Update: Rep. Danny Watson denied accusations that he traded political favors with the Governor in order to secure a position on the Arkansas Parole Board. The accusations have become entangled in a runoff election for House District 88, where Watson and Governor Sanders’ preferred successor, Arnetta Bradford, is facing off against Dolly Henley.

On March 26, State Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) made a Facebook post alleging that Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to trade a political appointment to the Parole Board (worth $100,000+ in salary) for a House seat.

Hickey alleges that Rep. Danny Watson (R-Hope) was told he’d get a place on the Parole Board if he secured a Sanders-friendly replacement that could be elected with little cost, the assumption being Sanders is worried about Democratic efforts to break the House supermajority she currently enjoys. 

Here’s why Henley and Governor Sanders’ backroom deal is bad for the people of Hope and District 88:

  1. Political Turmoil: The whole thing creates political instability and conflict within the District. And you guessed it, this leads lack of trust in local government and a distraction from addressing important issues facing the folks of District 88.
  2. Ethical Concerns: Hickey’s allegations the Watson was promised a political appointments in exchange for certain actions is not good — in fact, it’s very bad, and goes against the integrity of the political process. This move by the Governor and Watson undermines democracy and erases transparency.
  3. Negative Campaigning: An outside group from Wisconsin, of all places, thinks they know what’s best for South Arkansans. Negative campaigning, such as spreading false information and accusations, is toxic. It detracts from substantive policy discussions and also damages the reputation of the candidates and the community.
  4. Potential Economic Impact: Political instability and negative publicity can deter investment and economic development in District 88. Resourcing the community may be in jeopardy if investors see the district as politically volatile or corrupt.

We’ve reposted a screenshot of Hickey’s full post at the end of this piece, but here’s a link, too.

As Nate Bell pointed out on social media, if Hickey’s allegations are accurate – and he vehemently stood by them in this Arkansas Times story – this is very illegal; this is illegal in the sense the relevant statute – § 7-1-103 – basically refers to this exact situation. Here’s a screenshot (highlighting is from Mr. Bell):

Saying “I’ll give you a cushy $100,000 job for making sure I’ll have a friend in your old seat” is the definition of “attempting to influence.” 

misleading mailers sent by a dark money group from Wisconsin to voters of District 88

More corroborations soon came in. Mineral Springs Mayor Bobby Tullis confirmed to the editor of the Times that he had considered a run for the seat, but Watson told him he planned to run again. Naturally, this dissuaded Tullis from running, but it seems that Watson was simply holding the seat open while he waited for the appointment to the Parole Board to solidify. 

Rep. Carol Dalby (R-Texarkana) also confirmed to the Times that Hickey’s allegations were true. 

The goal, it seems, is to get Arnetta Bradford into the seat. She’s running against Dolly Henley, who outside groups have accused of being a “secret Democrat.” Henley, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, has received at least $1000 in political contributions from Mike Huckabee, Gov. Sanders’ father. 

This story is still developing, so that’s all the information we currently have (at time of writing, it’s about 10:30 AM on March 27).   

So what’s next? 

According to attorney Tom Mars, you should get in touch with Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Will Jones. Here’s the link to the website: https://www.pulaskicounty.net/county-attorney 

We’d also be remiss to not point out that this is, unfortunately, completely unsurprising. We’ve written before about Sanders’ relationship with the legislature. This is just another example of her desire to become a tyrant in this state, on top of the corruption.

Till we hear more, we’ll leave it at this. But we want to give kudos to Jimmy Hickey here: this takes guts to stand up to the Governor, and it isn’t the first time he’s done so. Applause to you, Jim. 

Corrections, March 28: Bobby Tullis is the current, not former, Mayor of Mineral Springs. An earlier draft of this piece reported that Mike Huckabee donated to Bradford; he donated to Henley.