So the Arkansas gubernatorial (I love that word) primary election day is in under two weeks. Early voting is currently open.
I'm a little late getting on the ball, but luckily I've still got time to research all the candidates before casting my primary votes. In Arkansas, to vote in the primaries, one has to choose a party and vote only within that party. Typically, I'd vote fairly Democrat, but since I live in Nowheresville, Arkansas, nearly every Democratic candidate on the ballot is uncontested, except for the position of Governor. (That means all the other positions on the ballot - most of which I think are strange positions to vote on like Sheriff, Judges and Coroner - only have one Democrat running at all, or in the case of judges, are non-partisan anyway, and still largely uncontested.) Therefore I'm also considering the possibility of choosing the Republican ballot and voting more tactically, or even - anything's possible! - finding a Republican candidate that I actually like.
I'm a newbie at politics, particularly American politics, so I'm writing this almost like a child doing a book report or an Arkansas Gubernatorial Elections for Dummies guide. My views might be inherently a little biased, but I will try to do justice to everyone's positions. My left leanings can't help but surface at times, but I'll do my best to keep commentary to a minimum.
After spending far too much time searching the four candidates' websites instead of doing housework and playing with the kids (they napped during most of this anyway), I present to you my clumsy assessment of the four gubernatorial (just love that word!) candidates based *solely* on their websites. This is the information THEY want to disclose about themselves (or their opponents), so everything is to be taken with a politician's grain of salt. Still, their own sites are a good place to start, demonstrating what they themselves find to be the important topics, or what they perceive we voters see as the important topics.
I'll start with the two Dem. candidates, Mike Ross and Lynette Bryant.Lynette "Doc" Bryant is a physician and a substitute teacher. She is involved in charity work, mostly in the medical and educational sectors. This appears to be her first foray into public office. Unfortunately, her website is absolutely woeful, resembling a geocities site of the early 2000s (animated gifs and all). While I understand she may not have a huge budget (and Obama won a seat in the Illinois Senate with a fairly small budget, so budget isn't everything), even the content on her website is hard to get through and make sense of. One gets the impression that she is a little unsure of how to talk like a politician. True, everyone is sick of the average politician, and perhaps this is her angle, but like it or not, we still tend to trust politicians with our politics, and not so much those who appear inexperienced.
It didn't take much time to search the issues on her website. She only touches on a few topics anyway. Beginning with Health Care (my number one topic of importance), she gives lots of examples of various Arkansans' opinions or situations before finally almost saying what she thinks herself. I understand her tactic; she's showing she listens to the people and understands different residents have different needs and circumstances. Where she fails is that readers have to trudge through numerous examples before finding out her platform, only to be disappointed at the end with very non-committal conclusions. Regarding health care, she shows how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) affects different Arkansans differently. She makes good points, about how it helps some people, some people don't want it because they don't perceive they need it, and some choose to accept their insurance companies increadsed premiums because they want no government assistance. (Incidentally, how come NO ONE seems to get that increased insurance premiums are not ACA's fault, but the companies themselves who have seen an opportunity exploit their customers by increasing premiums for no good reason?) Yet her conclusion? "The Affordable Care Act needs to be reviewed." Um, thanks. No mention of how she will treat the Medicaid expansion (the "private option"), which for me is going to be a deal-breaker on how I vote. I'd like to know - is she going to continue the private option? Or does it need to be "reviewed" too?
Her other issues, Education, Pre-K, Jobs and Armed Forces, are all similarly, well, void of information. I don't really have, judging by her website, any idea what she stands for. She is in favor of expanding pre-school to all children in Arkansas, but her article on that issue only discusses her opponent's previous voting record on the matter. I just have to assume she'd have voted Yea instead of Nay. Regarding Education, she acknowledges the problem lies with the system and not the teachers or parents. She feels there is too much bureaucracy and advocates loosening the government's control on teachers. There is a 24 minute "Meet the Candidates" video on her website discussing education for more information.
On all other important subjects, like Taxes, the Second Amendment and so on, her website is silent.
