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Senate District 32 race offers voters an explicit choice

by Michael R. Wickline | September 27, 2020 at 4:35 a.m.

Bob Thomas says he and Clarke Tucker are "completely polarized opposites" in their views as they duel in the Nov. 3 general election for the state Senate seat now held by attorney Will Bond.

Thomas, a medical devices sales representative and welder, and Tucker, an attorney, are both from Little Rock.

But Tucker says he doesn't know enough about Thomas' positions on issues to know if that's the case.

"At this point, I haven't had a chance to meet him yet," Tucker said in an interview Tuesday.

Thomas said he supports vouchers for children to attend private schools. Tucker said he opposes them.

Thomas said he opposes abortion. Tucker said that's a decision that women should make in consultation with others.

Thomas, 57, is a Republican who described himself as a fiscal conservative and pretty socially liberal. In 2000, he lost a challenge to then-U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Little Rock.

Thomas served seven years in the U.S. Army including two in the reserves, and a few years as a reserve police officer in Germantown, Tenn. He is a brother of state Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. He is married with four children.

[RELATED » Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

Tucker, 39, described himself as an open-minded Democrat who wants to find out the best ways to help people. He served in the state House of Representatives from 2015-19. In 2018, he lost a bid to oust Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock. He is married with two children.

The Arkansas Senate currently includes 26 Republicans and nine Democrats.

Bond, a Democrat, isn't seeking reelection to the District 32 seat that he has held since 2017.

The eastern boundary of the district is Interstate 30 in Little Rock. The northern edge follows the Arkansas River to the Perry County line. The southernmost edge is Interstate 630, then the district crosses over Interstate 430 to encompass an area that includes Chenal Parkway, Pinnacle Mountain and portions of Lake Maumelle.

The Senate post pays $42,428 a year in salary, plus per diem and mileage and travel reimbursements.


Thomas said voters should vote for him in part because of his experience as a soldier, saying the Legislature needs more veterans in its ranks.

He said he views Tucker as wanting to be a "professional politician" and part of the "political class," while he would be "more of a citizen representative."

"I don' t think we should have a political class," Thomas said. "That's why we have term limits."

Tucker said that "by and large, people care about serving other people" in the Legislature.

"That is 100% my motivation for running for office. If somebody wants to hang that around my neck, so be it," he said.

Tucker said he doesn't know what a professional politician is.

"I am a politician because I am running for office; so by definition is Mr. Thomas and everyone else who is running," he said.

Thomas said his top priorities include helping struggling businesses in the Senate district amid the covid-19 pandemic, and phasing out personal property taxes on vehicles, trailers and boats.

He said his other priorities include gradually reducing and eliminating property taxes on business inventory and doubling the amount of a used vehicle's sales price that is exempt from sales tax.

"I am not an anti-tax guy," he said. "I am for tax evolution. I am talking about evolving with the times."

Property taxes, both real and personal, are collected and disbursed by local governments. The bulk of the revenue goes to school districts, though local governments benefit too.

While there is not a "centralized answer" about how much total revenue stems from personal property taxes on vehicles, trailers and boats each year, the total vehicle personal property assessment for the year 2019, payable in 2020, would be $230 million based on an average millage rate of 45 mills, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

He said the business inventory tax was estimated to raise $70 million a year in property taxes in 2017 based on the state's latest projection.

Increasing from $4,000 to $8,000 the amount of a used vehicle's sales price that is exempt from sales tax is projected to reduce state tax revenue by about $11 million in general revenue per year, Hardin said.

Tucker said he favors creating a state earned income tax credit for low-income Arkansans at a cost of roughly $40 million a year.

Only working people would be eligible, and the creation of the state credit would lead to more people claiming the federal earned income tax credit, he said.

He said that President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, called the creation of a federal earned income tax credit the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress, and "I think he was right about that."

Thomas said he plans to vote for Issue 1 in the general election that would permanently extend the 0.5% sales tax for highways and roads because it would improve that infrastructure and help recruit companies to the state.

The tax was originally approved by voters in November 2012 for a 10-year period.

State officials project the proposed ballot measure would raise about $205 million a year for highways and about $44 million a year each for cities and counties for their roads.

Tucker said he will probably vote against Issue 1 because it would disproportionately hurt working Arkansans.

"I think it's the Legislature's job to fund the necessary infrastructure in Arkansas" and consider other options, he said.

Tucker said his top priorities include providing each child with a high-quality education and giving everyone access to quality and affordable health care.

His other priorities include aiming for everyone to have a high-paying job, people being able to live their lives free of discrimination, and working with Republicans to improve Arkansas, Tucker said.

Tucker said he would push for more state funding for pre-kindergarten programs, increasing all teachers' salaries, and revising the law under which the state takes control of school districts. That would be in an effort to completely return local control to the Little Rock School District.

Thomas said the state Board of Education "should pull the strings back" from the Little Rock district and allow issues to be handled as locally as possible.

The Board of Education decided last fall to return the district to a locally elected board with limits on its authority.

Thomas said he supports educational vouchers because "it gives the people the opportunity to go to school in a place that might support their religious beliefs and give people the right to use the tax-collected money to go a private school or religious school.

"It's the people's money. You are just giving them their money back," he said.

Tucker said he opposes vouchers because, "I am in favor of each child having an ability to have a world-class education, and when we start using public money to create multiple systems of education, we hurt our ability to serve every child."

Both Thomas and Tucker said they support continuing Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion that provides health care coverage to about 280,000 low-income Arkansans. The federal government pays 90% of the cost and the state covers the remainder.

A federal appeals court, in affirming a lower court order, has ruled that the Trump administration unlawfully allowed Arkansas to impose a work requirement on Medicaid expansion participants. That ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As for abortion, Thomas said, "I am pro-life," and declined to specify in which circumstances he would allow for abortion.

"No comment," he said. He said he would vote for further restrictions on abortion, but he prefers alternatives to abortions.

"It is the murder of a human being," Thomas said.

Tucker said the decision about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman and her family, doctor and God, and "not politicians."

The evidence has shown that outlawing abortion makes it less safe for women seeking abortions, he said, and the best way to reduce abortions is to reduce unintended pregnancies.

Thomas said he is "not a big fan" of hate-crime legislation.

"I don't know that locally we need hate-crime legislation," he said, adding that the federal government "steps in" on such crimes.

Tucker said he strongly supports hate-crime legislation, noting Arkansas is one of three states without such a law.

"That's a bad look for Arkansas," he said.


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