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Bless Your Heart, Arkansas

In this week’s episode, Bernie and Lori chat with Paul Connell, previously Chief Deputy AG in Wisconsin and Cozen O’Connor’s resident expert on the Arkansas AG race. We review the candidates’ backgrounds and qualifications and try our hand at picking who will win the race in November. We consider how the leading candidate’s background is likely to influence his priorities should he be elected, and discuss Arkansas’ open-door policy and the benefits it confers for businesses seeking to know what is on an AG’s mind.

PRODUCED IN COLLABORATION WITH:

Chris Allen, Member, Executive Producer

Hannah Cornett, Associate

Suzette Bradbury, Director of Practice Group Marketing (State AG Group)

Elisabeth Hill Hodish, Policy Analyst

Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated

Transcript

Lori Kalani:

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to State AG Pulse. I’m here with my law partner, Bernie Nash. And today, we have a special guest with us, not really a guest, he’s really one of the family, Paul Connell.

Paul Connell:

Good morning, Bernie and Lori.

Lori Kalani:

Paul’s a former chief deputy. He served under Brad Schimel in Wisconsin for four years while Brad was the AG. And prior to that, Paul was a former AUSA, and also was with another national law firm, so we’re thrilled to have Paul today. I’ve decided we’re going to nickname this podcast “Bless Your Heart”, because we’re here today to talk about the Arkansas race. And I have never met anyone from Arkansas that didn’t say, “Bless your heart” within the first paragraph, and then multiple times after that. So I’m sure Bernie and Paul, you’ll go with me on that. And with that, we should get started. Today, we’re going to cover several things. We’re going to run down the candidates in Arkansas, we’re going to give our predictions for the outcome, provide some history on the office, what the office has looked like over the last several years, and also what businesses and what our clients can expect in the next administration in Arkansas, which spoiler alert, ties directly to the fact that we believe we know who will be the next AG in Arkansas.

Paul Connell:

So yeah, the primary date is coming up soon, May 24th. There are four candidates, one of whom is a write-in. The leading candidate is Tim Griffin, the current Lieutenant Governor. Also in the race is Leon Jones, Jesse Gibson is a Democrat, and a write-in candidate named Gerhard Langguth is also in the race, Bernie. So from there, handicap away, my friend.

Bernie Nash:

Well, it’s definitely not going to be Gerhard Langguth. And if it was 20 years ago, I would say it would be a competitive race between Tim Griffin and Jesse Gibson. But going back, give or take 20 years ago, Arkansas has gone from a blue state to a purple state to a red state. And I think Tim Griffin has over a million dollars in the bank. He’s a former… well, he’s a current Lieutenant Governor, former Congressman. And Leon Jones just neither has the name recognition, nor the monetary capacity to make that competitive. So I would say, and of course people will judge me on May 25th, but right now, I would say it is Tim Griffin all the way. He will not only win the primary, but he will be the next attorney general.

Paul Connell:

And I will now do my best to Ed McMahon and say, “You are correct, sir.” It is almost certainly the right answer. Lori, what do you think?

Lori Kalani:

Well, I’m not going to be odd man out, but truthfully, I agree with you both. I believe that Tim Griffin, not just for the reasons that you stated, that he’s got name recognition in the state, he’s certainly served in very important roles, both as the Lieutenant Governor and a US Congressman, but we’ve talked to him and we’ve had the opportunity to meet him, and he is outgoing, charismatic, he’s a great fundraiser, and he’s really doing the hard work. I’ve read up on Leon Jones. I haven’t talked to him, and he has an impressive resume as well, very different than Tim’s, but nonetheless impressive. He’s the former head of the Department of Labor. He’s, I believe, a seventh generation Arkansan.

And I think his issues that he says he wants to run on are good strong issues, but nonetheless, I still think that Tim Griffin is the guy who wins the day. And what’s interesting here is that Tim Griffin is the Lieutenant Governor serving his second term, and Leslie Rutledge, the current attorney general, who is serving her second term as attorney general, is running for Lieutenant Governor. So I just wonder if they’re in there talking about how they’re going to change the decor in one another’s offices after the election.

Paul Connell:

One cannot help but be very impressed by Tim Griffin. And he is extraordinarily well qualified for the office, assuming he does win, having served in the White House, having served in Congress, been an appointed US Attorney, and now has spent, of course, eight years side by side with the Governor. We don’t see many candidates this well qualified, sort of who have touched all the bases of government as they ascend to become the attorney general. And what I find very interesting about him as a former Assistant US Attorney, his angle on criminal justice reform is a unique one, and he is focused on the recidivism angle and not so much more money for law enforcement necessarily, more tools for law enforcement, but using the faith-based community ministry that he serves on, currently as Lieutenant Governor, as a way to drive criminal justice reform. And I suspect that’s something he will take with him into the AG’s office.

