Little Rock candidates for House seat diverge on conservative ideology in GOP primary

A self-proclaimed moderate Republican who sits on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission will face a self-proclaimed conservative law professor and advocate for government transparency who wants to eliminate “corporate welfare” in the GOP primary for a seat in the House in Little Rock next month.

The May 24 race will pit Robert Steinbuch, a professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, against Jon Wickliffe, director of business development in Arkansas for Vantage Health Plans.

The winner will face incumbent Democratic State Representative Andrew Collins of Little Rock in the general election in November.

House District 73 encompasses the Riverdale area and extends west to include Cammack Village and the Heights, River Mountain, and Pleasant Valley neighborhoods, as well as part of western Little Rock.

House’s 100 districts were redrawn last year after the 2020 U.S. Census, so some of the neighborhoods previously represented by Collins were moved to other districts while others were moved within the district.

Steinbuch describes himself as a conservative Republican, while Wickliffe has said he is a moderate Republican.

“I love listening to all sides and different viewpoints and working with others,” Wickliffe said.

Steinbuch criticized Wickliffe for voting in the 2020 Democratic primary and for stating on his website that the race was not about partisan politics.

“Yet he is running in a partisan primary,” Steinbuch said. “The problem for people like me who are Republicans is that we have a strongly Republican legislature but we don’t have a strongly conservative legislature.”

Records provided by the Arkansas secretary of state’s office show Wickliffe voted in the Democratic primaries in 2020 and 2010 and the Republican primaries in 2018, 2014, 2008 and 2006.

Steinbuch voted in the Republican primary in 2020, according to the Secretary of State Archives. While the Secretary of State’s office provided voting history for Steinbuch dating back to the 2008 general election, the 2020 primary was the only race for which Steinbuch listed a party.

Wickliffe said he doesn’t remember the 2010 primary, but in 2020 he had a friend running for justice of the peace that he wanted to support in the primary.

“I didn’t feel like [former President Donald] Trump was going to lose the primary in Arkansas and of course I support the Republicans in Arkansas,” he said. “I’m a big supporter of the Republican Party.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, whose term is limited and who will leave office in January 2023, backed Wickliffe in the race. Hutchinson said in a video of Wickliffe’s campaign launch posted on Facebook that Wickliffe is politically engaged and supports good candidates.

“He’s a strong candidate and he’s really going to help us in the Legislative Assembly, but he also has a tough district and a tough campaign ahead of him,” Hutchinson said. “You will win because you will work, because you have a great team.”

Wickliffe, 54, attended Oak Grove High School in North Little Rock and earned a criminal justice degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He worked for Jeffrey Sand Co., eventually as superintendent of the Conway location, before moving into pharmaceutical sales from 1999 to 2021. He served on the Little Rock Port Authority board of directors for 19 years beginning in 1999. Hutchinson appointed him to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in 2019. He has two children.

Steinbuch, 54, said he had lived in Little Rock for about 20 years and had previously worked as legal counsel for the US Senate Judiciary Committee and the US Department of Justice before going into teaching . A New York native, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Columbia Law School.

He is a co-author of a treatise on state Freedom of Information Law and is a member of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Law Task Force, along with other advocacy groups related to transparency.

Steinbuch now advises and helps draft bills for about 20 Republican state legislators on a pro bono basis and represents Arkansans pro bono in what he considers public interest litigation, he said.

These cases have included a defamation case on behalf of two Jonesboro teachers who were charged with wrongdoing because they were in Washington, D.C., on the day of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol as well as cases he said seek to clarify ambiguity about carrying guns in city and county buildings.

“If I see a wrong, I want to right a wrong,” he said.

Asked about his opponent, Wickliffe said Steinbuch seems to want to find the negative in the state, while he wants to see the good in Arkansas.

“I’m at my best when I help others and that’s what I want to do,” Wickliffe said. “He likes to sue people for free.”

Steinbuch was also the plaintiff himself. In 2015, he sued his current employer for violating Arkansas freedom of information law for refusing to give him seven years of test scores, grades and bar exam scores with a breakdown of graduates from the Bowen School of Law by gender and race.

