Two Conway attorneys, both of whom describe themselves as conservative Republicans, are facing off in the GOP primary for a state House seat in Conway next month.
Matt Brown, a Faulkner County justice of the peace, and Chris Corbitt will vie for the House District 55 seat.
Early voting in the primary election begins May 9 and election day is May 24.
The winner will face the victor of the Democratic primary between Lakeslia Mosley and Dee Sanders, both of Conway, in the general election in November.
House District 55, which encompasses southwest Conway, was created last year when all 100 House districts were redrawn after the 2020 U.S. census.
The redistricting plan split Conway between three House districts. House District 56 covers the northern portion of the city and House District 54 covers the southern part of the city as well as Perry County and parts of Saline and Yell counties.
Incumbent Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway, isn’t running for reelection; instead, he is running for state Senate District 17.
Corbitt, who has lived in Conway since 2018, said he is a conservative Republican who fights for constitutional rights. He is known for representing gun owners and pushing back on business owners and state entities that don’t follow laws concerning concealed-carry licensed Arkansans.
He sued Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott and City Manager Bruce Moore last summer after he said he was refused entry to Little Rock City Hall with his gun despite a law intended to allow enhanced concealed-carry permit holders to take firearms into municipal buildings. The case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court after a lower court ruled against him in September, saying the new state law was too vague to be enforced.
“Now, they paint me as a gun nut,” Corbitt said. “I’m not a gun nut. You know what I am? I’m a law nut.”
Corbitt said it was his own experience as a plaintiff as well as his time on the Pleasant Valley Property Owners Association and defending clients who lost land in eminent domain cases that led him to run for office.
“I had a couple of bad rulings and I’d look at these laws and say to myself ‘Who in the hell wrote this law?’,” Corbitt said. “The laws give the judges a lot of leeway.”
Other than the Pleasant Valley POA position, Corbitt has never held public office.
“I never thought I’d run for office,” he said. “I’m going to do this and see how the sausage is made.”
Brown, who has lived in Faulkner County for 22 years, said he is a fiscal conservative Republican. As an attorney, he practices mainly corporate, banking and real estate law.
A Faulkner County justice of the peace since 2020, Brown serves on the county’s roads and infrastructure committee. He previously served on the Conway Planning Commission and is a volunteer attorney with the Faulkner County Teen Court.
“I think the thing that differentiates me from my opponent is that I have actual government experience,” Brown said. “It’s not as simple as sound bites. I would be in the best position going into the Legislature.”
Brown said that he has been a die-hard Republican since the sixth grade. He would grab the newspaper as soon as it was delivered every day and keep up with the state’s political happenings, he said.
“I was paying attention to politics early on,” he said. “I’m very big on, especially, local government. To me, it’s all about the dollars and cents.”
Both candidates said they are in favor of lowering the state income tax, but only Corbitt said he would support eliminating it.
“End it now. End it now. We’ve got other states that don’t have an income tax: Tennessee, Texas,” Corbitt said. “We have a $1 billion tax surplus right now. Literally, a billion dollars. We’re taxed too much.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that a $1 billion general revenue surplus is expected at the end of this fiscal year in June.
Brown cited the expected surplus and said he was “all about” lowering the state tax.
“But I want to make sure that it is done in a fiscally responsible manner,” Brown said. “You don’t want to eliminate the income tax and then have to start increasing the property tax.”
Both Corbitt and Brown said they are pro-life.
Corbitt said life begins at conception and the only exception to abortion should be if the mother’s life is in danger.
“In the case of rape or incest, it’s hard for me,” Corbitt said. “It’s a tragic situation. The answer is the rapist needs to go to jail or be castrated, but it’s still a baby.”
Brown said he is passionately pro-life.
“As much as I wish abortion was not legal I have to recognize it is legal,” Brown said. “We need to be doing everything we can to reduce abortion rates.”
Corbitt said he is a “huge proponent” of school choice and vouchers for private school tuition if parents choose to forgo public schools.
“Shut the schools down if they’re not functioning,” Corbitt said. “Money should follow the student. Let them take it to a private school. If these public schools aren’t making it happen, then they fail.”
Brown said he would like to explore the idea some more.
“Let some of the money go to parents who want their kids to go to private school, but we don’t need to hurt the public schools,” he said. “I’m big on seeing if we can try ideas and see if they work. Let’s see what we can do to be of maximum benefit to everyone and reduce the costs.”
Both candidates said they heartily support pay increases to law enforcement personnel.
In March, Hutchinson signed into law Act 223 of 2022 that would require State Police to implement a salary administration grid, effective July 1, which is expected to increase the starting salary for state troopers from $47,357 to $54,000 a year.
Corbitt said law enforcement all across the state should have their salaries doubled.
“They need help. They need more training. I’m all for state police intervention,” Corbitt said. “I would hire 10,000 more officers immediately. We’re in an enormous crime wave.”
Brown noted he was instrumental in getting pay raises for the Faulkner County sheriff’s office jailers and deputies last year in his role on the Quorum Court.
“We would train them, get them certified and they would go to another county to get a pay raise,” Brown said. “We finally got our folks to stay. We’ve stopped hemorrhaging people. We’re not losing that money in training anymore. It’s a win/win situation.”