Earlier this year, Mark Moore of Pea Ridge quit his work negotiating rights of way to devote himself full-time to running for the state Legislature – as an independent, even though he was aware that independents rarely win.
"I knew the odds," the married father of two young children told me. "But I’m like Indiana Jones: Never tell me the odds."
Moore is running for District 95 state representative against Sue Scott of Rogers, a Republican who, I must emphasize, is not a villain in this column.
Independent candidacies are sometimes, unfortunately, not that serious, but Moore is no political novice and obviously wants to win. He’s worked as a paid political professional during the past three campaigns. He said he’s helped draft three bills that found sponsors in the state Legislature but did not become law. In 2005, he founded a political blog, Arkansas Watch. Earlier this year, a group called Conservative Arkansas endorsed a bunch of Republicans and him.
His website says he is pro-life, pro-gun rights, pro-property rights, and pro-local, limited government. That sounds like a Republican, so I asked him why he didn’t just put an "R" by his name and give himself a better chance in a district dominated by that party.
He couldn’t do that, he told me, because he believes legislators should be beholden only to their constituents, not their parties, which have been corrupted by money. Too often, he said, elected officials follow the dictates of their out-of-state party leaders instead of the people they represent.
While party labels may be necessary for statewide races, he said the Legislature is the branch of government closest to the people. If mayors can run as independents, so can state legislators.
He’s also hoping to spark a little bit of a rebellion, which might be appropriate considering that Pea Ridge is the home of the state’s most famous Civil War battle. "I’d like there to be dozens of independents in the Arkansas Legislature and see what it’s like when legislators don’t have to serve two masters," he said.
There won’t be dozens, but six other candidates are running for the Legislature as independents this year. Along with Moore, the other House candidates are Sam Cyphers, El Dorado; Bill Laman, North Little Rock; Ronnie Spence, Paragould; Dennis Knapp, Prim (Cleburne County); and Anton Such, Yellville. Paul White of Mountain View is running for the state Senate.
They, like Moore, face an uphill battle. The political parties are composed of large groups of like-minded individuals ready to flip the switch each election cycle and give and collect money, knock on doors, and put up yard signs. Lobbyists and special interests send money to them and their candidates.
Independents start their campaigns without all that. Moore has raised very little money while relying on his personal network and a super-supportive wife who went door to door collecting signatures when work called him away. Some guy loaned him some fence posts.
Moore’s biggest obstacle is that Scott will have an easily recognizable Republican label aside her name on the ballot. Meanwhile, he’ll be an unknown quantity to a lot of voters choosing the Republican in every other race.
"People are creatures of habit, and so the other person says, ‘Well, I’m an R or I’m a D, and automatically people think they know what that means," he said. "Whereas as an independent, you have to go to the trouble to explain what you’re doing each time."
That would be a lot of trouble. District 95 is home to about 30,000 people. How many will vote for someone without a label? We’ll find out on Election Day.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org