Ark. Gubernatorial candidates face off publicly for the first time

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The three candidates vying to be the next governor of Arkansas faced each other publicly for the first time on Friday during a live debate hosted by Arkansas PBS.

The debate is the only showdown Republican candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders agreed to participate in before the November 8 General Election.

Incumbent Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is term-limited and cannot run again, though he’s hinting at a run for President.

Fighting for his job: Sanders, democratic challenger Chris Jones and Libertarian Party nominee Ricky Dale Harrington Junior. None of the three candidates has any experience in elected office.

Sanders, a former White House Press Secretary and daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, focused on education during the debate. As governor, the GOP candidate said she’ll make sure parents have school options.

”Right now, 54 percent of Arkansas’ budget is spent on education, yet the results we are getting are simply unacceptable,” she said. “We have to do more with the money that we are already investing in our state. If we are putting this much money into the system and our results are actually getting worse as we put more money in, that is not a standard by which I think we can operate.”

Jones is a Pine Bluff native, an MIT-educated minister, and the former director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. The democrat criticized Sanders’ proposal to gradually phase out the state’s income tax saying it would be disastrous for public school funding.

”You cannot eliminate 55 percent of the state revenue and then not cut something unless you end up like Texas where property taxes go through the roof. So what are we saying to our farmers? Or you end up like Florida where sales taxes go through the roof or you end up like Kansas, where the educational system collapses,” Jones said.

Harrington Junior, a former prison chaplain and Libertarian Party candidate, said he wants to reform regressive taxes, like sales tax. He called the state’s grocery tax immoral.

”It also is a double tax on people’s income,” he said. “First we have the income tax, now whenever I go try to spend money on goods, for food, and for my family, I have to deal with that tax.”

Recent polling shows Jones is within 10 points of Sanders’ lead, impressive in a red state like Arkansas, especially considering the millions Sanders spent on her campaign.

If elected, either Harrington or Jones would be the state’s first Black governor. Sanders would be the first woman to lead the state.

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