a petition with a sufficient number of signatures of registered voters, according to the secretary of state's office.

So far, 99 Republican candidates have filed for state and federal offices, 46 Democratic candidates have filed for state and federal offices, and one independent candidate has filed for a state office, according to the secretary of state's office. A total of 97 nonpartisan judicial candidates have filed thus far.

The filing period for state and federal offices at the state Capitol ends Nov. 14.

CONGRESS

Womack said Tuesday in a written statement that "It's an honor of a lifetime to have had the continued trust of our community to effectively represent the Third District in Congress.

"I remain steadfast in my love and dedication to the Natural State and my country by advancing our shared conservative values, supporting our nation's military, and answering to the needs of my constituents," he said in a written statement.

"I understand the context of where we are domestically and globally in order to make a true difference in Washington. I believe I have the skills and experience to continue to deliver for the Third District of Arkansas," Womack said.

Womack on Tuesday became the third member of Arkansas' congressional delegation to file for re-election, joining fellow Republican U.S. Reps. French Hill of Little Rock and Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs, who both filed for re-election Monday.

On Monday, Democratic candidate Caitlin Draper of Fayetteville, a social worker, filed to challenge the 3rd Congressional District seat held by Womack.

Also Monday, Democrat Marcus Jones of Little Rock, a retired Army colonel, filed to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Hill, and Democrat Rodney Govens of Cabot, who served in the U.S. Army, filed to run for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Republican Rick Crawford of Jonesboro.

STATE TREASURER

Pagan, an educator and lawyer who served in the state Senate from 1991-1993, said Tuesday that "I think what appeals to me most about the [treasurer's] office is that it is the state agency that has responsibility for helping Arkansas families finance kids' education.

"They have the 529 program, and I would love to draw on my four decades of experience in higher education to help expand that program," he said.

Pagan, who served as the law school dean at the University of Richmond, said he was one of the sponsors of the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program in the state Senate, and the program is now primarily funded with the state lottery's net proceeds.

"But I would love to see some of those earnings that the [state] treasury generates added to the scholarship funds, because the inflation in higher ed is one of the worst sectors of the economy," he said.

Thurston served as the state's land commissioner from 2011-2019 and as the secretary of state since 2019.

In August, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed then-state Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther as the state treasurer until 2025 to fill the vacancy created by the late July death of state Treasurer Mark Lowery, who was elected to a four-year term in November 2022.

LEGISLATURE

Shepherd, who is the longest-serving speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, filed Tuesday to seek re-election to the House for the final time.

"It just reminds you that time flies," he said when asked about that. "It was 2010 when I first ran ..."

"Under term limits, this would be my final term," if he's re-elected next year to House District 97, said Shepherd, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2011.

"I feel that I am in a position to continue to represent my constituents in south Arkansas, and they've put their trust and confidence in me for the past 13 years now and in some ways I just feel like I should go ahead and attempt to serve this final term and do the best job I can for those constituents back home who have been so great to support me," he said.

Shepherd has served as House speaker since representatives picked him in June 2018 to finish the term of the previous speaker, then-Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, who resigned to take a job at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. In May, Shepherd announced he would run for re-election to the House but will not seek a fourth full term as leader of the chamber.

Hester, who has served in the state Senate since 2013 and served as Senate president pro tempore since January, said he doesn't know whether this will be the last time that he files to run for election to the state Senate. He represents Senate District 33.

"I am really privileged every time the people send me down here to represent them, and this will be a four-year term and I am grateful if they give it to me," Hester said.

Hickey, who has served in the state Senate since 2013 and is a former Senate president pro tempore, said he doesn't know whether to expect an opponent in the 2024 election. He represents Senate District 4.

"I haven't heard of any," he said.

Asked if he is prepared for an opponent, Hickey said that "I am always prepared. I don't serve my constituents just during election time. I serve them year round."

In a central Arkansas House race, former state Sen. Tracy Steele of North Little Rock announced his bid Tuesday to seek the Democratic nomination for the House District 72 seat and then filed paperwork to run for that seat.

In October, Darlene Goldi Gaines, CEO of the Arkansas Anti-Poverty Group, announced her bid for the Democratic nomination for the House District 72 seat, which is currently held by Democrat Jamie Scott of North Little Rock. In August, Scott announced she is running for the state Senate District 12 seat held by retiring Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.

But Gaines said Tuesday she changed her mind about running for the House seat due to "an expected event," without providing any specifics. She is treasurer of the Democratic Party of Arkansas and ran unsuccessfully for state land commissioner in 2022.

Steele said Tuesday that "I have not talked to her," and said he doesn't know whether to expect an opponent for the House seat. He previously served in the state House of Representatives from 1999-2003 and 2011-2013, and in the state Senate from 2003-2011.

He served as director of the state's Health Services Permit Agency for the past several years. He said he would resign from his state job with the Health Services Permit Agency if he's elected to the state House of Representatives.

He currently serves on the North Little Rock School Board, and he said his term on the school board ends in November of 2024. He is a former executive director of the state's Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.