Henley defeats Sanders-backed Bradford in House District 88 Republican primary

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Washington Republican Dolly Henley defeated Hope Republican Arnetta Bradford, who is backed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in Tuesday’s runoff to win the GOP nomination for a state House seat in southwest Arkansas.

The Henley-Bradford runoff race in House District 88 proved to be the most contentious of the three legislative primary runoffs Tuesday. House District 88 includes all of Hempstead County and parts of Miller and Howard counties. The two other legislative primary runoffs were in the Delta.

With 100% of the votes counted, unofficial returns from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office were:

Henley — 1,328

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Bradford — 1,028

Henley will face Libertarian candidate Tammy Goodwin of Saratoga in the Nov. 5 general election.

Henley described her runoff victory Tuesday night as “a win for the future of District 88.”

In a written statement, she thanked her team of volunteers, supporters, family members and friends for their dedication and hard work, and “a special thank you to [former Gov.] Mike and [former First Lady] Janet Huckabee for their friendship and support.” She also thanked voters for casting their ballots in this election and believing in a shared vision of faith, family and the future of Southwest Arkansas.

“While I never expected this race to endure so much negativity and gain the attention of out of state special interest groups, your support and confidence in me fueled my drive and is a testament to the strength [of] our community as whole,” Henley said.

She also thanked Arnetta Bradford for running for the House seat and Robert Bradford for supporting her after the primary election.

“I look forward to working with the other members of the legislature in our area of the state, Governor Sanders and most of all YOU to make Arkansas the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Henley said in her written statement.

Arnetta Bradford thanked her supporters Tuesday night and those who cast their votes for her during the primary and runoff elections.

[Check out our Voter Guide at arkansasonline.com/2024voterguide/]

“While we came up short, I believe everything is in God’s hands,” she said in a written statement. “Congratulations to Dolly on her victory tonight. I know her passion for Southwest Arkansas is as strong as mine, and I know that she will work hard on issues important to our region of the state.”

Sanders said Tuesday night that “Arnetta has been a longtime supporter and friend.

“I was proud to endorse her in this race,” she said in a written statement. “I look forward to supporting Dolly Henley in the general election and working with her in the Legislature as we continue fighting to take Arkansas to the top.”

Sanders endorsed several Republicans in contested state House and Senate primaries, and Bradford is the only one to lose.

Henley is retired after serving stints in several local and state government administrative posts.

She served 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 at Hope-Texarkana.

She is married with two children, and her husband, Paul Henley, is mayor of Washington. She is a member of the First Baptist Church in Hope.

Bradford is owner of Hebrews 11:1 coffee shop, which is located in Hope and Nashville. In January 2023, Sanders announced Bradford’s appointment to the Black History Commission of Arkansas to a term expiring Jan. 14, 2030. Bradford replaced Cherisse Jones-Branch of Jonesboro on the commission.

She and her husband, Chad Bradford, are youth pastors at New Testament House of Prayer in Hope. Her husband is a lineman for Hope Water and Light.

Bradford and Henley were the two top vote-getters March 5 in the three-candidate primary. In the primary, Arnetta Bradford received 1,438 votes compared with Henley’s 1,375 and Robert Bradford’s 231, according to the secretary of state’s office. Robert Bradford of Nashville, a retired small college football coach who is disabled, endorsed Henley after the primary.

In advance of Tuesday’s runoff, Henley defended herself against mailers and texts that she contended are from dark money, out-of-state groups that suggested she is a Democrat. Bradford distanced herself from the mailers and texts, saying she had nothing to do with them and they aren’t a tactic that she would use.

State Rep. Danny Watson, R-Hope, currently represents House District 88. On the final day of campaign filing in November, Watson announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and endorsed Arnetta Bradford to be his successor.

Last week, state Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, charged that a senior staffer in Sanders’ office told Watson he would get an appointment on the state Post-Prison Transfer Board if 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.

