French Hill Criticized in GOP Debate Over Donation

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014 4:44 pm  

J. French Hill

LITTLE ROCK — Republican congressional hopeful French Hill fended off criticism during a debate Saturday as his two rivals highlighted the Little Rock banking executive's donation to a former Democratic state treasurer's campaign and his support of a local sales tax measure.

State Rep. Ann Clemmer and retired Army Col. Conrad Reynolds repeatedly focused on Hill as the three squared off in an occasionally testy debate held by the Arkansas Federation of Young Republicans. The three are seeking the GOP nomination for central Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District on May 20. Former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays is the only Democrat running.

Clemmer criticized Hill for donating to the 2010 re-election campaign of former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner. Shoffner resigned last year and was convicted last month on 14 counts of bribery and extortion for taking $36,000 in cash from a broker to whom she steered state investments.

"There were Republicans who would have liked to have your donations," Clemmer told Hill. "Why did you think it was better to give to a Democrat than a Republican in 2010?"

Hill defended himself, saying that he has backed Republican candidates for decades. He said he was disgusted by Shoffner's actions but noted that she did not have a Republican challenger in 2010.

"No one on this stage has done more to help build our Republican Party in Arkansas, Texas or across the country, than I have," Hill said.

Reynolds, meanwhile, criticized Hill for advocating for a sales tax increase approved by Little Rock voters in 2011. He also singled out Hill for requesting that a sidewalk in his neighborhood be among the projects funded by the tax increase.

"How on earth can you ask the people in this room or on TV to trust you?" Reynolds said.

Hill said he was among hundreds of people who responded to the city asking for projects that could funded by the new tax.

"It was not a petition. It's just people put on a website a place to build a sidewalk. Don't get your panties in a wad," Hill said.

Hill threw the spotlight on Reynolds' campaign, noting that he had donated $65,000 to his own bid. Aside from the loan, Reynolds has reported raising about $34,000.

"If we back that out, his campaign's in the red. How can the people of the 2nd District trust you to get up there and make the tough decisions about spending, a balanced budget, entitlement reform and you can't even balance the budget for your campaign?" he said.



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