- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Seeking a part-time job that the Legislature decided to keep vacant for the remainder of the year, the three Republicans running for lieutenant governor in Arkansas say they want to use the post to advocate for major changes in the state. Those ideas range from overhauling the state’s tax code to abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office itself.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and state Reps. Debra Hobbs and Andy Mayberry face each other in the May 20 GOP primary for the lieutenant governor’s office. The top two vote-getters head into a June 10 primary if no wins a majority of the vote. The winner will face Democrat John Burkhalter and Libertarian Christopher Olson in November.

The three are running for a post that’s been vacant since Feb. 1, when Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr stepped down over ethics violations tied to his campaign and office spending. The Legislature this year voted to give the governor authority to keep the office vacant rather than call a special election to fill it for a few months.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and casts the rare tie-breaking vote in the 35-member chamber. The duties also include serving as acting governor when the governor is out of state or unable to serve. Two lieutenant governors have been elevated to governor because of resignations over the past 22 years in Arkansas.

Griffin, 45, is a former interim U.S. attorney who served in the White House under former President George W. Bush. He was first elected to Congress in 2010. Hobbs, 58, is a former school teacher who has served in the state House since 2009. Mayberry, 43, owns a small advertising agency and has served in the state House since 2011.

Griffin holds the fundraising advantage in the race, reporting more than $309,000 in contributions since joining the race in February. Mayberry has raised $15,530. Hobbs hasn’t raised any money, but reported $34,873 in loans - $25,000 from herself and $9,873 from her now-defunct bid for governor.

Griffin joined the race for the state’s No. 2 constitutional office in February, just months after announcing that he wouldn’t seek a third term in Congress. Griffin said he saw the race as a way to remain in public service but be closer to his family.

Griffin said he wants to use the office to advocate for policies that he thinks will help Arkansas compete with other states and create jobs. He said a key part of that will be an overall reform to the state’s tax code that he plans to detail later. Griffin serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, the first Republican from Arkansas to serve on the tax-writing panel.

Griffin said he doesn’t see his plan as competing with Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson, who has proposed cutting individual income taxes by $100 million in his first year if elected. Griffin has endorsed Hutchinson’s bid for governor.

“I’m going to push everyone in the state to think big and bold about our tax structure,” Griffin said. “I understand in the short term there are proposals and that’s great, and I support Asa’s income tax policy. But I will tell you that in the longer term we’ve got to take a step back and look at our entire structure.

Griffin said he’ll also push for changes to the state’s workforce training and for a “top to bottom” review of every state agency.

Mayberry was the sponsor of legislation approved last year that banned most abortions in the state 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. A central part of Mayberry’s bid is his plan to abolish the office he’s seeking. Mayberry said he’ll ask the Legislature to refer to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would do away with the office and make the secretary of state next in the line of succession.

Mayberry’s proposal, if approved by voters, would take effect with the 2018 election and would also allow the governor to retain authority when out of state. It would also give the Senate president the authority to preside over that chamber. Mayberry said he wouldn’t seek re-election if his effort to abolish the lieutenant governor’s office fails.

“Quite honestly, it was hard to look someone in the eye with a straight face and give anything more than a weak defense of why we need the office because as a legislature we just voted in overwhelming bipartisan fashion to keep it vacant for nearly a year,” Mayberry said.

Griffin opposes Mayberry’s idea, saying voters should have a say in who will be the next governor of the state. Hobbs said she would likely vote for such a proposal if it were on the ballot, but said she doesn’t plan on advocating a similar plan if elected.

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