State Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, was blistered for his positions on healthcare, education, and even the death of a child at a daycare facility he’s associated with during a town hall meeting Tuesday (Aug. 8) at the Earl Bell Community Center in Jonesboro.
One attendee asked Sullivan if he was responsible for the death of 5-year-old Christopher Gardner who died after he was left inside a Ascent Children’s Health Center van in West Memphis for about eight hours during a day when temperatures rose to nearly 90 degrees.
Sullivan, CEO for the company, said the charge against him was uncalled for, but expected from partisans who disagree with his positions. The death came while Sullivan had been campaigning to further deregulate the same industry.
“To use a tragic instance of a child dying to take a shot at me is tragic,” Sullivan said to the woman questioner in the crowd.
Sullivan explained that legislation he supported reduces the number of required CPR certified staffers at childcare facilities was necessary for business owners and would not have prevented Gardner’s death. Four former Ascent workers have been charged with manslaughter in the child’s death.
The regulation required 50% of employees to be certified, and there was a shortage of about 2,000 certified CPR workers in that field statewide, he said. It was changed to three certified workers per building, and without the change, hundreds of childcare businesses may have had to close.
In the last 10 years lawmakers could find no instance in which a child’s life was lost because there was no one with CPR experience, he said. It can cost up to $75 to train an employee in CPR and the employee turnover rate is extremely high, meaning it’s an extreme expense for many small businesses, he said.
Sullivan was joined at the town hall by State Rep. Johnny Rye, R-Trumann, and two men, Mike Nelson and Robert Butler, who’ve announced their intentions to challenge U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, in the first congressional district. Crawford, U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., were invited to the town hall but did not attend. Pictures of the three were placed on a table, and organizers told the crowd if they had questions for them, an attempt would be made to forward those questions to their respective offices.
Nelson implored the crowd to talk to other voters to switch their votes from Crawford in the district. At one point he told attendees talking to white men over the age of 50 who’ve been voting Republican is a waste of time. Those who want to see a change need to target women voters age 50 and up who have voted Republican, but are concerned about the country’s direction. Democrats need to tell voters they won’t take their guns away, and settle the issue. He blasted the congressman and two senators for not appearing at the meeting and taking questions from constituents.
Sullivan refuted Nelson’s statements.
“To hear that white men don’t care about people … is factually not true,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan took fire for his positions on healthcare and education, too. He didn’t support the state’s recent Medicaid expansion, and at one point said people need to take more personal responsibility for the problems in their lives. Decisions about government programs need to be based on outcomes, he said. He said there are 30,000 adult, able-bodied workers who are now getting free healthcare because of the expansion.
“You’re assuming that,” a woman yelled from the crowd.
“No, it’s a fact,” he fired back.
At one point the woman asked him if he was proud of his vote for President Donald Trump. He said he was and several in the crowd openly laughed and mocked him. Another attendee asked if Sullivan was aware of a recent study that showed Arkansans in the expanded Medicaid pool had better medical outcomes than those in Texas, a state that refused Medicaid expansion. She asked him if he has or would change his mind on the issue since the outcomes were better in Arkansas.
Sullivan refused to answer the question.
Sullivan also was asked about legislation to allow students to chose which schools they can attend, and the state funding that goes along with it. Teachers could potentially make more money in a free market system, and students could potentially get a better education is a competitive market that includes more private schools. When asked if he supported those private schools adhering to the same academic standards at public schools, Sullivan didn’t say if he supports those standards or not.
Another town hall is tentatively slated in Jonesboro on Aug. 23. Boozman, Cotton, and Crawford also are invited to that meeting.