LITTLE ROCK Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter says he will focus on improving education and bettering job opportunities as he embarks on a campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Halter, who as lieutenant governor led a successful effort to create the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, announced he was running last month moments before Attorney General Dustin McDaniel formally withdrew from the race in the wake of McDaniel's admission to an extramarital affair.
Speaking Monday by phone, Halter said he doesn't have specific proposals yet, but his run will be closely tied to ideas for improving education and increasing the state's economic development. He said Arkansas can attract more companies if its workforce has a higher rate of educational achievement.
"We have to improve that," he said. "We're no longer competing for projects just against Mississippi or Louisiana. We're competing for these projects with every state in the country."
Halter pointed to his experience in creating the lottery and said more needs to be done to provide financial assistance to students wanting to pursue higher education. But he said he wasn't prepared to discuss firm plans.
"I would say to you stay tuned for specific proposals," he said. "There's a lot of days between now and election day. We absolutely will be putting forward proposals and plans of action."
With regard to the lottery, Halter said people should bear in mind that the number of recipients has exceeded expectations, which has caused the scholarship amounts to be reduced.
"That is a world-class problem to have," he said. "That's the best kind of problem. I'd take that over 50 other problems out there that are not nearly as encouraging as that."
After McDaniel's withdrawal, Halter is the only Democratic candidate who has announced he will run. But several others, including former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter and State Sen. Keith Ingram - have been mentioned as possible gubernatorial opponents.
Halter said he feels good about his combination of experience in business and public service, noting some other possible opponents have largely political backgrounds.
Halter worked under President Bill Clinton in the Office of Management and Budget and later served as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. He's also served on the boards of various information technology, life sciences, and biofuels companies, including five different boards since his unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Halter said Monday he wasn't thinking about who else might declare on the Democratic side, though he did note he has "profound" differences of opinion with the only Republican to enter the race so far, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson.
"I just don't focus much on who else might join the race," Halter said. "There's plenty of time for this to play out. I certainly hope this is a competition of ideas. Also, I think people will look to the backgrounds and skill-sets of the people who are seeking the job."