Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and Lt. Governor candidate John Burkhalter mutually endorsed each other and promised to work jointly to create more jobs in Arkansas if elected.

Ross, a former Congressman, faces Democratic primary challenger and former Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Little Rock School Board President Dianne Curry says she will challenge Burkhalter in the Lt. Governor’s primary.

“John Burkhalter and I have been close friends for many years and, in that time, I have come to see why John has been so successful throughout his life: he is a hard worker, proven problem solver, compassionate husband and father, and a natural-born leader,” said Ross. “John brings the right combination of private-sector experience and public service and will be a strong asset for the state as its lieutenant governor. I look forward to working with John as we create jobs in this state and move Arkansas forward.”

Ross said when he’s elected governor, one of his first actions will be to create a “Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development” – a statewide coordinated effort that would focus on job creation. Ross said he would name Burkhalter to chair the cabinet.

“While government can help, it doesn’t have all the answers, and it can’t solve all of our problems. Government should help where it can, and it should get out of the way where it can’t,” said Ross. “The Cabinet will be an effort to provide better coordination, increased communication and a stronger, more unified strategy for our state’s job creation efforts. We want to help the state become more efficient, effective and productive, and this Cabinet will ultimately become an engine for new, innovative ideas that grow the middle class and create good-paying jobs for more Arkansans.”

Ross said the cabinet would likely include, but not be limited to:

  • Arkansas Economic Development Commission
  • Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
  • Arkansas Science and Technology Authority
  • Arkansas Department of Finance Authority
  • Arkansas Department of Workforce Services
  • Arkansas Department of Education
  • Arkansas Department of Career Education
  • Arkansas Department of Higher Education

Burkhalter said his support for Ross and his vision for economic development made him comfortable pursuing the Lt. Governor’s post. He had spent months exploring a potential gubernatorial run.

Burkhalter is currently an Arkansas Highway Commissioner and has served on the state’s economic development commission under appointments from Gov. Mike Beebe (D).

“As a job creator and as someone who has worked hard for many years in economic development here in Arkansas, I know what it takes to get the job done,” Burkhalter said. “There is only one candidate for governor who has the necessary experience, convictions and relationships required to lead this state and our job creation efforts and that is my good friend Mike Ross. I have known Mike for more than 15 years and can say without hesitation that he loves Arkansas, loves its people and will make a great governor.”

Burkhalter said he did not agree to run for Lt. Governor to gain Ross’ endorsement. The two men said they had met on Wednesday following Burkhalter’s Tuesday announcement to discuss an endorsement. They agreed to do it on Friday, they said.

Burkhalter said he also talked to Halter about his jobs vision and was complimentary of the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

“He has some great ideas,” said Burkhalter, “But I’m convinced Ross is going to be our next Governor.”

Ross said he does not expect voters to split the two candidates’ combined ticket. He said if they do, and he wins, he has a record of working across party lines.

After the press conference ended, Talk Business asked if the two candidates planned to share campaign resources or appear jointly on a regular basis.

Ross replied, “Today’s focus is on job creation and what we can do together to give Arkansans bold, unified leadership on the issue of economic development. We each have our own campaigns, but we have a shared vision on how we can work together to create more good-paying jobs right here in Arkansas.”

UPDATE: Dianne Curry issued the following statement after the Ross-Burkhalter announcement:

“We feel better than ever about this campaign and our plan to have the money, the message and the people power to win the primary and the general elections. Voters around Arkansas time and again have rejected backroom deals that exclude others and divide our party and our state,” Curry said.

Curry also said she will not endorse anyone for Governor now, but let the people of Arkansas decide.

“Our state motto is Regnat Populus, which means the People Rule,” said Curry. “I believe as the True Blue Democrat in this race, we will let the people of Arkansas make these decisions, not some good ole boys in backrooms. This deal is already moving new important supporters toward our campaign because I’m focused on bringing people together around sound policies that help real people from all walks of life and from every part of Arkansas.”

Editor’s note: Photo courtesy of Ryan Saylor with The City Wire.

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