David Koon reports from Conway on taping of the AETN debate that will be aired at 8 p.m. today:
The Lt. Gov. debates were held today in Conway at AETN's studio C. Before a packed studio, candidates Jim Holt (pictured) and Bill Halter sparred, with questions from the three-journalist panel taking a decidedly more financial bent than those from their previous debate held at the Clinton School in September.
Repeating his plan for a lottery to benefit education, Halter mostly avoided the question of how he planned to pay for his plans to give teachers a $5,000-per-year raise and offer pre-kindergarten education to all 3-4 year olds whose parents wanted them to attend. Holt called the lottery Halter has mentioned "the most regressive tax on the poor" asking the audience how many rich people they'd ever seen buying lottery tickets.
Once again, Holt took the chance to hack away at his opponent's Arkie roots, saying that Halter had been absent from the state for "25 to 27 years," and had only returned when he saw an opportunity to win higher office. In response, Halter played up his in-state cred, noting that his father had been born and raised in Conway. He asked whether his opponent was criticizing him for serving in the White House and balancing the federal budget.
On the education and jobs front, Halter repeated his plans to improve education through a comprehensive pre-K program. Holt, meanwhile, continued his advocacy of lowering taxes as a way of attracting big business to the state, saying that without high-paying jobs, the best educated students would be headed out of state as soon as they graduated. Holt said that if we want high paying jobs in the state, we "have to stop the bleeding," of higher and higher taxes, caused by new state and federal programs. "We continue to price ourselves out of business," Holt said.
In one of the highlights of the debate, an audible murmur went through the press room when Holt, responding to Halter's call for pre-K programs, related a story: Recently, he said, he and a campaign organizer were driving past a day-care center. The organizer pointed it out, Holt said, to which he said he replied: "We had those when I was a kid too. They were called 'Homes.'" After the debate, Holt told reporters he wasn't criticizing day care, or parents who place their children in day care.
While Halter's closing statement was rather pat, Holt went on the offensive. He repeated many of his campaign's most contentious claims about his opponent, including that Halter has been out of the state for 25 years, that his time at Social Security Administration amounted to only a little over a year, that five tech companies for which Halter was a board member lost money, and that one of the companies he served was a purveyor of "Internet gambling and pornography." Halter responded off-camera that the companies that lost money were all bio-tech startups which spend millions to get a new drug on the market. As for the pornography and gambling charge, he said that the company in question delivered content over the Internet "the same way a phone companies deliver phone service," and was not responsible for the content clients chose to deliver over their networks.