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Laying low and considering options

Two potential Democratic challengers to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s re-election bid are playing it close to the vest as the March political filing period approaches.

A campaign spokesman for Lt. Gov. Bill Halter says today nothing has changed as Halter eyes a political shift.

“The lieutenant governor continues to focus on his re-election while also considering the available options to best serve Arkansans,” says Halter campaign pitchman Bud Jackson.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Bob Johnson, who previously made noises about a possible U.S. Senate run, says today he is focusing on the current legislative fiscal session and intends to “lay low” for now.

“We’re talking about two subject matters: budget and lottery,” Johnson says.

The one-week filing period for political office starts March 1. The fiscal session is scheduled to recess March 2 and adjourn March 9.

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Johnson’s lottery appointees clash

Senate President Pro Tem Bob Johnson’s three appointees to the state Lottery Commission wound up on opposite sides of a debate today over salaries.

At the commission’s meeting today, member Derrick Smith proposed a new policy requiring all salary offers of $80,000 or more to be reviewed by a four-member committee of commission members. The motion passed 6-2, with Chairman Ray Thornton and member Patty Shipp casting the two “no” votes.

Smith, Thornton and Shipp were all named to the commission by Johnson, D-Bigelow. Gov. Mike Beebe and House Speaker Robbie Wills, D-Conway, also made three appointments each to the nine-member panel.

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Lottery wheels turning

The state lottery should move a step closer to becoming a reality next week, House Speaker Robbie Wills advises.

Wills says he is “shooting for Tuesday” to name his three appointments to the nine-member lottery commission.

The governor, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem each get to make three appointments to the commission. Sen. Bob Johnson announced his appointments Wednesday, the same day Gov. Mike Beebe signed legislation to create the commission.

Johnson named former congressman, university president and state Supreme Court justice Ray Thornton to a six-year term, businesswoman Patty L. Shipp of Morrilton to a four-year term and Little Rock lawyer Derrick W. Smith to a two-year term.

A spokseman for Gov. Mike Beebe said he did not know when Beebe would announce his appointments.

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To each his own

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter says it’s OK with him if his crowning achievement — a state lottery — isn’t Gov. Mike Beebe’s top priority in the upcoming legislative session.

Beebe says balancing the state budget, funding public education and cutting the grocery tax are higher on his to-do list for the session than creating a structure for the lottery Halter pushed and voters approved in the November general election.

But incoming House Speaker Robbie Wills and Senate leader-to-be Bob Johnson this week identified the lottery issue as their main focus for the session that convenes Monday.

Halter says today, “Everybody’s going to have different points of view about that, and there are several significant issues obviously before the Legislature … People just rank them differently, and that’s fine.”

Halter briefly ran against Beebe as a candidate for governor in 2006 before switching to a campaign for lieutenant governor. The former Clinton administration official then led the effort to put the lottery measure before voters as a way to fund college scholarships. Beebe didn’t take a stand on the lottery until announcing as he left the voting booth he had voted against it.

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