The general election is almost four months away but the major party candidates for governor last week gave voters ample ground to make a decision.
Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson appeared before the Delta Grassroots Caucus at the Clinton Presidential Library.
Mike Ross stood firmly for proposals — health insurance, early childhood education, a minimum wage increase -- that would help hundreds of thousands of struggling Arkansans. Where Hutchinson wasn't flatly opposed, he dodged.
Voters thus may already decide where the state's most important official would stand on these big issues:
• HEALTH INSURANCE: Mike Ross said he supported the private option version of Medicaid expansion approved by a bipartisan supermajority of the Arkansas legislature in 2013 and reapproved in 2014. He said he saw expanding health care as a Christian thing to do.
Hutchinson waffled. "I'm optimistic that our legislators and our state will do the right thing with the 150,000 that have enrolled in the private option. We'll do the right thing in terms of making the adjustments that are needed to reflect the values of Arkansas and to make sure this program is an incentive for people to work."
What does that mean exactly? Is he with those who want to kill it? Or simply wreck it? It was one of several times that Hutchinson smeared a program for working people by suggesting it was a welfare handout. He even suggested charities can do the job, despite overwhelming evidence that existing charitable efforts, however well intentioned, are insufficient for the need.
Ross knows better. He said that the private option helped working families. Indeed, a significant portion of the nearly 200,000 people who'll benefit ARE workers. They just make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to buy health insurance.
• MINIMUM WAGE: Ross supports the ballot initiative that would raise Arkansas's $6.25-an-hour minimum wage, the country's lowest, to $8.50 over two years. Hutchinson opposes the ballot initiative.
Hutchinson attempted a straddle. He said he'd rather the legislature set the minimum wage. But this is the same as saying he doesn't want the minimum wage increased. The Republican-majority legislature killed a minimum wage increase the last time it had a chance in 2013. It's a reasonable bet it would do so again. Hutchinson doesn't trust the voters most likely because every poll shows it enjoys broad popular support.
• EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Mike Ross has a proposal to ensure that no child would be denied a pre-K education program. He would provide some state assistance for poor families.
If you really believe in education advancement, you have to believe in starting earlier. Too many kids start behind and never catch up.
Hutchinson has called Ross' plan "silly." Again, he suggests it's a welfare program for the undeserving. When education becomes described as charity, we have reached a crimped and selfish view of how to promote the general welfare of citizens, once a bedrock of our government.
It's simple then. Ross likes the bipartisan plan to provide the economic stability and family values of broader health care coverage. He'd like to see working people paid something closer to a living wage. He thinks, like even scarlet Red Oklahoma leaders do, that the state has an interest in helping kids get started early on education.
Asa Hutchinson agrees with none of these propositions.
The choice is up to voters. Whatever they decide, they can't say they couldn't tell the difference. All the millions in ads soon to inundate us are just so much noise against such definitive distinctions.