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Hopefuls discuss planned legacies as next governor

2 expound on jobs, education

By Bill Bowden

This article was published August 2, 2014 at 3:26 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- Republican Asa Hutchinson wants to be remembered as the jobs governor.

Democrat Mike Ross wants to be the education governor.

The two main-party candidates in the race for governor spoke Friday morning before a crowd of about 325 at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Breakfast at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

Both candidates have been congressmen. Hutchinson is a lawyer; Ross is a businessman.

"I want my legacy to be the jobs governor," Hutchinson told the crowd. "I want to be known as that. I want to create jobs and compete economically [with other states]. ... When we have a growing economy, it solves a world of problems."

When Ross spoke, he took up the theme.

"I want to be the education governor because I think that's how you become the jobs governor," Ross said. "That's how you create economic opportunities in this state."

Emphasizing the importance of early education, Ross said, "If you go to pre-K, there's an 80 percent less chance that you'll end up in prison."

Afterward, Brad Howard, a spokesman for Ross, said the statistic came from a study by the Perry Preschool Project of disadvantaged children in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Hutchinson, who served as Arkansas' 3rd District congressman from 1997-2001, also talked about education, particularly his plan to have computer science taught in all Arkansas high schools.

When he announced the plan in January, Hutchinson said if elected governor, he'll work with the state Legislature to pass a law so computer science courses count toward core high school graduation credit in math or science.

Schools in Arkansas don't offer computer science because it is not a core credit course, and when it is offered, few students participate because they don't receive math or science credit, Hutchinson said in January.

On Friday, Hutchinson said there needs to be more workplace education opportunities for Arkansas students who don't want to go to college.

"Our young people right now are pushed into college," he said. "We need to keep pushing them into college but recognize also that probably 80 percent will never graduate from college. I hope we can reduce that percentage."

Hutchinson outlined economic opportunities facing Fort Smith and the Arkansas River Valley. Besides computer science, he said emphasis should be placed on the Arkansas Air National Guard's 188th Fighter Wing, tourism, manufacturing, lowering the state income tax rate and accelerating compressed natural gas options for state vehicles.

If elected governor, Hutchinson said he'll seek a position on the Council of Governors, which oversees U.S. Defense Department policy. That way, Hutchinson said, he can help "to bolster the mission of the 188th Wing and make sure it's strong for the river valley."

Ross, who was Arkansas' 4th District congressman from 2001-13, said he left Congress because he was "fed up with how partisan and dysfunctional Washington had become."

Ross said there's no room for that kind of bickering in a small state such as Arkansas.

"There's a lot more that unites us than divides us," Ross said. "So let me be clear: I am a conservative, pro-business, pro-gun Arkansas Democrat. But I am not running to be governor of the Democratic Party. And I am not running to be governor of the Republican Party. I am fed up with the extremes of both parties. I am running to be governor of all the people in this great state."

Ross said he supports a sales-tax exemption for manufacturing parts and repairs.

"We spend all this money trying to get industry to come to Arkansas," Ross said. "And then we tell them, 'We're glad you're here, but if you try to modernize, we're going to tax you.'"

Both candidates said it's important to finish Interstate 49 from Alma to the Red River north of Texarkana. The 158-mile section is estimated to cost about $2.6 billion to construct, said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Ross said Arkansas has many challenges regarding roads.

"The truth is we've got to prioritize," he said. "As a state, we've got $20 billion of road needs over the next 10 years, and right now, the projected revenue to meet them is $4 billion, and so it's about priorities. ... And I can tell you it's past time for I-49 to be a priority."

Ross said he's a fiscal conservative, but you can only cut taxes so far.

"I'm going to balance the budget, and we're going to fund education, Medicaid and public safety first," he said. "Then we will cut taxes."

Ross cited Kansas as an example of a state where taxes were cut too much.

"They cut taxes so much they're now running a $350 million deficit," Ross said.

NW News on 08/02/2014

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