Mark Darr Announces Run for Arkansas' 4th District Seat

LITTLE ROCK - Lt. Gov. Mark Darr said Monday he'll run for a south Arkansas congressional seat, taking a swipe at his likely rival for the Republican nomination for his handling of the debate in the Legislature over expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law.

Vowing to fight President Barack Obama and the federal health overhaul, Darr became the first Republican to announce a bid for the 4th District seat held by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Cotton announced last week he'll challenge Demoratic Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014.

Darr, who was elected to the lieutenant governor's post in 2010 on a vow to fight the federal health care law at the state level, said Monday he'd push for the law's repeal if elected to Washington. The lieutenant governor's office is a largely ceremonial post in Arkansas.

"I think we need to repeal and replace Obamacare, and we need people up there who are willing to do it," Darr told The Associated Press in an interview before a rally to announce his bid in the west Arkansas town of Huntington.

Republicans have said they plan to use the slow economic recovery and the health care law to attack Democrats in the 2014 congressional elections. The Republican-controlled House has voted dozens of times since Obama signed the law in 2010 to repeal, defund or scale it back.

Darr also criticized state House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, who's expected to join the GOP race for the 4th District, for the way he approached debate over a proposal to expand Medicaid in Arkansas under the federal health care law.

Westerman had initially been a sponsor of legislation allowing Arkansas to use Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for thousands of low income workers. Westerman later pulled his name from the "private option" legislation, touted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's enrollment, and voted against the bill after floating the possibility of pushing a competing proposal.

Darr said the state wouldn't have had the private option without Westerman initially working on the legislation. Darr said he would have voted against the bill in the Legislature but probably would have signed it into law if he were governor, given the supermajority support it received.

"I just think that one he did the research for it, he helped write the bill and at the last hour he pulled out and said I've got something else," Darr said. "To me, that's a CYA bill. It just covers your own rear and says this is my own."

Darr also said Westerman's opposition was too divisive for the party, citing a floor speech where Westerman asked Republicans: "Is this vote worth 30 pieces of silver?"

"I know emotions were high, but at the same time leaders lead with a cool head," Darr said. "Calling people Judases is not a good way to lead."

A spokesman for Westerman questioned why Darr didn't weigh in on the private option earlier.

"I'm sure there were many in the Capitol that would have enjoyed hearing the Lt. Governor's ideas on the private option while they were timely and relevant," spokesman Ryan James said in an email. "Leadership is recognizing a bad deal for Arkansans, doing what one's constituents demand, and not waiting over 100 days to weigh in on a controversial issue - all things Bruce Westerman did as House Majority Leader."

Darr was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, when Republicans won three of the state's seven constitutional offices. He pushed for the creation of an "online checkbook" where Arkansans could look up information.

He clashed earlier this year with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe when Beebe was out of state and Darr signed a law making secret the names of Arkansans allowed to carry concealed handguns. Beebe later criticized Darr for the move.

Janis Percefull, a community college teacher from Hot Springs, is the only announced Democratic candidate for the 4th District. Beth Anne Rankin, who was the GOP nominee for the seat in 2010 and lost the primary to Cotton last year, is considering running.

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