Posted 8/13/2013 09:05 am
Updated 8 months ago
HOT SPRINGS - House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman on Tuesday launched his bid for a south Arkansas congressional seat, questioning Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's record as the two prepared for a battle for the Republican nomination.
Westerman said he'll run next year for the 4th Congressional District seat held by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who announced last week he's challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014. The 4th District spans southern and western Arkansas.
Westerman said he's running because he believed state lawmakers' hands were tied by federal laws such as the health care overhaul.
"I believe government is more effective at the state and local level, but it's hard for government to be effective when you've got a top-down approach from Washington," Westerman told The Associated Press before a rally to kick off his campaign. "One reason I want to go to Washington is to fight for our state, to work for the people of Arkansas so that folks in Little Rock can be more effective in what they do."
Westerman led the 51 Republicans in the 100-member House after an election that gave the GOP control of Arkansas' Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.
Darr announced his bid for the GOP nomination Monday and took an early swipe at Westerman's record as majority leader. He criticized the lawmaker's approach to a debate over legislation that was eventually approved allowing Arkansas to use federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income workers.
Westerman was initially a sponsor of the "private option" measure touted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law. But Westerman later pulled his name from the bill and opposed the measure.
Darr called Westerman's approach divisive, citing a speech the majority leader gave in which he questioned Republican support for the measure, invoking the 30 pieces of silver Judas Iscariot was paid to betray Jesus. Darr has said he would have voted against the bill, but probably would have signed the measure into law given the support it received in the Legislature.
Westerman said he didn't think his remarks were divisive and that he had a consistent record in fighting the health care law. During his announcement speech, Westerman called the private option a "noble attempt" but said the measure ultimately fell short in reforming the state's Medicaid program.
Westerman said he planned to lead an effort to block funding for the insurance expansion when the state Legislature returns to the Capitol in February.
Westerman also pushed back against Darr, questioning what record he's running on after serving in a mostly ceremonial position. The lieutenant governor presides over the 35-member state Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes in that chamber - which rarely occurs.
"From the lieutenant governor's office, you can have ideas but you don't actually write legislation or put your name on it or vote on it," Westerman said.
Darr defended his record, touting his push for an "online checkbook" where Arkansans could look up state spending and his signing on to a friend of the court brief in a federal lawsuit challenging the federal health care law. He also cited his signing into law when Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe was out of state a bill making secret the names of Arkansans permitted to carry concealed weapons.
"I'm proud of my record as lieutenant governor and look forward to discussing my accomplishments on the campaign trail," Darr said in a statement released by his campaign.
During the session, Westerman also unsuccessfully pushed for legislation that would have placed a cap on the growth in state spending. The measure faced opposition from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who warned it would "wreak havoc" on the state's budget. The proposal fell short in the House with a 49-47 vote in February.
Janis Percefull, a community college instructor 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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