In separate speeches to the Delta Caucus Conference on Friday, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bill Halter and Mike Ross outlined parts of their vision for the future of Arkansas and took a few swipes at each other.

Former Lt. Governor Bill Halter was the first to speak to the group with a speech focusing primarily on education and economic development. Halter covered some of the details of his Arkansas Promise plan, which he said would provide full college tuition for any Arkansas student who gets a 2.5 GPA or higher.

Halter said he would pay for his plan by using lottery revenue, existing revenue in state budget for scholarships, Pell Grants, philanthropy and additional $50 million dollar from the state’s general revenue.

Halter took a swipe at all the announced candidates for Governor by noting all of them opposed the lottery scholarship programs and also oppose his Arkansas Promise Plan.

The most intriguing point of contrast Halter employed against the other candidates for Governor was over the topic of health care.

Halter said:

“I’m the only candidate for Governor who said in the beginning of the process, not at the end, that he was for health care reform so that the over 250,000 Arkansans that weren’t covered, but could be through the health care, would receive that. A lot of people are telling me they’re for it now, or they’re okay with it now, but they weren’t leading to get it done.”

This sounded like a swipe against former Congressman Mike Ross over the private option. During a Q&A with the press afterward Halter was asked about specifically about Ross and the private option.

Halter said:
“Congressman Ross voted against the health care reform bill, then after it was law he voted to repeal it. So these things followed in sequence if you did not have the health care reform bill provided, you wouldn’t have had a private option.”

In the press Q&A Halter took another swipe at Ross for his opposition to the lottery scholarship program and, according to Halter, there wouldn’t have been 107,000 scholarships awarded.

After lunch, it was former Congressman Mike Ross’ turn to address the crowd. Overall, Ross’ speech was more tailored to the crowd made up of elected officials and leaders from the Delta.

Ross noted he previously represented a large part of the Arkansas Delta during his 12 years as the Congressman from the Fourth Congressional District and listed an impressive array of projects he was able to bring to south Arkansas.

Ross said he wanted to be an economic ambassador for Arkansas and would work to make sure no Delta family got left behind.

During Ross’ remarks he took no jabs at the other gubernatorial candidates, but did criticize Halter’s scholarship plan and the lottery in general in the question-and-answer portion of his presentation.

When asked if he would support a plan similar to Halter’s, Ross said:

“I’m planning on being the next Governor of Arkansas so I’m not going make promises I can’t keep. I’m not going to do any fuzzy math on that. I know the previous speaker [Halter] proposed this idea of every kid in Arkansas going to college for free, something that no state in America has been able to afford. He says it will cost $50 to $75 million dollars more a year, some say it will cost even more and he says he’s not going to raise taxes. You know we’re not like Washington, we can’t spend more than we take in.”

Ross talked about the Arkansas lottery and he claims it needs to be cleaned up since it’s not paying out as much in scholarships as it once had.

During the press Q&A after his speech, Ross was asked if they thought it would be impossible to do such a program without raising taxes or cutting other programs.

Ross said in part:
“Money doesn’t grow on trees and this isn’t Washington, we can’t print money and we can’t spend more than we take in.” Ross went on to say, “You’re talking to the wrong guy, he’s the one [Halter] who has to show you all the math.”

I asked Ross his thoughts on Halter’s line of attack over Ross’ votes on health care reform and the private option. Ross didn’t directly address Halter’s charge, but did say in part:

“I always said there were good and bad parts to health care reform. I’ve always said the Medicaid expansion was a good part, a needed part and addresses a good deal of the people who do not currently have access to health care.”

Overall, both Democratic candidates stuck to their positive messages, but both didn’t pass up opportunities to throw a few punches.

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Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.