State Sen. Clint Penzo of Springdale is challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers in the Republican primary race for Arkansas’ Third District congressional seat.
The winner of the March 5 primary election will face Democrat Caitlin Draper in the general election Nov. 5. Early voting for the primary begins Feb. 20.
Womack, 66, has held the congressional seat for 13 years. He grew up in Russellville and graduated from Arkansas Tech University, and served as mayor of Rogers for 12 years.
Womack said he hasn’t missed a vote in Congress since he took office Jan. 3, 2011. He has cast more than 8,000 votes.
According to his House of Representatives biography, Womack is currently a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he is chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. He also sits on the Defense and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittees. He formerly served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Womack retired from the Arkansas Army National Guard in 2009 at the rank of colonel with more than 30 years of service. His deployment to Sinai, Egypt, in 2002 marked the first time a National Guard unit performed the mission of the Multinational Force and Observers.
Womack said he supports Ukraine and Israel in their war efforts.
“America has always been a leader in helping grow Democratic institutions around the globe,” he said. “And to me, it is a matter of national security because if Putin is able to do what he does uncontested in Ukraine, then who’s next? Does he turn his sights on Poland? And in so doing, does he create an Article 5 issue for the NATO members?”
Article 5 provides that if a NATO ally is attacked, each and every other member of the NATO alliance will consider that an attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the attacked ally.
“Israel is similar but different,” Womack said. “Israel is surrounded by people that want to just wipe them off the face of the Earth. Because we’re so friendly with Israel and Israel is our greatest ally in that region of the world, it shares a lot of our common beliefs, then absolutely we need to be able to provide them the resources necessary to help them in their fight against the Iranian proxies that want to do away with the state of Israel. …
“This is a troubled world and it’s pleading, begging, for American leadership, and I don’t think America should be on the sideline when we’ve always been looked at kind of like that iconic symbol of freedom for the rest of the world. If you can’t be trusted by your friends and allies to be there when they need you, then shame on us.”
Womack said immigration is the “single biggest domestic issue facing this country today.”
“It’s out of control,” he said, noting he was recently in El Paso, Texas. “I will tell you that it is a product of our own doing. We built some wall, and then we stopped. And we changed administrations. We changed policies. And now we’re feeling the effects of an unsecure border and migrants running rampant into our country, causing us to expend resources that we should not have to expend to house, feed and clothe and to transport.
“This should never have happened in this country. Our border should have been secured, and we have the capacity to secure it. We just looked the other way.”
Penzo, 48, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2017 to 2022 and has been in the state Senate since January 2023.
His District 31 includes parts of Springdale, Johnson, Tontitown and Elm Springs in Washington County.
Penzo describes himself as a Christian conservative on his campaign website.
He has an associate’s degree in physical therapy from Northwest Arkansas Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Earth science from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
He worked at HealthSouth “where he spent 5 years specializing in stroke and orthopedic rehabilitation and wound care,” according to the website.
For the past 19 years, Penzo has been a Realtor.
Penzo would work to lower the national debt and curb illegal immigration, according to his website. He’s against abortion and supports police, veterans and military personnel.
“Senator Penzo is committed to defending your constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” according to the website.
Penzo will fight against governmental over-reach, according to his website.
“He has fought for individual liberty and limited government in the state legislature and will continue his efforts in Washington,” according to the website. “Penzo also believes in state sovereignty and that the federal government needs to return power to the states.”
According to his Senate biography, Penzo is chair of the Senate Rules, Resolutions and Memorials Committee, co-chair of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Subcommittee and vice co-chair of the Occupational Licensing Review Subcommittee. He is a member on several other committees.
He served on the Tontitown City Council for two years.
“After being on the Tontitown City Council for two years, I realized the issues that I was passionate about were determined at the state level,” he said in an emailed response to questions from a reporter. “When the House seat was vacated in 2016, I decided to run for the position and see if I could make a positive change for my community at the state level.”
When asked why he’s running for Congress, Penzo said, “The people in the district are very upset with Congressman Womack and want a change. I was approached by a large number of constituents asking me to primary Womack. They have watched me vote at the state level for the last seven years and believe this is the type of representation we need at the national level. I believe our Congressman has lost touch with the people of District 3 and that we need a true conservative voice fighting for us in DC. After much prayer and reflection, I decided to primary Congressman Womack to bring the voice back to the people.”
CRITICISM AND RESPONSE
Penzo had some particular criticisms of Womack, which are included below with the congressman’s responses:
Penzo: “Womack was one of only nine Republicans to vote for a $1.66 trillion omnibus spending bill. We can’t keep spending money that we don’t have. The U.S. debt is over $34 trillion.”
Womack: “Over 70% of annual federal outlays are on autopilot. Congress does not vote to appropriate that funding, instead it is mandatory spending. As Budget Committee chairman, I wrote a budget that balanced within the window while prioritizing national security. The budget passed out of committee but was never brought to the floor by the Speaker.”
Penzo: “Womack voted to give more money to Ukraine without any accountability. If elected, I won’t be voting to fund the Ukraine war.”
Womack: “Congress established a Special Inspector General for oversight to ensure the assistance is being used for its appropriated purpose, which is to destroy the Russian army.”
Penzo: “While Womack was voting to create a vaccine database, I was fighting against mask and vaccine mandates in Arkansas.”
Womack: “I’m left to wonder if Mr. Penzo read the legislation I think he is referring to [H.R.550-Immunization Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2021], because if he did, he would know the bill he mentions takes steps to SAFEGUARD Arkansas’ medical information by explicitly stating that program funds can only be used for IT system modernization. Without this bill, the Biden Administration could have allocated previously appropriated funds for other purposes including, possibly, a federal vaccine database. As Mr. Penzo should know, Arkansas has a computerized immunization database and the bill he seemingly opposes would help modernize that system to avoid any unwanted or unlawful disclosure, including to the Biden Administration.”
Penzo: “Womack voted to authorize taxpayer funded gender reassignment surgery for military personnel. I don’t believe that is a prudent use of taxpayer funds.”
Womack: “Here’s something we agree on — the Department of Defense, or any other federal department, should not be funding gender reassignment surgeries. That’s why I have voted dozens of times to prohibit this practice and I have NEVER voted to explicitly authorize its use. I have voted to authorize and fund the Department of Defense because providing for the common defense is my most important constitutional duty. I will never turn my back on our brave servicemen and women.”
Penzo: “I welcome legal immigrants who come to America to start a better life; but the fact is, illegal immigration is … ILLEGAL. Steve Womack has been in congress for 13 years, and the situation at the border is worse than ever before. We have people illegally entering our country from China, Russia, Syria, and dozens of other countries. I believe this is a national security threat and I will fight to strengthen U.S. Immigration Laws and secure our southern border.”
Womack: “Regaining operational control of our southern border is my No. 1 priority. I’ve been fighting this fight long before I came to Congress. As mayor of Rogers, I was one of the first mayors in the entire country to partner with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to deport illegal immigrants and I’ve continued that focus by voting to complete President Trump’s wall. The bill unfortunately did not pass because members of the House Freedom Caucus decided to oppose the bill. Just last year, I supported the strongest border security legislation ever to pass the House, H.R. 2. I’m focused on finding real solutions to these problems. Border security is national security.”