Huckabee’s pick for Arkansas 2nd District, Scott Wallace, risks derailment over liquor store ownership

Suzi Parker Contributor
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Some of former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee supporters have wondered recently about his HuckPAC endorsements.

A split in Tennessee occurred when Huckabee’s PAC endorsed Chuck Fleischmann in that state’s 3rd District congressional race. A week later, Ted Boyatt sent out a release in the name of Team Huck Tennessee announcing that the local group was endorsing former state GOP chairwoman Robin Smith. Boyatt resigned his position in protest of the Huckabee endorsement.

Now in Arkansas, conservatives are raising questions about Huckabee’s recent endorsement of Scott Wallace, a 2nd District congressional candidate with a colorful past.

Wallace is running against Tim Griffin, a former Bush White House aide who worked for Fred Thompson during his 2008 presidential campaign, in the May 18 primary. Some polls show the race tied with more than 50 percent undecided. U.S. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor visited Arkansas two weeks ago to campaign for Griffin.

On April 4, Huckabee endorsed Wallace, a Little Rock restaurant owner.

“Scott Wallace has deep roots in the 2nd District — he has lived here, been educated here, run businesses and employed people here and raised a family here. Scott is strongly pro-life and supports traditional marriage. He understands that our health-care system needs some reforms, but is strongly opposed to individual mandates. He has pledged that when he gets to Washington, he will represent the interests of the people of the 2nd District, and will never forget who he works for.”

On March 26, Wallace’s ex-wife, Yulonda Wallace, filed a “verified motion for contempt and other relief” in Pulaski County Circuit Court lambasting the candidate about the sale of a liquor store they owned. It sat 140 feet from Philander Smith College, a historically black Methodist university in the heart of Little Rock that is well-known in national circles. Former president Bill Clinton invited the college’s choir to perform at his 1993 inauguration.

Yulonda Wallace claimed her ex-husband still owes part of attorney fees and costs from their November 2005 divorce. The motion also cited Scott Wallace owed Yulonda Wallace money from the sale of Brick House Liquor, which they bought in 2002.

In December 2008, Scott Wallace sold the liquor store to Philander Smith for $225,000, according to college officials.

In the March 26 filing, Yulonda Wallace said the couple bought the property for $28,000.

“I really don’t see the need to explain the purchase price of a business that I bought 10 years ago,” Scott Wallace said in an e-mail. “I will stand by my statement that what is in the recent filing, is incorrect.”

The liquor store had numerous violations over the years filed by the Alcohol Beverage Control Division, including selling alcohol to minors, not posting proper permits, clerks drinking on duty and allowing drugs on the premises. The liquor store and Wallace were fined several times.

“Prior to my purchasing BHL, the store had a tremendous number of violations.” Wallace said in an e-mail. “I viewed all of the violations that we experienced as serious and I dismissed the employees that were involved. I always instructed EVERY employee to not sell to minors or they would loose [sic] their jobs. We even let the LRPD come in to the store on several occasions and run stings to stop sales to minors from happening. The director of the ABC has told me that we really cleaned up the store and he could see where we were trying very hard to do everything we could to stop violations.”

For several years, Philander Smith College tried to purchase the liquor store, citing it as a nuisance. The price was often too high.

Finally, after the school’s winter break in 2008, President Walter Kimbrough said in a 2009 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article that he knew he had to buy the property when a sign on the liquor store said “Welcome Back Students” — a direct marketing attempt at minors.

Kimbrough, who named his son after President Barack Obama, would not comment for this story.

But in the 2009 newspaper article, Kimbrough said, “We had a few from here get in trouble for buying underage and some from Central High School, too. We worked closely with [Alcoholic Beverage Control] to report violations. But I know that some of the students are happy to see it go.”

The site has since been razed.

On Wallace’s U.S. House of Representatives financial disclosure statement filed Dec. 4, 2009, the liquor store sale is not listed. According to the rules, a candidate is supposed to file income held from the preceding year, which in Wallace’s case would include 2008.

“To my knowledge, income from the sale of a business is not required on the FEC form,” he said in an e-mail Monday.

But the form states that a candidate raising or spending more than $5,000 should list all earned income (including honoraria), assets and “unearned” income, liabilities and positions.

Wallace did list that he was CFO of Wallace and Wallace, Inc., which owns Bruno’s Little Italy restaurant in Little Rock, and a board member of the Arkansas Motor Vehicle Commission.

“Anything we have omitted or if a filing was done incorrectly, we will certainly file an amended report,” Wallace said. “However, to my knowledge, everything was filed appropriately. I will have to research this further.”

Wallace said the income from the sale was listed on his tax return and the taxes were paid. But he also said that there was no sale of the actual business, just the land and building.

“There was no sale of BHL, I closed the store for a variety of reasons and there were no proceeds,” he said in an email. “There are two sides to this court matter and I hope you realize that and are careful not to make a judgement [sic] based solely on my ex-wife’s filing.”

Wallace said the liquor permit has expired and was never sold.

In the South, liquor is a campaign issue.

In Arkansas’s 2nd District, six of the eight counties are dry. Churches in rural areas of the Bible Belt often do not support any type of liquor sales and frequently campaign against groups who want counties to become wet.

“Any candidate running as a conservative is going to be damaged by that type of news [of owning a liquor store],” said Jerry Cox, director of Family Council, conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock.

Huckabee is a former Southern Baptist minister who did not allow alcohol to be served in the Governor’s Mansion when he was governor.

Huckabee’s ties to Wallace go back to 1996 when Wallace ran unsuccessfully for a state senate seat. Huckabee’s Election Committee contributed $1,000 to that campaign.

On Monday, Huckabee, after learning about Wallace having owned a liquor store with violations, said he stood by his endorsement.

“Absolutely I stand behind it,” he said in an e-mail. “He owned a business and had an employee who did bad things and Scott got rid of him. Like any small business owner who has to hire and trust people, sometimes people don’t do right. The issue is how you deal with it. We need more people in Congress who have run businesses and had to deal with the realities of employing people.”