Arkansas - Law and Government

Law and Government

See also: List of Governors of Arkansas and Political party strength in Arkansas

The current Governor of Arkansas is Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who was elected on November 7, 2006.

One of Arkansas's U.S. Senators is Democrat Mark Pryor, and the other one is Republican John Boozman. The state has four seats in U.S. House of Representatives. One seat is held by Democrats: Mike Ross (map), and three are held by Republicans: Rick Crawford, (map), Tim Griffin(map), and Steve Womack(map).

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2008 58.72% 638,017 38.86% 422,310
2004 54.31% 572,898 44.55% 469,953
2000 51.31% 472,940 45.86% 422,768
1996 36.80% 325,416 53.74% 475,171
1992 35.48% 337,324 53.21% 505,823
1988 56.37% 466,578 42.19% 349,237
1984 60.47% 534,774 38.29% 338,646
1980 48.13% 403,164 47.52% 398,041
1976 34.93% 268,753 64.94% 499,614
1972 68.82% 445,751 30.71% 198,899
1968* 31.01% 189,062 30.33% 184,901
1964 43.41% 243,264 56.06% 314,197
1960 43.06% 184,508 50.19% 215,049
*State won by George Wallace
of the American Independent Party,
at 38.65%, or 235,627 votes

The Democratic Party holds majority status in the Arkansas General Assembly. A majority of local and statewide offices are also held by Democrats. This is increasingly uncommon in the modern South, where a majority of statewide offices are now held by Republicans. Arkansas had the distinction in 1992 of being the only state in the country to give the majority of its vote to a single candidate in the presidential election—native son Bill Clinton—while every other state's electoral votes were won by pluralities of the vote among the three candidates. Arkansas has become more reliably Republican in presidential elections in recent years. The state voted for John McCain in 2008 by a margin of 20 percentage points, making it one of the few states in the country to vote more Republican than it had in 2004. (The others were Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and West Virginia.) Obama's relatively poor showing in Arkansas was likely due to a lack of enthusiasm from state Democrats following former Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton's failure to win the nomination, and his relatively poor performance among rural white voters. However, the Democratic presence remains strong on the state level; in 2006, Democrats were elected to all statewide offices by the voters in a Democratic sweep that included the Democratic Party of Arkansas regaining the governorship, and in 2008, freshman Senator Mark Pryor was re-elected with nearly 80% of the vote against Green candidate Rebekah Kennedy with no Republican opposition.

Most Republican strength lies mainly in the northwestern part of the state, particularly Fort Smith and Bentonville, as well as North Central Arkansas around the Mountain Home area. In the latter area, Republicans have been known to get 90 percent or more of the vote. The rest of the state is more Democratic. Arkansas has only elected two Republicans to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, Tim Hutchinson, who was defeated after one term by Mark Pryor and John Boozman, who defeated incumbent Blanche Lincoln. The General Assembly has not been controlled by the Republican Party since Reconstruction and is the fourth most heavily Democratic Legislature in the country, after Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Connecticut. Arkansas was one of just three states among the states of the former Confederacy that sent two Democrats to the U.S. Senate (the others being Florida and Virginia) during the first decade of the 21st century.

Although Democrats have an overwhelming majority of registered voters, Arkansas Democrats tend to be much more conservative than their national counterparts, particularly outside Little Rock. Arkansas' Democratic congressman is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, which tends to be more pro-business, pro-military, and socially conservative than the center-left Democratic mainstream. Reflecting the state's large evangelical population, the state has a strong social conservative bent. Under the Arkansas Constitution Arkansas is a right to work state, its voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage with 75% voting yes, and the state is one of a handful with legislation on its books banning abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.

In Arkansas, the lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor and thus can be from a different political party.

Each officer's term is four years long. Office holders are term-limited to two full terms plus any partial terms before the first full term. Arkansas governors served two-year terms until a referendum lengthened the term to four years, effective with the 1986 general election. Statewide elections are held two years after presidential elections.

Some of Arkansas's counties have two county seats, as opposed to the usual one seat. The arrangement dates back to when travel was extremely difficult in the state. The seats are usually on opposite sides of the county. Though travel is no longer the difficulty it once was, there are few efforts to eliminate the two seat arrangement where it exists, since the county seat is a source of pride (and jobs) to the city involved.

Arkansas is the only state to specify the pronunciation of its name by law (AR-kan-saw).

Article 19 (Miscellaneous Provisions), Item 1 in the Arkansas Constitution is entitled "Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness," and states that "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court." However, in 1961, the United States Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), held that a similar requirement in Maryland was unenforceable because it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. The latter amendment, per current precedent, makes the federal Bill of Rights binding on the states. As a result, this provision has not been known to have been enforced in modern times, and it is understood that it would be struck down if challenged in court.


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