Administrators said responding to the request could violate the privacy rights of students from minority groups; Steinbuch said he was studying law school admissions policies and wondered if the law school was accepting sufficiently prepared students. The case ultimately moved from federal court to state court, where the university’s motion to dismiss the Steinbuch’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction was granted.

The attorney also sued a former girlfriend in a 2005 privacy invasion case over her former blog, which included sexually explicit details of her encounters with various men in Washington, DC.

In the suit, Steinbuch said it was clear he was one of the men she wrote about, although she didn’t use his full name. The lawsuit and a subsequent case arising from the woman’s novel that covered the same subject and HBO’s acquisition of an option for a television series based on it were ultimately dismissed.

TAXES

Steinbuch said he favors reducing state income tax and would eventually support its complete elimination.

“We pay too much tax in all areas,” he said.

He said he supports smaller government, and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, where Wickliffe has a leadership role, is at the forefront of things he would cut.

“It’s cronyism and corruption and it needs to be stamped out, and I’m ready to cut and cut because the government is too big,” he said. “We need to get the government to focus on its main obligations, like I said, safety and security, and lessen other things.”

Wickliffe said he thinks Arkansas has done a great job, especially throughout the pandemic, of making sure the state is in the running for jobs. He said he supported increasing incentives and lowering taxes for businesses.

As for reducing or eliminating state income tax, Wickliffe said he needs to look into the matter further and did not have a position on it as of last week. , although he said that whenever the state can cut taxes “it helps everybody.”

“I think it needs to be looked at. I think there are a lot of moving parts in there,” he said.

PUBLIC SECURITY

Both candidates said improving public safety would be a top priority for them as lawmakers, especially to tackle crime in Little Rock.

If elected, Steinbuch said he would change the jurisdiction of the Arkansas State Police so that troopers can patrol Little Rock with city police.

“Little Rock doesn’t have enough law enforcement because the city government has taken a hands-off approach to crime and it’s devastating to the hard-working citizens of District 73,” he said. declared.

He said he would also create joint state-controlled task forces to come up with approaches that address areas that are seeing a significant rise in crime like Little Rock. Steinbuch said he worked on similar issues while serving as counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wickliffe said he wants to keep Little Rock safe by working with the justice system and law enforcement to make sure the laws are enforced and stop people who have committed crimes from committing more. others.

In September, Wickliffe was cited for having a loaded gun in his carry-on while going through security at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, according to a Little Rock police report. He said he mistakenly grabbed a backpack from his closet where the gun was hidden before leaving for the airport.

Steinbuch said the incident indicated that Wickliffe would not be an effective supporter of Second Amendment rights.

“To be a good gun rights advocate, you have to be a responsible gun owner, because you’re not going to be a good gun rights advocate,” he said. “I train regularly with firearms.”

Wickliffe said it was an embarrassing mistake and that he “absolutely” advocates responsible gun ownership.

“I was mortified,” he said. “I have my concealed weapons license and it was just a simple mistake, and of course I believe in responsible gun ownership.”

SCHOOL CHOICE

Steinbuch said he supports school choice and voucher programs for students to attend private school.

He said enough funding was needed to keep public schools an option, but he believed people should be able to choose between public and private schools and that voucher programs provided a service.

Wickliffe said he’s a big supporter of public schools and should know more about voucher programs, but that’s so parents can choose what’s best for their children.

He said he supported increasing salaries for public school teachers, but did not have a specific rate in mind.

ABORTION

Both candidates claim to be pro-life.

Wickliffe said his heart goes out to mothers who find themselves in situations where they are considering abortion and that he understands the exceptions for maternal health and pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, but should review the details of any proposed legislation before deciding whether he would support it.

Steinbuch said he favors banning abortions in circumstances other than when the mother’s life is in danger, with no exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

According to its latest monthly campaign finance report, Wickliffe had raised $21,325 for its main auction and spent $5,750.05, leaving a balance of $16,574 at the end of February.

Steinbuch said he raised $932.84 and spent $3,143.94 as well as $10,107.18 in loans from himself, leaving a balance of $15,792.16 at the end of February.

Early voting in the primary election begins May 9. The deadline to register to vote in this election is April 25.

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