Mike Ross is her opponent for the Dem. spot. He is experienced as a former state and US Congressman. His website is better, much more professional. He includes more issues of consideration too. On Health Care, he states that he is very much in favor of Arkansas' Medicaid expansion/private option, and intends to fully implement that as Governor. (Here's some more detailed info on it from the current Governor, Mike Beebe.) Yet he then goes on to say he voted against the ACA 4 times and voted to repeal it 23 times. He apparently felt Obamacare had too many bad points, but also a few good points and that the Medicaid expansion option was one of the good ones. He states emphatically, though, that "in the richest, most powerful country in the world, there is no excuse, ever, for a child born in America today to be denied medical care because his or her family can’t pay." He helped expand ARKids Fifirst during his time in Congress.
He too is pro-preschool education for every 4 year old in the state. His opponent, Bryant, showed on her site how he voted against the Head Start bill in 2003, but that's all I know. That bill did include that religious organizations could use religion as a hiring factor, which leads me to wonder if this could have been his reason for voting against it. Who knows? Bills are fully of things, they are never single-topic, so there could be all sorts of reasons one votes against them, apart from the obvious. At any rate, his site doesn't discuss that, obviously, but explains how he intends to implement his Pre-Kindergarten Education plan, by gradually increasing funding and investments into the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program so that every 4-year old in AR has the opportunity to attend pre-school by 2025.
He discusses natural energy production, and our state's high ranking in natural gas production, and how we should be trying to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. He wants to attract manufacturers of windmills and solar panels to help do our our part to produce natural energy, since we can't directly produce the wind and solar enegeries, and to create jobs. I am happy to see "green" issues on his list of concerns. He is also an advocate of agriculture and farming, though I'm sure all of the candidates are! He was a member of the House Agriculture Committee in 2002 and helped pass the 21st Century Farm Bill and helped override Bush's veto of the 2008 Farm Bill.
He is pro-guns, a life member of the NRA, and will do nothing to restrict your gun-owning, gun-carrying rights. So all you gun-lovers will be happy to know that if he is elected, your guns will remain safely in your holsters. He has the voting record to prove it.
Fifinally, he discusses Income Tax. Everyone is always wanting to cut taxes, of course. No one likes paying them, but taxes are unavoidable and necessary. However, the income tax in Arkansas hasn't been revised since the 1971, when the average household was making $8,000. The average today is $40,000. Basically, all the candidates for Governor want to address this; the question is, what kind of plans do they have?
All of the candidates (except Bryant) indicate on their sites that they want to reform not just the percentage rate of taxes but the income level brackets too. Basically, if a family in AR makes $34k, they pay the topmost rate of 7% in income tax, which is higher than almost every other state. This is the same percentage for everyone over $34k, meaning those earning $100k, $200k, etc are all paying 7%. Remembering that the average income in AR is $40k (and the poverty line for a family of five is $27,910), $34k is a low cut-off rate for the highest income tax bracket.
Ross proposes dropping the percentages by only .1%, but he also wants to change the income level brackets to make the top payers those who make $75,100 and over. These top payers would receive a .1% decrease in taxation, paying 6.9% in income tax. The next level would be between $45k and $75,099, paying 5.9%. You can see the graph (and the plan) here which shows all his proposed new income tax brackets, but that means for the average middle class $40k a year earning family, they would now be paying 4.4% income tax. He does not indicate his time frame for this, but it appears these changes would happen simultaneously for all brackets. Those who are in the "working poor" classes then would get the break at the same time as everyone else. (Compare that to the plan Asa Hutchinson (R) proposes below where tax cuts start with the middle class and will later be extended to the lower class.) I think if anyone needs the tax break first, it's our working poor.
Let's move on to the two Republican candidates, Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman.
Asa Hutchinson is a household name. He has been a US Congressman for many years, was the Director of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. There is no doubt that he is an experienced politician and has done some great work during his time in Congress, including negotiating the surrender of a violent terrorist group in Arkansas during Reagan's administration. His website, however glamourous, is somewhat devoid of information. You have to watch videos to find out what his platforms are, and the videos end up just being little soundbites of his ideologies. I hate watching videos, even if they are all under one minute long; I much prefer reading articles. He has a few articles posted about his issues, so I'll start with those.
