Arkansas gubernatorial candidates debate taxes, transgender law and education

Taxes, transgender laws, media access and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were part of Friday’s (October 21) three-way governor’s debate in which front-runner and Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Democratic challenger Dr. Chris Jones focused on education and jobs.

The debate, which also included Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr., was conducted by Arkansas PBS and televised live Friday morning.

A recent Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll showed Sanders with a 10-point lead over Jones (51% to 41%) heading into the final weeks of the election cycle. Harrington had the support of 3% of poll respondents. The poll was conducted Oct. 17 and 18 among 974 likely Arkansas voters.

With the first question focused on whether national politics plays too much of a role in state elections, Harrington said the hyper-partisanship of DC politics “is getting very, very volatile” and that the Arkansans had to find a way to move beyond violence and hatred into politics. Jones said his run has “always been all about Arkansas” because Arkansas leaders need to “get back to bread-and-butter issues ‘like job growth, especially in rural areas’.” which have been left out”.

Jones would also say he wants to spread PB&J (preschool, broadband and jobs) so that every part of the state gets a good bite out of the sandwich, not just “dry bread.”

“The Arkansans of this state, from Mena to Cove, from Stamps to Wabbaseka, take bites and get dry bread. We need a preschool, broadband and jobs across the state, and as governor that’s definitely what I would focus on,” Jones said.

Sanders said the Arkansans couldn’t ignore the many “failures of the Biden administration,” but said she was running for governor because she wanted to focus on improving the education system in the city. State, including workforce preparation which she said has “been ignored in the state of Arkansas.”

“I think one of the most important things we can do, and certainly one of the biggest priorities I will have when I take office in January, is to focus on education in Arkansas. . I think this is the biggest and best place for a governor to impact change and truly transform our state,” she said.

Jones said he has visited all 75 counties in Arkansas and believes voters want a governor who is focused on practical solutions and does not engage in “extremist” politics.

“Arkansans are used to electing pragmatic governors. Governors who are willing to show up, listen, engage, and develop real plans that actually make a difference in people’s lives. And as As governor, I’m definitely going to wake up every day and do it,” Jones said. “We need a governor who is really focused on solving problems and not on the extremism that I’m hearing.

On the matter of credibility, Harrington fired on the former Sanders boss.

“You don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but sometimes when it comes to the truth, when it comes to the things that matter most, there comes a time in each of our lives when we have to stand and we “we have to do the right thing. And you all know what I’m talking about right now, especially regarding the former president and his credibility, we have to find a way to get back to the basics in our government of trusting each other” , did he declare.

Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, responded by noting that integrity and trust are key, and as a parent of three young children, she approaches every decision based on what is best for their future.

“As a parent, as a mother of three young children…I know that every decision I make as governor will directly impact the lives of my own children as well as every child growing up in the state of Arkansas. It’s not something I take lightly, but it’s something I’m willing to take on,” she said.

Jones also noted his hopes as a parent in Arkansas.

“Listen, I have three daughters. I want them to grow up in an Arkansas where they can choose any path they want, whether it’s higher education, trades or entrepreneurship,” Jones said.

Sanders noted that 54% of the state budget goes to education, but the “results are simply unacceptable.” She said other state programs fall short, adding that Arkansas could save $40 million to $50 million a year through efficiencies. She also promoted her plan to phase out state income tax and “eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse that exist in our government spending as it now exists.” .

Jones pointed to Sanders.

“I hear about results that don’t match. I hear about waste, fraud and abuse. Well, it’s Ms. Sanders’ party that’s been in power for eight years, so I think we have to look over there to see. And Einstein said you can’t do the same thing over and over and expect different results,” Jones said.

Jones also said you can’t cut state revenue by 55% by eliminating income tax without major cuts or increases in other taxes and charges. Sanders responded by saying his plan would phase out the tax in a “responsible” way, using economic growth to help offset lost revenue.

Jones and Harrington disagreed with Sanders on the state’s controversial transgender law.

Law 626, passed in the 2021 legislative session, prohibits doctors and medical professionals from offering gender transition procedures to people under 18 or referring minors to other medical professionals . It also prohibits the use of public funds or insurance coverage for gender transition procedures. It does not prohibit services for people born with a “medically verifiable disorder of sex development”, such as external biological sex characteristics. The law was the first in the country to block medical procedures for gender transition. Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, but the legislature overruled the veto.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit August 25 confirmed a preliminary injunction against an Arkansas law that prohibits gender transition procedures for those under 18.

“There is a child at the end of this conversation. There is a family at the end of this conversation. I don’t question either of my opponents’ love for their family. I do not question their desire to make decisions for their children. … As a scientist, minister and engineer, I would listen to what the science says and make sure we allow parents and families to make the key decisions they need,” Jones said.

Harrington said the legislation “shouldn’t even have come out of committee”, adding that too many professionals in the field have said transgender care should be decided by families.

Sanders said it was for the government to protect children.

“I would have supported this legislation and signed it because we need to do a better job of protecting children in the state, and frankly across the country. Children are not capable of making such life-changing decisions. There’s a reason we have laws in place that prevent kids from driving before they turn 16, from voting before they turn 18, before allowing them to make decisions about smoking, drinking and wearing seat belts because they are not able to make adult decisions at that age,” she said.

Access to the press has been an issue in the gubernatorial campaign, prompting a question during Friday’s debate. Sanders has been widely criticized for avoiding debates and media interviews. She turned down, for example, 28 interview requests over 22 months from Talk Business & Politics. Sanders also did not participate in a press conference held after Friday’s debate.

Jones and Harrington said they have been and always will be open to the media, with Harrington saying a “free and safe society” depends on being open to everyone. Jones said he heard from voters “frustrated” that Sanders is avoiding public questioning.

“The media plays a vital and important role in our society. They allow us to tackle difficult questions. They allow us to see behind the veil and know what is going on. Because I can say things about this scene, but the real question is: ‘What’s in the details? What is behind what I say, and who will it benefit? And that’s the role of the media,” Jones said.

He also said it was important for leaders to “stand in front of the crowd and the media who disagree with them.”

Sanders pushed back.

“Freedom of the press is extremely important. But freedom of the press also comes with a great deal of responsibility. And when they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, it forces some of us to think outside the box, which I’ve done every day for the past two years,” she said.

Sanders also said she likely met more Arkansans face-to-face than the other two gubernatorial candidates combined.

“Because I know more than anyone that sometimes you have to speak directly to people and take out the middle man and the bias in which they’re going to present your message,” she said.

General elections are scheduled for November 8, with early voting beginning October 24 and continuing until November 7.

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