by Max Brantley
Cal Wasson provided the report on the jump of a Hot Springs forum last night featuring the four candidates for 4th District Congress, a seat being vacated by Rep. Mike Ross. He notes that questions were posed in advance, which meant prepared responses rather than a free-flowing debate. Democrat Gene Jeffress differed from Republican Tom Cotton on health care legislation. He suggested the federal law is a starting point; Cotton has from the beginning of his campaign backed complete repeal. (A punishing and probably impossible promise, but popular with the crowd that gathered last night.) Green candidate Josh Drake gave a ringing endorsement of universal health care.
BY CAL WASSON
Party lines were mostly obvious as candidates traded talking points at a debate Tuesday night at National Park Community College in Hot Springs. State and federal candidates spoke.
Republicans called for more tax cuts, fewer regulations and were nearly unanimous in calling for rejection of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats claimed improving health and employment opportunities under the President and Governor Beebe while Green Party and Libertarian candidates tossed verbal grenades.
The candidates were told the questions in advance and the format stifled true debate. Most of the responses were read.
All four Fourth District Congressional candidates were there with four distinct agendas. Asked about gas prices Republican Tom Cotton of Dardanelle in a rapid fire staccato called for more drilling, lower taxes and fewer regulations. State Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann, a Democrat, has been questioning Harvard-educated lawyer Cotton's Arkansas credentials and he emphasized that again with a series of Arkansas and gas price anecdotes. The boldest statement came from retired legislator Bobby Tullis of Howard County who is running under the Libertarian Party. Tullis drew surprising applause from the Republican-stacked crowd by saying that whatever happens to gas prices, "we should never again shed our blood in the Middle East for oil.
Cotton's biggest applause line was his call for the repeal of "Obamacare," a sentiment shared by Tullis. The question was whether health care is a right, a privilege or a service. Jeffress responded by telling how his parents died at an early age, and how his constituents have died because of poor access to health care and how the new health care program would have saved them. He concluded that right or privilege, "It's the Christian thing to do". The only clear answer came from Green Party candidate Josh Drake of Hot Springs who firmly stated "Health care is a right and it should be a national priority." He said the cost of the Iraq war alone would have paid for health care for the entire nation.
State legislative candidates fielded health care questions along fairly rigid party lines. Republicans claim the state cannot afford to expand it's Medicaid program while Democrats say it can't afford not to. A fresh idea did come from District 13 Senate candidate Frank Gilbert of Tull, a Libertarian: Sell War memorial stadium.
Everyone called for more and better jobs but few had fresh plans on how to get them. Republicans called lower business taxes, lower environmental standards, less regulation. Democrats had less cohesion on jobs but generally favored better education and public sector employment.