A handful of candidates continue attacking their opponents over the 911 bill that keeps emergency services running in rural Arkansas.
Multiple mailers targeting Representatives David Whitaker and LeAnne Burch and state Senators Eddie Cheatham and Bruce Maloch hit mailboxes in recent weeks. The Democratic incumbents are fielding the same questions over and over about the 911 bill attack mailers accusing them of frivolously raising taxes.
To be clear, the 911 bill, a.k.a. The Public Safety Act of 2019, came to the Capitol in the hands of Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert and Republican Rep. Michelle Gray. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson championed the bill early on. Hutchinson signed it into law after it won nearly unanimous support from both parties.
Arkansas’s emergency system needed a new funding source, supporters said. Landline fees that once covered costs related to 911 call centers dried up in recent decades as people ditched home phones for cell phones. The 911 bill essentially shifts those fees from home phone bills to cell phone bills.
Every member of the Arkansas House of Representatives and all but three members of the Senate voted in favor. But the nearly unanimous support didn’t stop Republican candidates from turning the bill into a political weapon.
“It was a good conservative Republican bill that Democrats voted for and got beat up on,” said Sen. Eddie Cheatham, a 7-year incumbent trying to fend off a challenge from debutant Republican candidate Ben Gilmore. Gilmore hit Cheatham’s district repeatedly over the past months with attack mailers characterizing the 911 bill as a tax increase rather than a service fee.
Still, both Gilmore and fellow Ashley County Republican candidate Howard Beaty doubled down on their 911 bill attacks. Beaty is challenging incumbent Brigadier General LeAnne Burch for AR House Dist. 9.