opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
With a little less than 60 days until the May 20 preferential primaries, the contest for who will be the next choices for Governor of Arkansas is a rather boring lot. Of late, all voters have heard from any of these candidates are some school yard arguments by the three leading candidates engaged in the state-wide contest.
And what we are hearing from this trio, is really, really poorly orchestrated press statements over the same old tired and mundane issues that have plagued Arkansas for decades.
Does ANYONE have any original ideas in this race?
Will anyone go on the record as having a radical idea which can transform Arkansas without evoking either the name (often in vain) of the President of the United States (Barack Obama) or harking back to memories of the Great Depression on how our state has slipped so far backwards on some mundane tax policy?
The latest attempt to infuse this gubernatorial race with a real issue has failed miserably. Notably that issue is simply that “Arkansas needs better workforce training.”
This past week GOP candidate Asa Hutchinson issued a very general, non-specific information packet saying he has a plan to train people for better jobs. Sounds great. But where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah, isn’t that the same plan state Sen. Jane English, a grandmotherly looking Republican lady from North Little Rock, was awarded in promise for her vote FOR the Private Option? Sure it was.
As a former economic developer, English wrestled the promise of moving millions in funding for job workforce training from Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, for her vote. Yup, that’s the same plan.
But wait for it ... wait for it ... wasn’t that also one of the many planks that Democratic candidate Mike Ross has been hinting at? On day one of the Ross campaign, standing in a near empty industrial park down in his hometown of Prescott, Ross has been clamoring for the state to provide better workforce training. Yup. That’s right.
And, hey, guys wait a minute, says GOP challenger Curtis Coleman, the self-labeled “real conservative” in the Republican primary. Stop the presses. Rewind that video tape.
Get the TV crawler set to run. And move on over, because Coleman’s been stumping out across the state on that same job funding creation bus since late January. And candidate Coleman, not to let a wry swipe at Asa go by unnoticed, swears he was the “first candidate” this political season to speak about this idea.
Well guys you may all be correct.
No matter who said it first, who says it the loudest, or says it the most times – all of you candidates have said it – the issue remains a fundamental flaw in the Arkansas educational system and a flaw in the Arkansas two year colleges curriculum. State workforce training education initiatives have been ongoing for at least the last 40 years when most of you candidates were doing things other than running for Governor. And these job training initiatives have always lagged behind industry demands, or so we have been told.
Asa wants to set up about eight of these Workforce Education Councils – i.e. in no doubt in all the state’s Economic Planning and Development Districts around the state. And these PDD’s are slobbering over this idea.
There are nine of these Planning and Development Districts that would love a giant infusion of cash for this jobs training program. Toss a good bit to tax money to get this program started and let these programs in conjunction with the two-year colleges get to work training Arkansans to use more tools than a ball peen hammer and Philips head screw driver in local industry. Sounds so good.
Ross has a similar plan, but with more fund placement to the two-year colleges (which once were Vocational Technical Schools) and with the assistance of high tech industry (which will no doubt get a tax break) to link hands on this program. Also sounds good. Two year college administrations are also rubbing their hands together joyfully.
GOP candidate Coleman was upset that both candidates would try and steal from his plan announced last Jan. 28. Even his plan sounds good.
Too bad for them all that even Gov. Mike Beebe’s payoff to state Sen. English’s demands, is probably a good program, but yet to be implemented or tested to see if it will work.
Beebe’s current director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Grant Tennille, is speaking around the state about the need for coordination and funding incentives for Arkansans to be better trained for the high tech job sector.
How old is this idea?
There once was a rich New York state transplant that came to Arkansas in the late 1950s and started a cattle ranch atop Petit Jean Mountain. Despite the fact he was a millionaire, he cared enough about this state to recognize that something needed to be done about better educating this poor state’s workforce. One day he was elected governor and for two terms against all odds in the Arkansas Legislature he tried.
So it is not about who said it first. Who said it the loudest? Or who said it the most. The issue is really about being a leader who can get this done. WR came close to getting it done back in the 1960s against some really BIG odds.
Can any of these guys muster any of that courage and determination WR had?
All this whining, finger-pointing and chest thumping of late certainly isn’t getting anything done. These are also no new ideas other than what we’ve heard for the last 40-50 years.