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.
There is some confusion surfacing in the Arkansas Governor’s race. Here we sit just past the 4th of July heading into the November election cycle with two distinct Arkansans vying for the state’s top executive spot.
The confusion: Most Arkansans, when asked, really can’t say what makes these two men different from the other. Despite millions of dollars raised and spent to this point in the campaign, there are few real discernible personal differences to the Arkansas voter. There needs to be some significant separation between now and November if Arkansans are indeed going to elect a leader for state government. Leadership in this race must rise to the top. That would be a true separation from what we are seeing and reading from each of the candidates.
Our state government has been led by one of the most popular and strong Democratic governors of the last 20 years, under a newly Republican led legislature or a group of solons who are basically split along party lines.
Mike Ross, a strong Democrat, is no clone of Mike Beebe. Neither is Asa Hutchinson a Mike Beebe in GOP clothing.
Some voters lament the “awfulness” of the testy U.S. Senate race which has “powered down” the impact of selection in this governor’s race. Many in the business community shiver at the prospect that an overshadowing U.S. Senate race may – may mind you – toss in a less than desirable leader into our state’s very demanding job as governor.
Both men were elected to the U.S. Congress. One chose to leave a very safe seat to become a Cabinet member. The other got tired of the deadlock and left after a decade of service.
Both men have a background in radio. Asa Hutchinson, and his brother, Tim Hutchinson, once co-owned a Christian radio station in Northwest Arkansas that was mostly pre-recorded music and right-wing talk radio programs. Mike Ross worked his way through Community College and into adult hood spinning 45’s, reading AP news and local ad copy on a couple of in-state radio stations.
Both men have distinct campaign styles and records.
Mike Ross has never lost a race, be it for the Nevada County Quorum Court, Arkansas State Senate or the 4th Congressional District seat. And for the Congressional seat he defeated an incumbent Republican – Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff – twice.
Asa Hutchinson, the record will show is 0-3 in state wide races and has only won one true campaign contest – for 3rd District Congress, when his brother Tim Hutchinson vacated that seat for the U.S. Senate run. Asa Hutchinson has never served at the state level. Mike Ross has been a state Senator.
Both men talk about jobs. That’s well and good. But at best, without additional federal assistance or a state Legislature buying into their building programs, all we will hear is a paper plan to create jobs.
Both men talk about education – and here is one difference to date. Mike Ross is a firm believer in Pre-K and early education, especially reading and math skills. Asa Hutchinson talks about teaching more computer code writing and technical skills in the upper levels of high school.
Both men have opinions on the Arkansas Private Option, the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. This issue may be an area for more separation in the days ahead. Mike Ross favors the Private Option and says he will work to keep it. Asa Hutchinson says it is up to the Legislature, while in a TV ad he has said he opposes Obama care and “always will.”
On the effort to raise the state’s minimum wage via a ballot initiative which may or may not make the ballot, there is some separation. Mike Ross says he supports the ballot initiative. Asa Hutchinson opposes the ballot initiative and is against raising Arkansas’ minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.25.
Both men likely to wear out the other’s voting record. This, however, is not true campaign separation. Separation can only come from debates, public forums (where both men are present) and retail campaigning out and across Arkansas.
Both campaign managers will disagree with my call for separation. They think there is significant separation already. It is easy to simply refute those claims. Independent thinking Arkansans want to see more on why they should choose one man over the other, despite their party affiliation, to lead this state.
Asa Hutchinson should know this. Mike Beebe showed voters in 2005 why he deserved the corner office at the State Capitol over Asa. Mike Ross needs more than a “head nod” from Beebe to be Arkansas’ next governor. He needs to separate himself from his opponent.
It is not so much about the political party in the Arkansas Governor’s race. It truly is where the best leader clearly rises to the top.
Take deep breath fellows and start making more separation and less far-flung position papers and “gotcha” advertising. Roll up your sleeve and give us more retail politics. If you guys don’t, in November we will all be shaking our heads about who to elect as Arkansas’ next governor.