By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
With early voting now less than a month away, voters throughout Hempstead County and the City of Hope will decide the next Hempstead County Judge and County Coroner, while voters in two Hope city wards will also decide their representation on the Hope City Board the next four years.
In the main Hempstead County storyline, a familiar face running as a Republican squares off against a political newcomer running as a Democrat as former longtime Hempstead County Sheriff Jerry Crane and former Navy veteran Allen Flowers represent two diverse choices for Hempstead County residents on Tuesday, November 6.
Crane emerged in May’s GOP primary for Hempstead County Judge ousting incumbent Haskell Morse and a second challenger Greg Jackson. Crane finished with 1,261 while Morse had 645 and Jackson come in with 292.
Flowers did not have a primary challenger, but faces a monumental task against Crane in both name recognition and popularity in a contest to determine the next Hempstead County Judge for the next four years, starting in January 2019.
The well-known Crane, who served as Hempstead County Sheriff for 18 years, retired to form a church and do ministry in Perrytown. Crane had also served in law enforcement for 28 years, having also worked for the Hope Police Dept. and the Highway Patrol division. Crane also served in the military in the Vietnam War.
In contrast, Flowers is a retired Veteran, who settled down in Hope, and he completed his military service after 24 years in both the Navy and Army, where he saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as being stationed stateside.
After Crane emerged in the GOP Primary, Flowers said, “We are pleased that voters did vote for change. We are confident that our campaign will be able to ride that wave of change to a victory in November.”
Shortly after moving on himself, Crane at the time, said “Flowers was not a candidate to be taken lightly.”
Based on county-wide turnouts back in May, of the 10,576 registered voters in Hempstead County, 2,208 identified as Republicans voted, while only 622 Democrats cast a ballot in the primaries; as Flowers is now fully engaged against Crane, those turnouts may change.
The other countywide race is for the Hempstead County Coroner; in a relatively low-profile affair, David W. Peters, a Republican, is running against Scott Brown, a Democratic, for the vacancy left by incumbent Ben Brazzel, who did not seek reelection.
Within the City of Hope, two longtime incumbents in their respective districts, Steve Montgomery, Ward 6, and Don Still, Ward 7, face challengers; the third Hope seat that was up in the 2018 election cycle, held by Mark Ross, in Ward 1, was not challenged.
In addition, Ward 4 will have new representation next year as Linda Clark, who was also not challenged, will assume the seat held by Don Hall since 2002. Hall, who is retiring, had originally assumed his seat after J.C. Winemiller retired.
Montgomery is the current Hope Mayor, having ascended to the seat after longtime Mayor Dennis Ramsey retired. Montgomery had served as Vice-Mayor under Ramsey, and Still is now the current Vice-Mayor under Montgomery. Still was first elected to the Hope Board of Directors in 1992.
In his public remarks in assuming the Mayor’s post in January 2017, Montgomery said, “Anyone up here could have served in any of the positions; in Hope, the post of Mayor is mostly ceremonial. We have a professional staff and administration. I have full confidence in the administration and department leaders; Catherine Cook and her team do a great job for us.”
Montgomery, who has served on the Hope Board of Directors out of Ward 6 since 2007, is well-known as the owner of several McDonald’s stores in southwestern Arkansas, is being opposed by Carla Bryant, an Associate Professor of Education at Southern Arkansas University and co-pastor/missions director of Word of Grace Church.
Bryant is married to Carroll Bryant, who is Senior Pastor at Word of Grace and serves as an Adjunct Instructor of Education at Southern Arkansas University. Prior to teaching at SAU, both Bryants taught in the Hope Public School District.
Another Hope-area educator and political newcomer, Peter Maggio, the principal of Spring Hill High School, is challenging Still, the owner of Still Automotive Service on West 3rd Street.
Hope voters only in the contested wards, Ward 6 and Ward 7, will actually cast ballots on November 6 in those respective races as the City of Hope presently has no true citywide races or ballots.
Back on July 10, Hope resident voters did see a citywide election to change the overall governance of the city from its current Board of Directors/City Manager form to a citywide Mayor and City Council form.
If the change was successful, then Hope voters across the city would have seen a much different ballot in November, featuring a citywide elected Mayor, and a city council elected from the different districts.
The July 10 measure, however, failed by 11 votes, 391 Against Change and 380 For Change, so the current Hope government structure stood in place, and the original 2018 cycle seats in Wards 1, 6, and 7 now continue as scheduled, only with Ross in Ward 1 unopposed.
The July 10 Hope citywide vote percentage was 49.2-percent, For, and 50.8, Against, revealing a sharp polarization of an almost evenly divided electorate among residents in Hope.
In terms of geographic breakdown by the seven wards in Hope, the measure lost in Ward 6, which is the home district of Montgomery, and Ward 2, the home district of Kiffenea Talley, but it apparently won in the other five city wards, which included Ward 1 (Ross), Ward 3 (Reginald Easter), Ward 4 (Hall), Ward 5 (Trevor Coffee), and Ward 7 (Still).
For both Montgomery, on the board since 2007, and Still, first elected in 1992, the challenge they face in 2018 is one of incumbency, representing an establishment leadership structure that was substantially challenged, and almost defeated in July.
For both Bryant, against Montgomery, and Maggio, against Still, however, their challenge in entering the race as political newcomers, is lacking the public name-recognition of better known opponents.
Within the City of Hope approximately 3,000 persons were on the books as registered to vote as of July 10; in the May 22 primary, 910 Hope residents voted, while the July 10 special election had only 774 Hope residents participate.