Bernie Nash:

And I think it’s going to be a very cohesive government in that the Lieutenant Governor and the AG have worked together for a long period of time. They know each other well, they know what the respective roles are, and I think it’s going to be a seamless transition. I find it quite interesting that less than in a year ago, I believe, both Leslie and Tim were odds-on favorites to be the gubernatorial candidate until Sarah Sanders decided to run, and that kind of really threw a monkey wrench into it. Both, of course, continued to run, but they realized, not only through the straw polls, but through the fundraising capability, the national fundraising capability of Sarah Sanders, that prudence was the wise thing. And they got out of the gubernatorial race and they each ran for each other’s seat. Leslie was very, very disappointed because she had been one of the national main surrogates for President Trump during his first race, because she’s from Arkansas. The opponent was Hillary Clinton.

She played Hillary in the mock debates with the former president and with all respect the lead attack dog, so to speak, on national TV after every debate and otherwise, and she was very disappointed that the President didn’t stay out of the race. But then again, his press secretary was at his side every single day, and what he did was not shocking. So I think that each found a niche for themselves. And another eight years from now, who knows who’s going to run for Governor.

Lori Kalani:

Yeah, it’s a good point. All good points, Bernie. I should mention that Leslie was the first woman and the first Republican to be elected to the role of AG. And so she really has blazed a trail politically and professionally. Her office, I would say, has been great. The office is, I think, just shy of about 200 people, and I’ve always had the experience with that office being very responsive and very willing to listen. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve gone to Little Rock and stayed in my favorite hotel, The Capitol, where I swear they must Google your picture before you get there, because when you walk in the door, they say hello and they address you by name, and I know that the employees are not the same employees each time. So, it’s a great hotel. I usually have a great meeting when I’m in Little Rock.

And I think over the last few years, a lot of Leslie’s people in the office who were at the executive level or headed various bureaus have left and moved on for judgeships and various other jobs, but yet the office has been very consistent and very responsive and very easy to work with.  I’m sure that given the Tim Griffin/Leslie flip, there probably won’t be a lot of changeover, other than in the front office. They’ll each bring in their own people, but I think that there won’t be a lot of, I guess, break in the way things have been working all along in that office.

Paul Connell:

Lori, I’d have to just totally agree with you and kind of pick up on something you said, that good policy has really come from that office since AG Rutledge got in there. And that’s good policy really follows from great personnel, and she picked great people to help run that office. As you mentioned, she’s had some people go onto the bench. Her first Solicitor General, Lee Rudofsky, was nominated by President Trump. He’s now a US District Court Judge in Arkansas. Her current Solicitor General, Nick Bronni is well respected and well known in the SG community, and that’s one reason you’ve seen Arkansas play an important role, a lead role, along with a lot of other states. Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, when I was in office, Wisconsin, leading attacks against a government overreach, in particular in the energy sector, through the multi-state lawsuits led by the solicitors general.

Bernie Nash:

And Lee was recognized by his peers, the other state solicitors general, as one of best and one of their leaders, and he was often acknowledged and allowed, so to speak, to argue before the US Supreme Court, not only on behalf of Arkansas, but on behalf of the other states. So that truly is a testament to his capabilities. And I’d like to go back a moment to the state of Arkansas as such, because Arkansas has always been a pretty business-friendly state. The attorneys general preceding Leslie were Democrats, but they were always centrist Democrats, and they’ve all gone on, or tried to go on, some successfully, some not so successfully, to higher office. I remember the first time I was in Little Rock, I was meeting with the then Attorney General Bill Clinton, having no idea soon he’ll be Governor, and shortly thereafter, President. And Little Rock has changed enormously during that period of time.

It really was not a nice hotel to stay in, frankly, back then, like The Capital, nor any really good restaurant to eat in. And of course, Lori and I have been to Doe’s a number of times where Bill Clinton liked to eat, but today, I would say I like the additional restaurants there. Looking historically at the AGs, you’ve had Mark Pryor, who became Governor, and then he became a United States Senator. Mike Beebe was Attorney General. He became Governor. Dustin McDaniel ran for Governor. Then he dropped out of the race. And so now, of course, it’s a totally red state. But even when it was Democratic, at least in that state, it was centrist, moderate, and very, very pro-business.

Paul Connell:

Bernie, picking up on that really quickly. If you look at Tim Griffin’s background, again assuming he’s going to win this race, his work in Congress, and as Lieutenant Governor, it’s very clear he’s what I would call well-versed in the language of business and delivering to his state an environment of legal predictability and certainty, understanding the important role, the guardrails that government puts on businesses, and letting business know that between those guardrails, business is free to operate, to create jobs, and provide revenue for the government.

Lori Kalani:

Well, Paul, you were talking about Tim, one, being focused on recidivism and fighting crime. And I agree with that, but I think after talking to him, and certainly reading everything I’ve been reading, and I’ve been reading everything there is out there to educate myself as I do every election, I do get a sense that Tim Griffin will be very active in the Arkansas legislature. He’s talked about passing legislation and lobbying the legislature and lobbying the Governor, and that’s a little bit different. I mean, as you both know, oftentimes AGs have legislative agendas, sometimes formally, like in Nevada where they can sponsor their own bills, but more often than not, informally, where they have issues they’d like to see run as bills and they work with legislators, but you don’t really hear on a campaign trail so much about, “I plan to pass laws and I plan to lobby the legislature.” And I was just reading something yesterday where Tim was talking about doing that. And I think that’s important because oftentimes as you both know, there is that other unspoken role of AG as policymaker and changemaker, I guess.