Watson countered that Hickey’s “accusations are a flat-out lie.”

But Dalby said “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.”

Sanders spokesman Alexa Henning said last week that “no appointment was ever promised to him.”

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

Besides Huckabee, Hickey and Dalby, Henley is backed by state Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, former state Rep. and state Highway Commissioner Prissy Hickerson, R-Texarkana.

During the campaign, Henley said Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ signature education initiative — the LEARNS Act — has some good features. She said she supports the state helping pay for students to attend private schools, though she acknowledged “it is not real popular.”

Among other things, the LEARNS Act increased the starting annual teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000, gave teachers making above the minimum a $2,000 raise, and created a voucher program, known as Educational Freedom Accounts, for students to attend a private or parochial school or home school. The vouchers are worth 90% of the per-pupil funding schools receive from the state.

Bradford pledged her “full support” of the LEARNS Act.

On abortion, Henley said she is OK with the state’s current abortion law that allows an abortion to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency, and Bradford said “I am pro-life with no exceptions” to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest,

Henley reported raising $82,350 in contributions and spending $46,409.03 in the primary election through March 23, 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 March 23, leaving $1,488.28 in the bank.


Marion’s Jessie McGruder defeated Raymond Whiteside of Marion to win the Democratic party’s nomination in Tuesday’s runoff in House District 35.

With 100% of the votes counted, unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office were:

McGruder — 429

Whiteside — 296

Whiteside said Tuesday night in a written statement that “Of course, I am heartbroken that I lost.

“I am most sad about the time it took away from my family, but I’m still determined to help people who need it and I’m so grateful for the people who donated, volunteered and supported me. They believe in helping others, too,” he said.

Whiteside said he plans to help with gathering signatures for ballot initiatives on education and Arkansas Freedom of Information Act this summer.

McGruder said Tuesday night that he wants to thank his team and all citizens of House District 35 as well as his “my lovely wife.”

McGruder will vie in the general election with the Republican nominee, landscaper and cattleman Robert Thorne Jr. of Marion, who serves on the Crittenden County Quorum Court.

McGruder and Whiteside advanced to the runoff election because they were the two top vote-getters in the four-candidate Democratic primary election March 5 in House District 35. McGruder garnered 632 votes, compared with Whiteside’s 321 votes, Demetrius Johnson Jr.’s 208 and Sherry Holliman’s 192, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The House District 35 seat is held by state Rep. Milton Nicks, D-Marion, who isn’t seeking re-election.

McGruder is a teacher and football, basketball and track coach at Wonder Junior High School in the West Memphis School District.

Whiteside is a community development specialist from West Memphis. He has worked as a teacher as well as a reporter, photographer and copy editor, and is a former chairman of the Crittenden County Democratic Party.

McGruder and Whiteside said they helped gather signatures of registered voters on petitions for the Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) for an unsuccessful effort to qualify a proposed ballot referendum on the LEARNS Act on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.


Hughes Mayor Lincoln Barnett defeated insurance agent Fred Leonard of West Memphis to win the Democratic runoff in House District 63.

With 100% of the votes counted, unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office were:

Barnett — 601

Leonard — 474

Barnett will face Republican Tammi Bell of West Memphis in the November general election.

House District 63 includes portions of Crittenden and St. Francis counties, which includes the western portions of West Memphis. The House seat is currently held by state Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Neither Barnett nor Leonard could be reached for comment by telephone Tuesday night.

Barnett and Leonard advanced to the runoff by being the two top vote-getters in the primary election. Barnett received 837 votes in the March 5 primary, while Leonard received 729 votes and Billy Thomen received 160 vote.

Barnett has served as mayor of Hughes since 2019.

During the campaign, he said if elected his focus will be on criminal justice, education and economic development issues. He lost to Ferguson in the 2022 Democratic primary.

Both candidates are critical of the LEARNS Act. Barnett and Leonard said they don’t support vouchers for private schools, and wish the law included higher pay for veteran teachers.

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