LITTLE ROCK — One of the most hard-fought state legislative races in Arkansas is the contest for the seat now held by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, who is prohibited by term limits from seeking a fourth term.

LITTLE ROCK — One of the most hard-fought state legislative races in Arkansas is the contest for the seat now held by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, who is prohibited by term limits from seeking a fourth term.


Republican Stacy Hurst and Democrat Clarke Tucker each have raised six-figure sums and launched television and radio campaigns in their fight for the District 35 seat, which the state Republican Party has targeted as a potential pickup and Democrats hope to keep in their control.


Hurst, 52, has been a Little Rock city director since 2002. She and her husband, Howard, have a flower and gift shop, Tipton & Hurst, that has been in business in Little Rock since 1886.


A native of Pine Bluff, Hurst moved to Little Rock in 1985 after graduating from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a degree in communications. She worked for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation for 12 years, retiring as vice president, and served as vice mayor of Little Rock from January 2007 to December 2008. The Hursts have two children.


According to a campaign finance report filed Monday, Hurst had raised $301,535 and spent $238,412 for the general election as of Saturday.


Tucker, 33, is a business attorney. He grew up in the district, where he was student body president at Central High School, and graduated from Harvard University, where he was student president of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.


Tucker obtained his law degree from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He and his wife, Toni, have two children.


A campaign finance report Tucker filed Oct. 15, his most recent that was available at press time, showed he had raised $200,469 and spent $82,729 as of Sept. 30.


Hurst told the Arkansas News Bureau she is well suited to represent the district and believes her 12 years of experience as a city director have given her an understanding of the issues and challenges facing the area.


"I’m a moderate Republican. I think that my public service over the past 12 years is important," she said. "I’ve worked with everyone to move initiatives forward that benefit the city. I think I’ve demonstrated an ability to do that, to think independently."


Tucker said he believes his eight years of experience as a lawyer representing mostly businesses will help him work to move Arkansas in the right direction.


"I’ve learned a lot about different industries in Arkansas from a legal and a business perspective," he said. "I also think dealing with people on a regular basis that you disagree with but can still work toward a resolution that’s acceptable to everyone — which is what I do in litigation every day — is a skill that will serve well in the Legislature."


Both candidates support the private option, the state’s version of Medicaid expansion that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans.


"It provides access to health care for the neediest among us," Hurst said. "Now that we have over 200,000 signed up for the private option, I think we have an obligation to see if it will work, and it appears to be working. I think we have to work to lower the cost of it and contain long-term costs and tweak it if necessary."


Tucker said that continuing the private option is "the smart thing to do because it protects hospitals in Arkansas, especially rural hospitals, because it provides them with income because they are no longer treating people without health insurance. But I also believe that morally it’s the right thing to do."


Both candidates said job growth and education are among their top issues. Hurst said she supports increased school choice; Tucker said he supports expanded access to pre-kindergarten programs.


Tucker’s attempts to enroll one of his children in a pre-K program this year have been an issue in the race. In August, Tucker cried foul over Freedom of Information Act requests made by the state Republican Party, working with Hurst’s campaign, for school records related to the matter.


Tucker said at the time that seeking records regarding his son was out of line; Hurst and the GOP said then they were responding to concerns that had been raised about whether the Tucker family had sought special treatment, though they ultimately did not use the records in ads or campaign materials.


The Arkansas News Bureau obtained the same documents, which include a May 2 email from Tucker’s father-in-law, Central High School football coach Ellis "Scooter" Register, to Superintendent Dexter Suggs. Register wrote that "we are not asking for favors" for the boy, adding that "his father’s grandfather was President of the LRSD School Board during the 1957 Crisis. He helped guide and lead the district during that historical time in our country. Further, the Tucker family has been strong supporters of Public Education in this city for many, many years."


Tucker told the Arkansas News Bureau his family never sought or received special treatment from the district. He said he did not ask his father-in-law to write the email and noted that "it says we don’t want any favors."


The documents also include an email from Chris Heller, attorney for the district, advising Suggs and school board members that based on his review, it appeared the boy was properly placed on a waiting list for the Tuckers’ first-choice pre-K program but "was later offered admission to his second-choice school in violation of established LRSD student assignment procedures."


The district’s internal auditor later reviewed the district’s pre-K placement procedures and found several ways the process could be improved but did not cite any wrongdoing by employees.


Tucker said his family never asked the district to open a spot at the second-choice school and did not accept the offer when it was made.


Hurst said a "conspiracy theory" has been advanced that the second-choice spot was offered in an effort to make it look as if the Tuckers obtained special treatment. She said that "if such an elaborate conspiracy existed, I think the auditor would have found evidence of it."


Tucker also has objected to an anonymous mailer criticizing him for having represented a criminal defendant, on a pro bono basis, who was charged with terroristic threatening and robbery.


"Obviously that doesn’t make me soft on crime, and I think it underscores a lack of understanding of the constitutional rights guaranteed by our founders," Tucker said.


Hurst said she had nothing to do with the mailer, but she said it raises valid questions. She said the defendant was charged with committing crimes while on probation and that Tucker negotiated "more probation" for him.


"The question remains as to why Clarke Tucker thinks justice is served by giving criminals who are already on probation more probation, instead of putting them behind bars. I think that mentality is a big part of what is wrong with our criminal justice system," she said.


Tucker responded, "If that is truly her conclusion from my involvement in a single pro bono case, then she does not understand the constitution or the criminal justice system and is in no position to be making public policy. The only alternative is that she is making that statement without believing it to try to scare people into voting for her, which is even worse."