Top 6 questions for 2018 – and a few predictions just for fun

By Steve Brawner

© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

What might happen in Arkansas and national politics in 2018? Asking questions is easier than making predictions. So let’s ask, in the order they’re likely to be answered.

– Will Sen. Tom Cotton become the next CIA director? There have been reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who did not deny calling President Trump a “moron,” will be leaving soon. CIA Director Mike Pompeo supposedly would move to State, while Cotton would go to CIA.

If that happens, it would lead to new questions.

First, who would Gov. Asa Hutchinson appoint to replace Cotton? Unless the appointment  happens later in the year, it would last only until the November general election, and then the appointee could not campaign to stay in office. The state’s most recognizable officials would not want to give up their seats for a temporary job. So presumably, Hutchinson would appoint an agreeable longtime Republican who has earned a nice title – in other words, a wealthy donor or a party activist.

And then more questions would arise. Who runs, and wins, in November to finish the last two years of Cotton’s term? And if current officeholders – Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Rep. Steve Womack, etc. – enter that race, who wins the seats they occupy now?

– Will more Democrats enter the big races? So far only Jared Henderson, a political newcomer, is running for governor, and Democrats don’t expect others. But that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t thinking about it. Democrats still don’t have a candidate for attorney general or lieutenant governor. Meanwhile, the 2nd Congressional District race, which already has two Democratic candidates, could draw at least one more – perhaps state Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock.

– Will there will be fireworks in the fiscal session? The Legislature meets Feb. 12 for its even-numbered-year fiscal session, which is supposed to focus on the budget but can veer off into other subjects. The governor and many legislators want to get in and get out – particularly those who have primary opponents.

But the session could be derailed by opponents of Arkansas Works, which uses Obamacare dollars to purchase private health insurance for 300,000 Arkansans. Three-fourths of both the House and Senate must approve spending money for it, which is a lot. One wild card: The Senate is operating at 94 percent capacity after the passing of Sen. Greg Standridge, R-Russellville, and the resignation of Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, to take a job in the Trump administration. Those vacancies alter the math and the politics.

– What will voters decide next November regarding the tort reform amendment? Voters will be asked to approve an amendment limiting jury verdicts and attorney fees. This initiative will be as hard-fought as any you will ever see. The business community will spend millions to pass it; the lawyers will spend millions to stop it.

– Will the Republican revolution in Arkansas continue to roll on? Midterm elections almost always go against the incumbent president’s party, and Democratic voters are particularly energized this cycle. Don’t expect Arkansas to follow Alabama’s lead and elect a Democrat statewide. The situations are just too different. But Democrats will try to pick up a state legislative seat or two, and nationally they’ve targeted the 2nd Congressional District seat occupied by Rep. French Hill.

– Will Arkansas’ congressional delegation find itself in the minority after November? If Democrats flip 24 House seats, Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker and Arkansas’ four Republican House members find themselves on the outside looking in. The Senate seems less likely to flip because Democrats are defending 26 seats, including 10 in states won by President Trump in 2016, while Republicans are defending only eight.

Oh, let’s make predictions just for fun. Cotton moves to CIA. Hutchinson appoints Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb to replace him. Griffin wins the Senate race in November. The fiscal session produces a few fireworks, most of them duds. Republicans’ and Democrats’ numbers change little at the state level. Hill wins, but Democrats take back the U.S. House while Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

And the tort reform amendment? Sorry, but I’m not ready to make a prediction on that one. Sue me.

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