Gov. Mike Beebe (D) appeared on our latest installment of "Talk Politics," fielding questions on the Occupy movement, severance tax increases, the search for an economic development agency director, and Presidential politics. You can view the full video of our interview at the bottom of this post.
Beebe gave a candid answer to a question regarding his support for President Barack Obama, who polls poorly in Arkansas. Republicans frequently attempt to tie Democrats at all levels to the unpopular Democratic President.
"I think you’d have to be living in a cave not to believe that Obama doesn’t stand a lot of chance of winning Arkansas," said Beebe. "I don’t think he’s going to carry Arkansas. I’m probably going to vote for him. It depends. I assume he’s going to be the Democratic nominee."
On the current Republican field, Beebe said that it is a changing dynamic. He noted that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman has been a frontrunner, as has Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain.
"The one constant I’ve noted in all of this is Mitt Romney. He’s either leading or a close second every time the frontrunner seems to change," said Beebe. "So if I was betting, if I was guessing, I’d say that Romney probably stands the best chance."
Beebe professed admiration for long-shot GOP Presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
"I personally know Jon Huntsman. I don’t think he stands a chance, but he’s really a good guy, a smart guy, who did a good job in Utah. He’s a problem-solver, he’s pragmatic," Beebe added.
SEVERANCE TAX FOR & AGAINST
Just this week, Talk Business was the first to report that an opposition group has formed to fight a potential 2012 ballot question that could raise the severance tax on natural gas drilling to 7%.
Former natural gas executive Sheffield Nelson is leading a petition campaign to get the initiative on the ballot next year, while the state’s business lobby has organized an effort to oppose it.
Beebe noted his push several years ago to broker a deal to raise the severance tax from its historical low. He said he did not expect to get involved in the issue, if it makes the ballot.
"I’ve not gotten involved one way or the other. I certainly believe people ought to have the right to vote on it, so I think it’s good to have the people vote," said Beebe. "But I’m not going to get out there one way or the other to support or to combat it. Obviously, I’ll go vote. I may indeed vote for it."
SEARCH FOR AN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CHIEF
Since Arkansas Economic Development Commission director Maria Haley died suddenly in September, Beebe has been faced with the challenge of replacing her.
The Governor said today that he hoped he would not have to keep interim AEDC director Grant Tennille in the post, but he didn’t rule it out.
"The interim director would be a wonderful permanent director. I have huge confidence in Grant Tennille," Beebe said. "But I really do need him back [as deputy chief of staff]."
"In terms of a long-term solution, that’s not preference. It may end up that way from the lack of ability to do anything else, but my preference would be that he be the interim until we find a replacement for Maria, which in and of itself is going to be difficult," Beebe added.
Beebe said he had talked to several candidates for the position, but salary requirements have limited opportunities. He declined to identify any names of candidates with whom he had spoken.
Beebe also discussed the recent protest movement, Occupy Little Rock, which has emulated national groups expressing opposition to Wall Street and perceived corporate greed. A small tent city of protesters relocated from the Clinton Presidential Library Park to a parking lot blocks away in cooperation with Little Rock city leaders.
Beebe said he was pleased with the manner in which Little Rock police and the protest group have worked.
"I never argue with anybody’s right to protest. I think that what they need to do is come up with some defined plan of what they’d like to see happen. Right now, it’s just anger and frustration," he said.
STATE LOTTERY, STATE EMPLOYEES & FISCAL SESSION
Beebe said he would be available to the state lottery commission if they needed his guidance, but he didn’t plan to be involved in the selection process for a new director. He did suggest lowering the pay for the lottery’s top brass.
"I like to see specifically addressed much lower salaries. Other state lottery directors and executive personnel are run with salary levels as high as what they were paying before," Beebe said.
State employees will doubtfully see a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), according to the Governor. He blamed the economy for the condition.
"While I know it’s difficult for state employees, I’d ask them to look at the bright side. We haven’t fired them like most of these states have done in terms of layoffs," he said.
Beebe also said that he only saw one potential issue that could be added outside of the scope of the call for the fiscal legislative session in early 2012.
"Yes, possibly, but it would be along the same lines of what we already set a precedent for and that’s primarily the lottery, the lottery scholarships," said Beebe. "That’s a possibility. There’s nothing in concrete about that. But, if you’re asking if there is anything I foresee that’s possible, just like we did in the first fiscal session, that would be about the only thing I would contemplate."
You can catch portions of the interview on our program Sunday night at 10pm on Fox 16 or Monday night at 6pm on KUAR-FM 89. Or, you can watch the full live-stream interview below.
"Talk Politics" is sponsored by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, Impact Management Group, Connect Arkansas, and ConwayArkansas.org.