Spicy Senate race in NW Arkansas 

Experts in guitar, karate clash.

A rock-guitar-playing right-winger supported by labor unions and trial lawyers defeated a right-winger with Koch Brothers support in the Republican primary, and now faces a Democratic martial-arts practitioner who hopes to become the first Latina member of the Arkansas legislature. It's an interesting year in state Senate District 7.

State Rep. Jon Woods of Springdale bested state Sen. Bill Pritchard of Elkins last month, 2,784 to 2,614, after a spirited contest. In the November general election, Woods will be on the ballot against Diana Gonzales Worthen of Springdale. Worthen's greatest support so far has come from a political action committee, Naturally Blue, that was formed about 20 months ago by young Democratic activists.

Term limits are forcing Woods out of the House, so he filed for the Senate. Political observers at Little Rock foresaw a Senate race between Woods and Pritchard as one of peas from the same ideological pod. Both men have conservative voting records; both promised more of the same.

But a look at the latest financial reports of the two revealed striking dissimilarities in funding. Pritchard's contributions came from familiar sources for conservative candidates. Koch Industries of Wichita gave $2,000, the maximum. The Kochs are huge supporters of right-wing causes and candidates nationwide. The nursing home and real estate lobbies kicked in for Pritchard. (Jim Lindsey, the Northwest Arkansas real estate tycoon, gave $2,000 of his own money to each of the candidates.) The political action committee of Nucor, the steel company with a plant in Mississippi County, gave $2,000. The Landlords of Arkansas PAC forked over $500.

Two of the many things that conservatives hate are labor unions and trial lawyers. But look at Woods' report. The public employees union AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), gave $2,000. The Arkansas Education Association, the teachers union, gave $600. The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association contributed $2,000, and individual lawyers gave generously on their own: Greg Giles of Texarkana, $2,000; Ralph Cloar of Little Rock, $2,000; the Crockett Law Firm of Little Rock, $500; Don Elliott of Fayetteville, $800; Paul Byrd of Little Rock, $1,700; the McKinnon Law Firm of Little Rock, $1,500; Thomas Buchanan of Little Rock, $600; Phillip Wells of Jonesboro, $450; Bobby McDaniel of Jonesboro (father of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel), $1,000; Jerry Kelly of Lonoke, $2,000; Sach Oliver of Cave Springs, $2,000; Frank Bailey of Mountain Home, $2,000; Brad Hendricks of Little Rock, $2,000, and Theresa Hendricks, a homemaker of the same address, $2,000.

Matthew Hass of Little Rock, executive director of the trial lawyers association, said that although people think of trial lawyers as Democrats, ATLA has given to Republicans before. But when it does, the Republican is usually a lawyer, Hass said. Woods is not. Even so, "We've been able to work with Jon at the legislature," Hass said. "He's a true conservative. He supports all of the Constitution, including the Seventh Amendment [trial by jury]." Pritchard, on the other hand, was the leading sponsor of a workers compensation "reform" bill that was actually anti-worker legislation, according to Hass. Many lawyers practice workers comp law. The bill died in a Senate committee.

Not a lawyer, how does Jon Woods make a living? It's not entirely clear. A legislative directory says, a little vaguely, "investments." His campaign website says he's worked as a banker, but doesn't say that he's doing so now. Wikipedia identifies him as "an Arkansas legislator and musician ... currently the bassist in Fayetteville rock band, A Good Fight." Though Wikipedia says that A Good Fight "has had success with getting their music on several reality shows on MTV," and is "currently touring," questions remain about how good a gig this would be. Most bass guitarists in Arkansas rock bands need day jobs.


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