Hope lawmaker denies report he dropped relection bid to seek seat on state Parole Board

Gun Rights

State Rep. Danny Watson, R-Hope, on Wednesday called it “a flat out lie” for state Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, to charge that a senior staffer in Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office told Watson he would get an appointment on the state Post Prison Transfer Board if he, Watson, found a replacement for himself in the House that the governor’s office would approve of and “if they did not have to fund a lot of money into this SW Arkansas race.”

Hickey said Watson shared that information with state Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana.

On Tuesday, Dalby confirmed that Watson told her that information, but Dalby declined to disclose the identity of the senior staffer in the Republican governor’s office.

Sanders spokesman Alexa Henning said Wednesday in a written statement that “Watson has done a good job in the legislature.

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“He made it clear to this administration as well as the last that he is interested in an appointment to the Post Prison Transfer Board, but he is not eligible to be considered as a member of the legislature, and no appointment was ever promised to him,” she said.

Watson has served in the House of Representatives since 2017. He spent 15 years in law enforcement and also served as a director of safety for a trucking company.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Hickey said Watson told Dalby that he wasn’t going to run for re-election to the House District 88 seat on Oct. 2 and Dalby relayed that information to Hickey at that time. Hickey also said that Watson told Dalby that his plan was to bring Arnetta Bradford, whom he wants to succeed him, to the state Capitol a few minutes before the candidate filing period ended in November. Dalby confirmed on Tuesday that Watson had told her that.

Bradford, of Hope, and Dolly Henley of Washington are vying in next Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination in House District 88. The winner of the GOP runoff will compete with Libertarian candidate Tammy Goodwin of Saratoga in the Nov. 5 general election

On Wednesday, Watson said in a written statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that “these accusations are a flat out lie.”

He said he shared with Dalby in a conversation that he had been looking for a qualified, electable conservative for several months and “If I can find one that I may not run again because [there is] an opportunity to serve in another capacity,” and that he has been “Interested in this for several years now & will try to see if it will work this time, or just may retire from the legislature.”

Watson said he also indicated that he had “no guarantees I will be selected or anyone else.” He said he had “no deal with the governor’s office” to be appointed to the Post Prison Transfer Board.

He said that “The part not having to spend a lot of money more than likely was something I mentioned to her for explanation on a possible electable candidate.”

Asked if he expects to be appointed to the Post Prison Transfer Board, Watson wrote in his response, “No clue.”

“Never was certain anyway but just asked for the opportunity to be considered,” he said in the written statement. “You do understand if I ran again & was elected, It would never happen, right? Cannot resign & receive consideration or even appt as long as your an elected official.”

The Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board is composed of seven members appointed from the state at large by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The board includes Chairwoman Lona McCastlain and board members Wendy Ryals, Brett A. Morgan, Douglas Smith, John Felts, and William Shock. There is one vacancy on the board. In February, Jamol Jones resigned as the board’s chairman after the news media reported that he was fired in 2018 from the Benton Police Department after he admitted to an internal affairs investigator that he lied about a sexual relationship he had with a 17-year-old girl.

McCastlain’s salary is $139,999 a year, Shock’s salary is $117,979 a year, Felts’ salary is $112,898 a year, Morgan’s salary is $107,283 a year, Ryals’ salary is $104,215 a year, and Smith’s salary is $95,381 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.

On Wednesday, Hickey said that he doesn’t consider his Facebook post to be “accusations.”

“It’s the facts that Danny told Carol Dalby,” he said.

Dalby, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that “Having served in various capacities within the judicial system including serving as a judge, I am willing to put my hand on the Bible and swear as to the truth in Senator Hickey’s Facebook post as it relates to what Representative Watson told me.”

Gov. Sanders and Watson are supporting Bradford in the April 2 runoff election in House District 88, which Watson currently represents. Hickey and Dalby are supporting Bradford’s opponent, Henley.

Hickey’s Facebook post on Monday came a day before early voting started on Tuesday.

House District 88 includes all of Hempstead County and parts of Miller and Howard counties. Hickey represents Senate District 4, which includes Howard, Little River, Miller and Sevier Counties and part of Hempstead County.

Beyond Sanders’ and Watson’s endorsements, Bradford also is backed by the Arkansas Federation for Children Action Fund and the National Rifle Association.

Besides Hickey and Dalby, Henley is backed by state Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is Sanders’ father.

Henley, 66, is retired after serving stints as recreation director for the city of Hope, parks and recreation director for the city of Nashville, advancement director at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana, executive director for the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation and director of Hempstead Hall at the University of Arkansas Community College a Hope-Texarkana. Her husband, Paul Henley, is mayor of Washington.

In a written statement on Wednesday, Henley said, “I have not talked with Danny Watson to get any details about his decision not to file for re-election.”

“… I am not personally aware of what he was telling people,” she said. “I am being bombarded by negative mail and phone calls that are outright non-truths about me, so I don’t want to comment beyond that.”

Henley has also decried mailers and texts that she said are from dark money out-of-state groups that suggest she’s a Democrat. Bradford has said she has had nothing to do with the fliers and texts.

Bradford, 39, is owner of Hebrews 11:1 coffee shop, which is located in Hope and Nashville. She and her husband, Chad Bradford, are youth pastors at New Testament House of Prayer in Hope.

Asked about Hickey’s Facebook post on Monday and whether she has any knowledge or expectation that Watson will be appointed to the Post Prison Transfer Board, Bradford said in a Wednesday statement: “I’m choosing to remain focused on the real issues that impact our district: growing our economy, educating our children, and protecting traditional values.”

Bradford and Henley were the two top vote-getters March 5 in the three-candidate Republican primary in House District 88. In the primary, Bradford received 1,438 votes, compared with Henley’s 1,375 and Robert Bradford’s 231, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Through Saturday, Henley reported raising $82,350 in contributions and spending $46,409.03 in the primary election, leaving $35,940.97 in the bank. In contrast, Bradford reported raising $10,387.46 in contributions and spending $8,899.18 for the primary election through Saturday, leaving $1,488.28 in the bank.

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