With four gubernatorial candidates on stage at a Hot Springs debate held by the Arkansas Press Association, Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson took plenty of shots at each other.
Joshua Drake (G), Frank Gilbert (L), Asa Hutchinson (R), and Mike Ross (D) fielded questions on same-sex marriage, the Private Option, prison overcrowding, the lottery, and environmental concerns.
Ross, the Democratic nominee, came out quickly on the attack, using the very first question asked about his position on same-sex marriage to challenge Hutchinson’s positions on the minimum wage, tax reform, and health care.
While he shared the same position of opposing same-sex marriage, Ross said Hutchinson’s tax cut plan leaves out relief for those making less than $20,000 annually. He also said that Hutchinson opposed raising the state minimum wage.
Hutchinson countered that his tax plan offered plenty of relief for low-income Arkansans, but more importantly, he said middle-income taxpayers deserved more help. He also said he was an advocate for raising the minimum wage, just not through the ballot process.
A measure to raise the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour over the next three years is likely to qualify for the November ballot. Ross supports the initiative, while Hutchinson said he wants the state legislature to control changes to the wage law. Hutchinson also said that he supported raising the state minimum wage to match the federal minimum wage.
The two major party candidates exchanged volleys on the Private Option, Arkansas’ bipartisan Medicaid expansion crafted to offer health insurance to low income workers.
While noting it has been good for rural hospitals, Hutchinson repeated his previous concerns about monitoring the cost impact to the state and said he wanted to make sure the insurance was reaching the right citizens.
He also took after Mike Ross’ record surrounding the federal Affordable Care Act, which led to the state Private Option’s creation.
“When you look at Mike Ross on the Affordable Care Act, he finds himself on both sides of an issue,” Hutchinson said. “We have a candidate here who is on both sides of an issue.”
Ross defended his votes in Congress, noting that he opposed the final Obamacare measure that became law and voted to repeal it. He said the Private Option Medicaid expansion was a good part of health care reform.
“We’re giving it (the Private Option) to the right people – it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “As governor, I’ll protect the funding for the Medicaid Private Option.”