Spencer ID’s six platform planks in Second District Congressional bid

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 507 views 

Paul Spencer has talked a lot about campaign finance reform, but he’s ready to discuss other issues he says are impacting Second Congressional District constituents.

Spencer, a Democratic candidate for the seat held by U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, is facing three Democratic challengers in the May 22 primary. He’s been campaigning for more than eight months and says that after multiple listening tours to the hinterlands of the central Arkansas district, voters have outlined for him six issues that repeatedly resonate from “the roots up.”

“All of the folks that we’ve talked to have recognized a real need. The question is: how do you do these things?” Spencer said at an hour-long press conference at his downtown North Little Rock campaign headquarters. “These are prescriptions to the problems that people have been talking to us for the last eight months.”

Assisted by campaign workers and his wife, Spencer discussed in-depth his position on issues that included:

  • Inaccessibility of local banking;
  • Rural broadband access;
  • Healthcare, ranging from Medicare for all to more preventative “lifestyle” medicine;
  • Communities of color and the challenges they incur from jobs to healthcare to local investment;
  • Affordable housing; and
  • Eliminating student debt

Spencer said some of his ideas built around issues presented by voters may or may not have a price tag that makes them reasonable. Some issues, he said, could result in savings for the federal government, while other proposals may simply reduce stress on federal resources.

“Does it cost money? Everything that’s worthwhile does,” Spencer said. “When you invest in people, isn’t that where you ought to be putting the money? There are some places where these programs can actually generate revenue, there are some places where it will cost… There’s no panacea, but if you don’t start looking at some point, you’re never going to find a way to do those things.”

He noted that no one in Congress worried in advance about the costs of two foreign wars that have stretched over nearly two decades and that bank bailouts from the Great Recession and recently-enacted tax cuts have not been stymied by their burdens to the $21 trillion national debt.

“We’re spending the money and we’re hemorrhaging money as a country, but now we’re hemorrhaging money and it’s only going in one direction and that’s up” into the hands of large donors and back to political candidates, he said. “At some point, you have to break the cycle of addiction, so to speak, and bear down and do the right thing with the money that you’re spending.”

Spencer and his campaign team outlined several initiatives within the framework of the six issues presented. To deal with the drought of local banking in rural communities and parts of urban Little Rock, Spencer advocated for “postal banking.” Postal banking supporters note that most low-income and rural areas have a post office, which can serve as a place for cashing checks, paying utility bills, opening savings accounts, and issuing small-dollar loans. The proposal is touted as a way to help the U.S. Post Office right its finances, while meeting the needs of underserved locations.

With Arkansas typically ranked among the lowest states in the U.S. with rural broadband access, Spencer said that there should be much more competition for existing federal funds to build out high-speed internet in places that have few, if any, options. He suggested more small business opportunities in the bidding process as well as allowing city and county governments to provide broadband where local private providers are hesitant.

For months, Spencer has touted universal healthcare through a “Medicare for all” proposal that was a cornerstone of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign. Spencer’s wife Stephanie, who is a heart failure clinical specialist, has served patients with cardiovascular disease in rural Arkansas. She said there are a number of healthy initiatives that should be incentivized in the healthcare system to aid heart and diabetes patients before they incur major health care costs. She said that a “Medicare Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” program, which would give low-income participants physician-referred nutrition-oriented fruits and vegetables, would save money in the long run by reducing surgery costs, while also creating new markets for local farmers.

In addressing communities of color, Spencer said more must be done to promote small business loans, affordable housing, and federal beautification of depressed areas. He said that universal after-school programs would be beneficial in underserved communities and could even provide a third meal of the day for some children who suffer from food insecurity. Lastly, Spencer’s campaign called for automatic voter registration upon high school graduation and restoring the voting rights of felons who have served their sentences.

Spencer also said Congress should do more to help those who struggle to find affordable housing, including expanding current federal voucher programs and passage of a tenants’ bill of rights to stop landlords from unfairly evicting renters.

Finally, he called on Congress to wipe out all student debt, which he estimated at nearly $1.4 trillion. He said the federal government could do this through its programs as well as compensate private financial entities that have loaned money for college.

“We don’t believe these are safety nets. We believe that there’s a floor under which no American should be beneath. That is the basic minimum where we should be,” Spencer said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about having food for our kids. We shouldn’t have to worry about having a roof over our heads. We shouldn’t have to worry about any of those things.”

Describing a conversation he has with his 13-year old son when he drops him off at school every morning, Spencer became emotional discussing how he worries, in this day and age, about school shootings. “I tell him I love him every day,” Spencer said. He acknowledged the issue has come up more than once on the campaign trail, including a recent town hall he held in rural Conway County.

He said politicians and the public must “demystify” the Second Amendment. He said every constitutional right comes with some restrictions, such as free speech and limits on the free press to publish anything it chooses.

Spencer said he “100%” supports a ban on assault-style rifles. He also said that a firearm census should be conducted through the federal census to ensure easier tracking of guns. He also supported a federal buyback program and said that any loopholes involving background checks at gun trade shows should be closed.

Spencer is facing Democrats Gwen Combs, Jonathan Dunkley, and Clarke Tucker in the May 22 primary. The eventual Democratic nominee will face incumbent U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Libertarian Joe Swafford in November.

The four Democratic candidates will face off in their first official debate on Wednesday, April 4th in a debate sponsored by Talk Business & Politics and KATV.