Chambers Host Political Forum
INCUMBENT, DEMOCRAT AND LIBERTARIAN SEEK DISTRICT 80 SEAT
LINCOLN — A joint question and answer forum sponsored by the Lincoln and Prairie Grove Chambers of Commerce last week was all about the number three.
There were three policy questions, posed by the Chamber officials to the three candidates seeking the state House District 80 seat. Each of the trio of candidates had three minutes to respond to each policy question in a rotating cycle, as a crowd of almost 40 filled the large meeting room at the Lincoln Public Library on Sept. 25.
This was the second such forum held for District 80 candidates. A week ago, Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce held a similar event, but only State Rep. Charlene Fite, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Lou Reed Sharp attended. When asked about his absence, Libertarian candidate Casey Copeland said he did not attend because of a family commitment.
State Rep. Charlene Fite of rural Van Buren is a three-term House member from District 80, which is a largely rural district composed of the western sides of both Crawford and Washington County. She cited statistics and her record for representing the area since her election in 2012.
Challenger Casey Copeland of Prairie Grove is a former Republican who served on the Washington County Quorum Court in the 1990s and a former Prairie Grove City Council member. Copeland is running as the Libertarian Party candidate in this race.
Copeland espoused several of the Libertarian held-views of returning government to the local level but shied away from other Libertarian Party planks such as individual freedoms for women. He instead focused his remarks on wanting to help small farms, small businesses and small schools, by saying “local people know me.”
Democratic challenger Lou Reed Sharp of Springdale, a former registered nurse, spoke mostly about health care issues and chided the area of District 80 for not having a hospital and twice cited her dislike for Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the private option state-run insurance provider for health care.
Sharp said voters “should choose
a candidate, not being just a Democrat or a Republican or where they (the candidates) went to church.”
The meeting was moderated by local radio personality, Jake McBride of Prairie Grove.
Both Dale Reed, president of Prairie Grove Chamber, and Heather Keenen, Lincoln chamber president, spoke before turning the forum over to McBride for the question and answer session.
The Chamber officials designed three main questions concerning the importance of public schools, teacher raises in salary and school safety.
On this topic Sharp said she thought the state should forego a $192 million tax cut to provide better school security through programs and put in 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. school-based day care for working parents.
Fite reminded the audience that every legislative session she has voted for increasing teacher salaries and urged the local district to be wise in spending almost half of the total state budget to maintain local control over those tax dollars to keep the courts from mandating the spending to achieve adequacy. She also detailed how she derailed a plan to take money away from the senior citizen centers in Washington and Crawford County to give to other areas of the state.
Copeland, a lawyer and former Attorney Ad Litem for the courts in Sebastian County, said he favors local control in the schools and the state should find a better way to keep the parents involved in their children’s schools. Copeland said cities and counties should assist schools in providing more officers in the schools and not expect the schools to pay for all these costs.
On the topic of helping small businesses and rural farms, Sharp said she favors raising the minimum wage and knows plenty of people who work two and sometimes three jobs, but still qualify for food stamps and assistance. She also said she believes citizens who need health care but work for small businesses or companies that cannot pay health insurance for their employees, that the state should again pay for this insurance, but the state has now taken away this health care and that “is really hurting people.”
Copeland said the state has too many rules and regulations on small businesses. He also wants to see more tax exemptions, especially for farms, to be upheld rather than repealed. Copeland noted that just because the economy is good does not always translate into good prices for farmers or cattlemen.
Fite noted that the state’s tax cuts have put more money back into the pockets of the working people of Arkansas. The state has some of the lowest unemployment in history and more people have jobs than ever before. Fite said she has always fought to have small businesses get a fair shake in the state. She and her husband have owned several small businesses in the past, she said.
On the final question of what beyond education and small businesses is the challenge facing District 80, the three candidates gave a wide range of answers.
Fite noted that a real opioid epidemic is taking hold in Arkansas.
“We have to understand this is a real crisis that is taking lives and killing people even here in rural Arkansas,” Fite said.
She also noted there is an impending foster care crisis of what to do with the state’s foster care system for children.
“And there is a crisis of the heart that allows things to divide us – like party labels – angry rhetoric and it is so sad to see this type of attitudes divide us when we all should be working together.”
Copeland said as a Libertarian he is against more government and wants less government regulation and involvement. He pledged to hold weekly meetings with city officials and monthly public forums to discuss what is going on in Little Rock.
Sharp said there are differences in all the “little communities” in District 80. She said grants should be used to help economic development and to develop an infrastructure such as more health care clinics and hospitals in the region. She also pledged to protect students in the schools with new programs and not just guns.
Radio personality Jake McBride of Prairie Grove was the moderator for a forum last week with candidates running for state representative District 80: Lou Reed Sharp, Casey Copeland and Charlene Fite.