He briefly discusses the Affordable Care Act. He is very much opposed, naturally as a Republican, and would like to see it repealed. He is dissatisfied with the insurance premium rates increase (again, the companies' move, not Obamacare's) and sees it as a job killer. However, repealing and replacing ACA is not in the Governor's remit, so at best he would have the influence over the Medicaid expansion option which Arkansas chose to implement. He states that AR was handed a terrible program and has had to make the best of it. Still, he is wary of the private option too, sees it as a "pilot" project and intends to assess its value to see if it should be terminated. He isn't convinced that it will have long-term cost benefits to taxpayers. In his words, "If the Private Option is not accomplishing its objectives and it costs too much, then we need to end it and I will be the first one to call for its termination."
He too wants to reform Income Tax in the state. As I mentioned previously, he wants to begin with tax cuts for the middle class first. His plan would mean a full 1% decrease in taxation, dropping the rate from 7% to 6% for earners between $34k and $75k, and from 6% to 5% for earners between $20,400 and up to $33,999. This does provide a good tax break annually for middle class (and lower middle class) families, which is great. Later on, he would bring the percentage down for the rest of those earning over and above $75k, but he says nothing about the rest of those in the lower brackets (under $20,400). I must admit I find it incredibly difficult to understand why he is completely ignoring the working poor who need the tax breaks more than anyone.
(And also, the question remains to all of the candidates- what programs are going to get cut out of the budget when the proposed tax cuts are implemented? That's a lot of money that was going somewhere no longer going there.)
The only other issues he writes about are education and job creation. He intends to allocate money for more training for students (particularly those not suited or interested in four-year college educations) to help them get jobs, and he will revisit the decision to include Common Core in our schools. He would like to see computer coding/ programming started in high schools to get more students learning computer science, which he feels is a window of opportunity being missed in the state, with well-paying jobs in technology on the steady rise. There are jobs out there in computer science, but students aren't introduced to the field in the numbers they could be.
That's all he really talks about. His short video clips just give soundbites on family values and experience without saying much of anything. And of course, his website informs us that he is endorsed by the NRA, of course, so your guns are still safe.
Then there is conservative Republican Curtis Coleman. He was the Founding President and CEO of Safe Foods Corporation and Chariman of The Institute For Constitution Policy. Since I've commented on the rest of the websites, I'll say his is fairly good-looking, but again, woefully devoid of useful information. The two easiest issues on his Policies tab to address are Life and Marriage, both of which he sums up in single sentences. These two sentences make it clear he is totally pro-life and totally anti-same sex marriage. Nuff said, I guess.
Similarly, his support for states' rights (10th amendment) is strong, and he advocates for no taxation of retired veterans. He is against federalization of the Arkansas National Guard. He also pro-guns (2nd amendment).
Education and taxation are the two topics that he offers more than just a few paragraphs (or sentences) to. In fact, he offers so much information on these two topics, I am completely unable to summarize his positions easily. Regarding education, he would like to implement ideas like creating vouchers that would allow parents more choice on where they send their kids to school, wiping out Common Core and other curricula forced on schools and increasing opportunities for technical training rather than focusing solely on sending more kids to four-year degree programs. Arkansas is one of the worst ranking states (49th actually) in education, and he rightly wants to make changes to improve on that. He has lots to say on the subject.
His tax reform policies are somewhere in between Ross's and Hutchinson's proposals. His graphs show by 2016 changes reflecting a simultaneous shift of earners over $50k paying 6.82% (a slightly higher cut than Ross, a lower cut than Hutchinson for this bracket), and the average family making $40k a year would be taxed at 5.85% (higher tax rate than Ross, lower than Hutchinson). By the end of his estimated roll-out plan, though, by 2023, families making over $50k would end up at a 5.53% income tax and those earning $40k - our current "average" (he doesn't say if this incorporates inflation) - would pay only 4.66%.
He talks extensively about his taxation plans, including sales tax reform. He has plans for significantly reducing taxes on small businesses, creating "tax-free enterprise zones", limiting the involvement of government in businesses, and reaching the ultimate goal of increasing the median household income by 32% and decreasing the number of households in poverty by 20%. I don't know how he's going to do it all, but it's ambitious and praiseworthy.
His website is silent on the subject of health care.
Those are your gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming primary elections. Once again, I'll reiterate that I tried to stick strictly to their individual websites for information. If a candidate strikes you as worthy of more research, please go learn more. If one is speaking in a town near you, go listen to them. And once you've decided who you'd like to stand behind, go vote!! Early voting is open now, and the official Election Day is May 20th.
And once we have our two official candidates for Governor, spend some time getting to "know" them better in time for the final election!
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