Lenderman, Sullivan Debate At Jonesboro Kiwanis

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 125 views 

Just a few days before early voting starts, the two candidates in a hotly-contested state House race spent Wednesday (Oct. 15) talking about everything from school safety to regulations.

Republican Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro is challenging State Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, in the District 53 race.

Both men spoke at a debate sponsored by the Jonesboro Kiwanis Club.

The district covers the eastern side of Craighead County including Brookland, Caraway, Lake City, Monette and parts of Jonesboro.

Lenderman, a retired agriculture teacher, is serving his second term while Sullivan is the CEO of a child services company.

Sullivan was asked a question about the extension of the private option and if the extension is not done, what would happen to the 200,000 people currently on the program.

Sullivan said “the only questions about this are coming from Democrats and that no Republican has said they would pull the rug out from under people with the private option.”

Sullivan also pointed to a federal Government Accounting Office study that showed that Arkansas was $780 million in the hole about the program’s long-term viability.

“We need to have a business discussion and a business decision about this,” Sullivan said. “We need to take a rational, business approach.”

Lenderman said the program, crafted in 2013 by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and the Republican legislature, has helped to create substantial savings as well as helping nearly 8,000 residents in Craighead County.

Lenderman also said there were issues that needed to be addressed with the program’s cost, including pre-existing conditions, no limits on premiums and the cost of prescription drugs.

“I support it, but work must be done on the fact that we can afford it,” Lenderman said.

Both candidates were asked about the state’s budget, tax issues and the minimum wage.

Lenderman said the costs of tax cuts, increased spending on education, prisons, vocational training and the private option, leaves legislators with a tough job.

“Don’t expect $150 million in tax cuts,” Lenderman said.

Sullivan said the state faces an even bigger problem with unfunded mandates and a difficult tax structure.

“If the GAO is correct and we have $230 million in liabilities (due to the private option), then we’re in big trouble,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan told the crowd he spoke with a local business leader about regulations.

“They told me that 50% of the regulations they deal with are from the EPA,” Sullivan said, noting he believes the regulations can squeeze out businesses. “Also, Arkansas is 49th in the job participation rate.”

On the minimum wage, Sullivan said the policy should be to support job creation and to create a “living wage” as compared to a “minimum wage.”

He said an increase can have a negative impact on small businesses with business owners forced to decide whether to meet budget or layoff someone due to the increased costs.

Lenderman said the area economy has done well in recent months and that the state Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the proposal that will be before voters next month.

“They think it is a wash,” Lenderman said of the impact.

Lenderman was asked a question about a bill he sponsored that would allow school employees to carry weapons while on campus.

Lenderman said the belief that the bill would allow only teachers to carry weapons was a misnomer and that an employee would have to undergo police training, psychological tests and be approved by the district before they could carry the weapon.

Sullivan said he supported the idea as well and that decisions involving issues like this should be made on the local level.