Chad Gallagher, a man of many hats as a political consultant, message shaper, farmer, restaurateur, real estate developer and Christian educator, had a satisfying peg to hang 2022 on as the world greeted the new year.
He was the consultant who oversaw messaging against marijuana legalization for the Family Council and its allies. And working with about a third of the resources supplied by the medicinal marijuana industry, which kicked in about $3 million in support, the former De Queen mayor and political director to ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee helped turn public sentiment against Issue 4. That was the proposed adult-use marijuana amendment that voters soundly rejected in November.
The Ouachita Baptist University graduate and founder of Legacy Academy in Lockesburg (Sevier County) told Arkansas Business the lessons of 2022 are important because legalization efforts “will come up again as both sides prepare for future battles.”
Issue 4 drew broad support in early polling last year, but eventually more than 56% of voters turned against it. It wound up winning in only six of 75 counties: Chicot, Crittenden, Jefferson, Mississippi, Pulaski and Washington.
“I think the messaging was multifaceted,” Gallagher said when asked what turned the tide. “This measure would have rigged the system, exploiting Arkansans to enrich the corrupt,” he said, referring to a common theme from skeptics of provisions in the amendment that would have granted recreational marijuana licenses to all growers and sellers of medicinal marijuana.
The original licenses that put those medical marijuana companies in business have been constantly litigated for years, and described in some cases as unfair by members of the Medical Marijuana Commission and the Arkansas Supreme Court.
“We built on those categorical themes,” Gallagher said. “We had to be creative and strategic because we were utilizing significantly less resources than our opponents.”
Also, “Arkansas doesn’t need another drug problem.” That argument dovetailed with reports from states that have adopted legalization — like California and Colorado — only to find that the illegal trade still flourishes.
Next, Gallagher said that legalization generally does not align with the values of Arkansans, and particularly not Arkansans like himself, churchgoers “who care about families and children.”
“My wife [Jessica] and I own a grass-fed beef farm in Sevier County. We helped found a private Christian school [in 2007] there that is thriving, growing and succeeding,” Gallagher said, describing his varied background. “We own a restaurant and multiple rental properties. After years of only politics, I’ve tried to diversify!”
The restaurant is called Stilwell’s, and the beef operation is Magnolia Meadows Farm, both in De Queen. For 16 years Gallagher has led Legacy Consulting, and in 2010 he founded Legacy Holdings & Properties LLC.
Gallagher is a veteran of Mike Huckabee’s campaigns, “including the presidential bids,” and he has run Huckabee’s political action committee “for many years since,” he said. He is also proud to claim another client, the late country music superstar Loretta Lynn.
In 2018 Gallagher ran messaging against ballot Issue 1, known as the tort reform amendment, which would have limited plaintiffs’ compensation to a fixed-dollar amount for all noneconomic damages in lawsuits.
The issue was nullified on the ballot, but Gallagher helped spread his “conservative belief” that the “reform” wasn’t needed, that there was no data in Arkansas to indicate a problem, and that it would have hurt the less fortunate. “We simply cannot place a one-size-fits-all arbitrary price on the value of life,” he said. “Our message connected well with Arkansans and the vote tabulations show we would have won if the courts hadn’t ordered the votes not to be counted.”