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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson greets gubernatorial challengers Jared Henderson (center), the Democratic candidate, and Libertarian candidate Mark West before the start of their debate Friday during the Arkansas Press Association convention in Eureka Springs. - Photo by David Gottschalk

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The minimum starting salary for a teacher should be raised from $31,800 to $36,000*, and his administration will commit to that if he is re-elected, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday during his first debate with rival candidates.

That goal would be much more attainable if Hutchinson had not already announced plans for a $180 million tax cut for the state's most affluent residents, replied Democratic candidate Jared Henderson. The former executive of the nonprofit Teach for America has made raising teacher pay a major theme of his campaign.

Libertarian candidate Mark West, a pastor in Batesville, said the proposed raise wouldn't mean much to communities that have lost their schools. Those communities were left behind by economic growth concentrated in a few counties while the rest of the state declines, he said.

Hutchinson, Henderson and West debated during the Arkansas Press Association's annual convention in Eureka Springs. The association is composed of newspapers in the state.

"Raising starting teacher salary to $36,000 will give us the highest pay for teachers in the region," the governor said.

His administration arrived at the figure by comparing salaries in surrounding states and beyond. Arkansas has avoided problems seen in other states, such as neighboring Oklahoma, where teacher strikes forced raises after years of dormant salaries.

Starting salaries for teachers have increased 13 percent since he took office in 2015, Hutchinson said. His proposed increase would raise that to 23 percent, he said.

Besides raising teacher pay as he has long supported, Henderson said, the state has other needs to address. The state should do more to reduce the childhood poverty rate, he said. More areas need state-funded prekindergarten classes, he said, and the state also should reduce teachers' nonclassroom duties.

"We've been trying to manage our teachers to success," Henderson said. "Instead, we're taking them away from their students."

West drew attention to economic disparities in the state and how that has hurt rural schools. Economic growth is now largely concentrated in seven of the 75 counties, he said.

On other issues, Hutchinson described as imperfect a proposed constitutional amendment to set caps on attorney fees and certain lawsuit damages and was not ready to say whether he supported it. His two rivals strongly opposed it.

"It would give more power to the Legislature, and I would be against that, whichever party controlled it," Henderson said. The Legislature currently is majority Republican. "This amendment would put the Legislature in control of legal and medical matters."

Rules of evidence and court procedures would be set by the Legislature, for instance, under the provisions of the amendment.

West opposed the amendment in stronger terms.

"It violates the concept of separation of powers," he said. "It puts way too much of the judiciary under the control of the legislative branch, where it can be politicized. Libertarians believe in the separation of powers, and this is at odds with the whole concept. I see it as overreach."

All the candidates agreed the state needs stronger ethics laws.

Friday's debate took place hours after a former state employee was charged in Batesville with using his knowledge to steer millions of Medicaid dollars to the private company he joined as an employee. This follows the guilty pleas or convictions of five state lawmakers since January 2017 on corruption charges in an ongoing federal investigation.

The state agency that regulates pesticides and fertilizer has more enforcement power than the state ethics watchdog, Hutchinson said.

"Right now, the Arkansas Plant Board has more penalizing authority than the Ethics Commission," Hutchinson said. "That needs to change."

Meaningful change will require the Legislature to pass laws, and that will require leadership, West said.

"The Legislature has fought real ethics legislation," he said.

Henderson praised recent changes to Senate rules, which included creating a committee on ethics. West scoffed at those measures.

"It's the police policing the police," West said.

Metro on 06/30/2018

*CORRECTION: The minimum starting teacher salary in Arkansas for the coming school year is $31,800. An earlier version of this story included an incorrect salary number.

Print Headline: Hutchinson, rivals key on teacher pay

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  • RBear
    June 30, 2018 at 7:18 a.m.

    Hutchinson makes a promise to teachers to avoid being upstaged by Henderson. However, his constant push for tax cuts has left the state in a position unable to fulfill the promise made yesterday. In fact, when faced with the issues by Henderson he shifts to the center on several points.
    Hutchinson has put himself in a place between an overly conservative legislature and a public that desperately needs stronger leadership in education and economic development. The state lags with children, ranking next to last in the nation regarding children at risk. Income growth lagged the nation at only 2.5% compared with 4-5% of neighboring states. There are growth areas of NWA and central AR, but the rest of the state is suffering.
    On a positive note, Hutchinson's computer coding initiative with schools could help prepare the state for future growth, but that is at least a decade to come and the jobs in this state may not be there by that time. In other words, unless changes are made soon we will experience a bleed of our best and brightest to states with better economic opportunity.
    Jared Henderson has a plan for innovation and growth in our state and could help put it on the right track. He has experience, coming from years working at NASA and one of the nation's leading consulting firms. He also understands the needs of the economically challenged areas of the state.
    What will hold him back will be the social issues of the state, which places greater value on discrimination and choice rather than improving the economic and educational levels of the state. "I'd prefer to be poor and dumb as long as we keep the gays in the closet and deny women their right to choice."

  • dunk7474
    June 30, 2018 at 10:02 a.m.

    Asa came in third in this debate. He really doesn't get it. Anyone would be better,

  • GeneralMac
    June 30, 2018 at 10:05 a.m.

    RBear calls "discrimination" kicking a man wearing a dress out of womens' rest room.

    Amazing that gays are so concerned about the " rights" of perverts but don't give a rat's arse that young girls might feel uncomfortable with grown men in their rest rooms.

  • RBear
    June 30, 2018 at 10:12 a.m.

    fake offers false hypotheticals right wingers like to use as scare tactics. When LGBT rights were first discussed, the same right wingers said that society would degrade as a result of it. It didn't and those states who have embraced LGBT rights are doing quite well now, especially economically. When same-sex marriage was legalized, right wingers said the families would be dysfunctional. They are no more dysfunctional than "traditional" families are. I know several same-sex couples who are active members of their churches, raising well-balanced families.
    Now, they try to falsely project that trans rights will endanger "little girls." The facts prove otherwise. In fact, there are more cases of pedophilia in schools and churches by heterosexuals than anything. Yet the level of outrage over trans individuals is FAR GREATER than anything regarding that issue. A crime is a crime and protecting the rights of trans individuals will not increase the crime rate any more than any of the other false hypotheticals from decades past.

  • GeneralMac
    June 30, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    "constant push for tax cuts"

    The PowerBall drawing for tonight is the 2nd SMALLEST possible.
    Yet, if a person in Arkansas won they would pay $900,000 more in STATE income tax than a person living in Missouri.

    You liberals should be asking how Missouri gets by on a much lower STATE income tax rate.

  • RBear
    June 30, 2018 at 10:23 a.m.

    fake if you're so bothered by that, then move to MO. I'm sure there are plenty of racists up there. We won't mind if you move.

  • GeneralMac
    June 30, 2018 at 10:29 a.m.

    A shame Planned Parenthood operates like an auto salvage yard selling parts.

    What next?

    A ...." You Pull the Parts".....human salvage yard?

    How can the pro-abortion politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Clarke Tucker defend Planned Parenthood's salvage yard ?

  • GeneralMac
    June 30, 2018 at 10:31 a.m.

    Why are they even having a Governor's debate?

    The PRIMARY election between Jan Morgan and Asa Hutchinson was the REAL governor election.

  • RBear
    June 30, 2018 at 10:56 a.m.

    And your racist candidate lost that election fake, so why are you even in discussion?

  • TimberTopper
    June 30, 2018 at 10:57 a.m.

    fake, if you'll take the time to find out, you will probably find that if MO would tax the lottery money less than AR would, chances are they are taxing something or some things at a much higher rate. Does the truth about anything concern you?