by Max Brantley
Live, from the Clinton School of Public Service, it was Jim Holt (R) v. Bill Halter (D), in the great lt. gov. debate. David Koon files a report to go with this Brian Chilson photo. (UPDATE: Here's a link to Stephens coverage.)
Before a crowd that filled the entry hall of the Clinton School for
Public Service in the old Choctaw Depot, candidates for Lt. Governor
Jim Holt and Bill Halter sparred tonight over illegal immigration, gay
foster parents, education, taxes, the minimum wage, job growth and the
role of the Lt. Governor's office itself. From a riser positioned to
put him on par heightwise with Holt, Bill Halter played up his
hometown, North Little Rock cred, which Holt tried to tear down with
statements like "I was in the Legislature. He wasn't here."
Holt also beat the drum of less government and lower taxes on question
after question, and dodged Halter's repeated assertions that he was a
radical Republican, out of step with even the leaders of his own party.
On the topic of illegal immigration, Holt said he'd like to
write a book called "Compassion Kills," and said that illegal
immigation creates a "slave labor force" of people who are often
exploited. "This all goes back to the principle of 'This is mine, not
yours.' It's not fair for the people who wait in line for five years."
Halter said the borders have become too porous, saying "the Federal
Government has failed in that responsibility," and that we need to
crack down on employers who systematically abuse illegals.
On the topic of whether he might appoint someone to an
open board position in the absence of the governor., Holt said that he'd
call the governor to ask his opinion, adding, "I think people are tired
of the old I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine politics." On the
same topic, Halter said, "In the absence of the governor, if it is
going to be a short absence, your job is to mind the store... You need
the temperment to know what your role is."
One of the most contentious moments of the debate revolved around what each candidate would do to improve Arkansas's public schools. "The communities have to buy in," Holt said. "We continue to take more and more power away from local school boards. We need to stop doing that."
Halter, meanwhile, said that we need to "load up" on pre-K programs,
saying that while many in Arkansas follow high school sports, "It's far
more important that we put our education team in the top twenty
nationally." Halter went on to remind the audience that Holt was one of
only two senators to vote against the pre-K program, which Halter said
Holt referred to as "Soviet-style socialism"
On a follow up question about how to go about attracting top-notch
educators to the state's most impoverished areas, Halter suggested that
a loan-forgiveness plan be enacted, in which newly hatched educators
might see their student loans forgiven incrementally for each year they
teach in an understerved school. On the same question, Holt went back
to his often-heard assertion of the fewer taxpayer-funded programs the
better, saying that Arkansas has the 4th highest tax burden in the
nation (a figure which Halter later disputed). "Programs sound great, "
Holt said. "The problem is, who's going to pay for them?"
The night ended with Halter Holt jabbing at the Democratic party in general, "clearing up misconceptions" by pointing out that slavery was ended by a Republican, the Little Rock Nine were barred from Central High School by a Democratic governor and allowed in by the order of a Republican president. Halter, meanwhile, went back to his assertion that Holt
was too radical even for his own party, often being the "odd man out" on issues supported by Republicans in the Senate, and, Halter said, "putting personal ideology before the interests of his own state."
UPDATE: Noted in Stephens coverage was a soundbite moment in which Jim Holt said he'd vote against a minimum wage increase again. It's a matter of principle, sez he. Which, alone, demonstrates how out of touch he is.