Early voting to begin in special election for state Senate seat

LITTLE ROCK — Early voting begins Tuesday in a special election to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Paul Bookout of Jonesboro.

Democrat Steve Rockwell and Republican John Cooper, both of Jonesboro, will face off in the election on Jan. 14. Early voting will be conducted Tuesday through Friday and Monday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at the courthouse annex in Jonesboro and the courthouse in Lake City.

Bookout, a Democrat, resigned from the District 21 Senate seat in August after being reprimanded and fined $8,000 by the state Ethics Commission for converting campaign contributions to personal use. A special prosecutor is reviewing the case to determine whether criminal conduct occurred.

The winner of the special election could cast a key vote on Arkansas’ “private option” for health care expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. The plan to use Medicaid dollars to subsidize private insurance for the state’s working poor passed the Senate with just one vote to spare in the 2013 regular session and needs a three-fourths majority in the House and Senate to be reauthorized for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Bookout voted for the private option. Rockwell has said he favors the private option while Cooper has said he would vote to defund the program.