And so that could be a positive or a negative for our clients, but something to certainly be aware of. I view everything as an opportunity, so I would say it’s certainly an opportunity for people doing business in Arkansas or who have an issue in Arkansas, because you’ll have in Tim, somebody who understands that sometimes the law needs to be changed for that predictability that Paul mentioned.

Paul Connell:

Well, Lori, I think that’s exactly right. And this is, this cycle in particular, the number of AGs that are up, that are talking about changes to legislation, in particular with the rise in crime around the country, there’s a lot of talk about bail reform in different states. Here in the upper Midwest with a lot of criminal justice issues in Chicago and Milwaukee and whatnot, we are seeing that, and this could be sort of a new thing we see among many AGs and AG candidates, is much more time spent in the state house trying to get certain pieces of legislation through, as opposed to kind of sitting back and being the lawyer for the legislature and doing AG opinions after legislation has passed.

Bernie Nash:

I think that’s been increasingly the case over the past 10 years, perhaps 15 years, because the backgrounds of those running for and becoming attorneys general have changed over the past 15 years or so. Now you find a number of former office holders, congressional members, state senators, state assemblymen. So they’re very comfortable in the policy, very comfortable in the legislative arena, and a number of them have been former US congressmen. And I would venture to say that because Tim Griffin is a former member of the US Congress, as well as within the state of Arkansas, he’ll be joining forces is with some of his former colleagues who are now attorneys general. General Rokita comes to mind from Indiana, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, and they all served together for a period of time. And I would venture to say that they’re going to be on the Federal Hill more often than their peers had been in the past, pushing for changes in the federal legislation as well.

Lori Kalani:

Yeah, I think that’s right. And certainly, I think that Tim has been vocal about that as well, resisting federal overreach and bringing the challenges when that’s necessary.

Bernie Nash:

For a relatively small state, Arkansas has some of the largest companies in the world, headquarters. I remember driving down to Bentonville to visit some of the folks at Walmart, because there’s not an easy way to get to Bentonville from Little Rock, except to drive, which I did, but we got Walmart, Tyson Foods, Tyson Chicken, Dillard’s department stores, JB Hunt Transportation Services. These are nationally world-acclaimed, gigantic companies. People don’t really give much thought, I think, to where these companies are located, so I just thought it’s an interesting trivia piece to mention.

Lori Kalani:

Yeah. And I think that makes it ever more important that the AG who sits in that office understands business and is open and willing to have the conversations when something is not right or something needs to be discussed, which has been my experience with Leslie, and also Dustin McDaniel before her.

Paul Connell:

Yeah, the hallmark, I think, of any good AG office, and we’ve seen it under AG Rutledge, is largely an open-door policy and the willingness to listen, to learn, and then frankly, to be decisive and not leave the business community hanging, not knowing where the AG is going to come down on a given issue. And we should expect to see the same from what I will call AG-elect Tim Griffin.

Bernie Nash:

But when you have the opportunity to meet with an AG, that’s critically important to your client, because even if the AG says, “I hear you, but I’m still going to file a suit,” or “I hear you, but I’m not going to back off,” etcetera, you do tend to narrow the issues and educate the AG. And you, in turn, get educated, to benefit your client about what is the AG really concerned about. Why is the AG really on top of this? So the AGs that have open-door policies, not only do we benefit ourselves and our clients from it, but many, many AGs have thanked me for the meeting, even if they haven’t changed their opinion immediately, but they acknowledge that they learned a lot from having the open door policy and hearing the presentation made on behalf of clients.

Lori Kalani:

My experience has been that the office, including the AG, is always very well prepared and briefed ahead of time to understand what the issue is before we walk in the door, which is always very helpful. And to your point, Bernie, you’re right, even when the AG doesn’t agree with the position of our clients, there is no downside, and I would say significant upside, to having those conversations because these are not one time cases. You hope they will be, but our clients are going to continue to do business across the country or in these particular states, and having those conversations and exchanging those ideas goes a long way, even if it doesn’t feel as if there’s an immediate benefit. In the long term… and this is a marathon, not a sprint, I think in the long term, it really works out for the companies to continue to have those dialogues.

Bernie Nash:

Paul, once again, thank you. It’s been a distinct pleasure chatting with you on our podcast. You were terrific as I expected you to be for our guests. I hope you will tune in next week where we have a very special guest, Pete Bisbee, who is the Executive Director of the Republican Attorneys General Association. And Pete will give you the Republican perspective on the 2022 AG races.

Bernie Nash:

You have been listening to the State AG Pulse, brought to you by Cozen O’Connor’s state AG practice group. Research for the podcast is provided by four of our crack associates, who I need to recognize for their hard work, Ryan Bottegal, Hannah Cornett, Gianna Puccinelli and Keturah Taylor, and of course our policy analyst and travelogue guru, Elizabeth Hill Hodish. If you enjoy this week’s episode, please leave a five star rating and review. Please tune in again next week. And until then, bye-bye.

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