Cham­bers Host Po­lit­i­cal Fo­rum


Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By May­lon Rice

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.

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