LITTLE ROCK — Two sitting state legislators and one former lawmaker defeated in Republican primary races last week say they lost because they were perceived as moderates in a political climate in which moderation is increasingly viewed as no virtue.

LITTLE ROCK — Two sitting state legislators and one former lawmaker defeated in Republican primary races last week say they lost because they were perceived as moderates in a political climate in which moderation is increasingly viewed as no virtue.

Former Rep. Rick Green of Van Buren, Sen. Bill Pritchard of Ekins and Rep. Tim Summers of Bentonville lost to opponents who hammered them over past votes for tax increases and questioned their conservative bona fides.

Green and Summers were attacked not only by their primary opponents but also by the national group Americans for Prosperity, which targeted them for defeat after they refused to sign a pledge not to raise taxes if elected. Pritchard signed the pledge.

“I was actually running against both (Bart) Hester and Americans for Prosperity. I had two opponents,” Summers said.

Green and Summers said they had no regrets about refusing to sign the pledge.

“I would never know, going into a legislative session, whether or not my constituents might ask me to support a tax, and I think they’re the ones I represent, not an outside interest group.” Green said, who served three House terms ending in 2011. “I think singing a pledge like that shows total irresponsibility.”

“I don’t believe in signing pledges that are for special interest groups,” said Summers, who is in his second House term. “I will look at each issue independently and make the decision based on what I think is best for the constituency and the state of Arkansas.”

Calls last week to Teresa Crossland-Oelke, state director of Americans for Prosperity, were answered by a recording saying her mailbox was full.

Green and Summers were among a small group of Republicans who joined with Democrats in 2009 to pass Gov. Mike Beebe’s 56-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase to fund a statewide trauma network and other health care programs.

Also that year, Summers and Pritchard voted for a bill that would have imposed on milk wholesalers a fee of 30 cents per 12 gallons of milk, with the revenue going to fund subsidies for dairy farmers. The bill never became law because Beebe proposed an alternative funding source that did not involve fees.

Last year, Summers voted to refer to voters a proposed half-cent sales tax to fund a highway bond program.

All of those votes, and others dating to the early 2000s, were used in the primary races to paint the three as not sufficiently conservative - unfairly, in their view.

“I think that’s naive to make that the litmus test, without regard for what the tax was for and whether you voted for tax cuts also, for a net tax decrease, as in my case,” Pritchard said. “I’ve voted for far more tax cuts than I have for tax increases.”

Green said he believed he was targeted not only for his votes but for his history of working with - and being friends with - Democrats.

“I believe that the way that you work toward good legislation and policy for the betterment of the people for our state is to work together, and I’ve been criticized for that,” he said.

Green said he is concerned about how effective future General Assemblies will be.

“It concerns me that we’re going to see a lot of polarization at the state Capitol with the legislative body, and I believe that serves the people of Arkansas no benefit,” he said.

Summers said he believes that “in order to be successful we’ve got to have a Legislature that will work together.”

“I hope that the people that’s down there in the future will be able to sit down and work out the issues, but if it requires signing pledges for special interest groups, then I think our party will have trouble with that,” he said.

The men who defeated Green, Pritchard and Summers said they saw the pledge as a promise to voters not to raise their taxes during tough economic times.

“People are struggling to make ends meet, and the more of a tax burden we have, the harder it is to make ends meet,” said Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, who defeated Green in the Senate District 9 GOP primary and will face a sitting legislator, Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith in November.

Hester, of Cave Springs, who defeated Summers in the Senate District 1 primary and has no Democratic opponent, said he intends to work with Democrats and believes in compromise - just not on taxes.

Hester said taking a blanket position on tax increases before getting into office makes sense because “it keeps people from wasting time.”

“If somebody’s wanting a tax passed and they’re wanting to run it through a particular committee and four people or five people have said that they wouldn’t ever do it, it’s not wasting anyone’s time,” he said.

Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who defeated Pritchard in the Senate District 7 primary, said a no-tax pledge is a way to gain voters’ trust. Woods will face Democrat Diana Gonzales Worthen of Springdale in November.***

“People don’t trust politicians,” he said. “A lot of voters in my district like the pledge because it puts our feet to the fire and makes us keep our word.”

Woods was asked if he believes there is still room in the GOP for moderates.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think our state is moving in a conservative direction, so I would say the room for them is shrinking a little bit.”


This article has been corrected from its original version. View the correction notice by clicking here.