GOP gubernatorial candidate Curtis Coleman said his business record should be scrutinized for clues as to how he’d serve as the state’s chief executive officer.
The conservative Republican also outlined areas where he would search for government savings, clarified his positions on government’s role in business, and said he thought the Tea Party and Republican Party would continue to co-exist under the umbrella of the GOP.
In a lengthy interview with “Talk Business & Politics” host Roby Brock, Coleman said he was proud of his decade-long term as CEO of Safe Foods Corp., a North Little Rock-based food safety company that he helped start.
“We need a businessman at the helm of state government,” said Coleman, who left Safe Foods in 2009. The company has expanded since his departure to four continents, and Coleman said it was due to the people he put in place and the obstacles he helped it overcome during his CEO tenure.
“It was at the point where I began to retire that the company really began to take off,” Coleman said. “People say, ‘It didn’t take off until he left.’ I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t know the company was at that point.”
Safe Foods was launched from a UAMS research incubator that discovered a way to prevent food-borne illnesses in poultry through a simple chemical process found in mouthwash. In its early years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Safe Foods struggled through several federal regulatory agencies as it sought approval to conduct business.
Safe Foods not only benefited from the government-infused UAMS research, but it was also seeded early with an $8 million line of credit guarantee from the Arkansas Development and Finance Authority, Coleman said.
Coleman, a fiscal conservative, said he viewed the role government played in launching his enterprise as an appropriate use of taxpayer resources although he said he’s not sure where the balance of the line of credit stands today.
“I think those are legitimate functions of state government and I’ve never objected to them at all,” Coleman said. “I made those decisions as a fiduciary. For my company and my investors, I’m obligated to make the very best decisions I can.. . As governor, you assume a different fiduciary role.”
He added, “Sometimes when I talk about government, business people think I’m anti-regulation and I’m not. I like yellow stripes on highways. I like stop signs, you know. I like traffic lights when they’re necessary,” he said. “So it’s not a matter of anti-regulation, it’s a matter of hyper- or over-regulation.”
Coleman wants state government to shrink, if he’s elected. He’s proposed an eight-year tax cut plan that would ultimately reduce state revenues by $2.3 billion – nearly half of its current funding levels.
To control expenses, he said he would begin with a one percent reduction, roughly $50 million, in across-the-board spending for state agencies in his first year, then calculate other ways to cut funding in future years. When pressed for more specifics, Coleman said the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality could be an early target for budget reductions.
“I think we could make significant cuts in ADEQ. And I think we can do that in a way that enables Arkansas businesses to function more profitably with a lot less red tape,” he said. “I think we could reduce the overhead at ADEQ at the same time and let Arkansas businesses function with a little more freedom and liberty, and therefore, more profitably.”
A Tea Party conservative, Coleman is running for the GOP nomination against Asa Hutchinson. Coleman has pledged to endorse Hutchinson if he wins the nomination, and he said he believed that Tea Party supporters would continue to coalesce under the Republican Party tent, not break off on their own.
“I’m not qualified to speak for the Tea Party, but I think the Tea Party understands that their most effective course of action is to have more influence in the Republican Party,” Coleman said. “And I think that’s where they’re going to land and what they’re going to do. They understand that. These are intelligent people and intelligent political people, and I think that they understand that the best opportunity for them to see their principles and ideologies prevail is going to be more influential inside the party.”
You can watch the TV version of Coleman’s interview in the first video clip below. The extended, full version of Coleman’s interview can be viewed in the second video clip below.