Coleman forms committee to explore gubernatorial bid


LITTLE ROCK — Republican businessman Curtis Coleman filed papers Wednesday to form an exploratory committee for a possible bid for governor.

Coleman submitted registration papers for the committee to the secretary of state’s office. Currently, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, is the only announced candidate for governor in 2014, when Gov. Mike Beebe will be prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.

Coleman, a co-founder and former CEO of Safe Foods Corp. of North Little Rock, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. He also was an adviser to former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and was picked by Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin in August 2011 to chair a committee to advise Martin on ways to make his office more efficient.

Coleman said Wednesday that if he decides he has enough support to run for governor, he likely will make an announcement this summer. He said his committee hopes to raise between $300,000 and $400,000 in the first three months of the year, and he estimated that if he runs for governor he will need between $6 million and $10 million, depending on who else gets in the race.

Coleman said he believes Arkansas can do more to attract good jobs to the state, including lowering taxes.

“I think we can restructure and reform our tax code to be much more competitive with states in our region,” he said.

Coleman was criticized in 2009 after he joked during his U.S. Senate campaign that a visa and shots were necessary to visit southeastern Arkansas, which has a larger concentration of minorities than some other parts of the state. Coleman said at the time he was just making an analogy to describe Arkansas’ diversity and did not mean the comment in a derogatory way.

Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and former Republican U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who lost to Beebe in the 2006 governor’s race, have expressed interest in running for governor. Others who are seen as potential candidates include Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and former state Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter, a Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, has said he is focused on beginning his new job at Southwest Power Pool when he leaves office Thursday but has said of running for governor, “Never say never.”

McDaniel’s bid suffered a potential setback in December when the attorney general, who is married, admitted to having an affair with Hot Springs lawyer Andi Davis, who has represented parties in several cases in which the attorney general’s office was opposing counsel.

McDaniel has said no ethical rules for lawyers were violated because he was not directly involved in the cases and did not discuss them with Davis.