- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The three Republicans running for Arkansas attorney general are all vowing to use the post to fight what they call the federal government’s “overreach” on issues ranging from health care to the environment, but differ on how to do so.

Patricia Nation, Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling face each other in the May 20 Republican primary for attorney general, with the top two vote getters heading into a June 10 runoff if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote. The winner will face state Rep. Nate Steel, the only Democrat running, and Libertarian nominee Aaron Cash in the November election.

Whoever wins the general election will succeed Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who was first elected in 2006 and won re-election without a GOP rival four years later.

Nation, 52, is a civil rights attorney from Jacksonville. Rutledge, 37, is a Little Rock attorney and former deputy prosecutor who has represented the Republican National Committee and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Sterling, 45, is a Little Rock attorney and the former city manager of Hope.

Rutledge has had a fundraising advantage in the race, reporting last month that she’s raised more than $178,000 for her bid and had more than $124,000 in the bank. Sterling has raised more than $155,000 and has more than $108,000 in the bank. Fundraising reports were not available for Nation.

All three candidates tout their opposition to the federal health care law, and are vowing to find ways to fight that measure and other laws they saw infringe on Arkansas’ rights.

Sterling said he’ll form a “federalism task force” of attorneys at the AG’s office to find laws and regulations that the state can challenge as violating the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“I’d hire some smart, aggressive, conservative attorneys that understand the 10th Amendment, understand our system of federalism that limits the role of our government in Washington DC and grants broad authority to individuals and help identify federal laws, federal regulations, executive orders that violate the 10th Amendment and then once those are identified, we would seek to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of those overreaching laws,” Sterling said.

Rutledge said Sterling could open the AG’s office up to accusations of discrimination by saying he was looking for conservative attorneys.

“I’m not saying he is looking to break the law, but you open yourself for potential lawsuits or accusations of discrimination if you’re outright saying we’re going to hire conservative attorneys,” she said.

Sterling said he’s not talking about political conservatism, but a legal view, and said he wasn’t proposing hiring lawyers based on political beliefs. He also criticized an oft-repeated campaign line by Rutledge that she would wake up every morning and ask how she could sue the federal government.

“The difference is I’m actually going to identify meritorious areas where the federal government is overstepping its authority,” Sterling said.

Rutledge acknowledged using that line, but said that doesn’t mean she’s seeking frivolous lawsuits. Rutledge said she would use the AG’s existing resources to find ways to challenge federal laws and regulations, citing the Dodd-Frank Act that Congress passed in 2010 in response to the financial crisis as an example of overreach.

“If there are ways that we can or I can as attorney general take it to the federal government, and if it means a lawsuit, that means a lawsuit,” Rutledge said. “That’s not going to mean wasting taxpayer dollars to do so.”

Nation has also made fighting the federal government a key part of her campaign platform, saying she believes she could use the office to push for a repeal of the federal health care overhaul. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, but Nation said she believes there are still parts of the overhaul that can be challenged in court.

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