Court rules criminal convictions disqualify candidate in Arkansas House race

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HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Two candidates are vying to fill the vacant Arkansas House District 12 seat, but a judge has ruled only one of them is eligible to take office.

The ruling came Monday after the Arkansas Republican Party filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging Democrat Jimmie Wilson’s eligibility due to his 1991 misdemeanor convictions.

“According to the judge’s ruling, I am the only person on the ballot that is eligible to run,” said David Tollett, Wilson’s Republican opponent.

A 2016 amendment to the Arkansas state constitution bars people from holding office if they’ve been convicted of crimes involving fraud or deceit.

Wilson was convicted of illegally using farm loans and selling mortgaged crops but was later pardoned.

When WREG called Wilson’s law office Tuesday, we were told he wasn’t available for comment due to a family emergency.

“To have so strict a law that there’s no room for interpretation on the severity or the nefarious or criminal intent behind the law, it’s going too far,” said John Gray, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party.

Gray said Democratic delegates were aware of Wilson’s convictions before nominating him, but still felt he was the best person to represent Phillips County. The party is now planning to appeal the lower court’s ruling before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court will be overturning the will of a majority-minority district in the Delta that is already underrepresented and tell them that the candidate they chose is not eligible,” Gray said.
It’s exactly the situation Tollett said he was hoping to avoid when his party first questioned Wilson’s eligibility.

“It’s better to catch these things before Election Day as opposed to after Election Day and creating another election that all District 12 would have to go through,” Tollett said.
Despite the court’s ruling, Wilson’s name remains on the ballot.

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