Arkansas Attorney Leslie Rutledge (R) took heat for denying a number of voter initiated measures. Democrat opponent Mike Lee blasted Rutledge blocked at least 70 measures from the ballot, what he called an unheard of number for a two-year period.
The remarks were part of a debate Wednesday (Oct. 10) at the AETN studios in Conway.
One that was struck down was a minimum wage initiative, he said. The Arkansas Supreme Court told her to put the measure back on the ballot or write it herself, he said. Libertarian Kerry Hicks agreed with Lee. Hicks said she also struck down measures that would have allowed voters to decide on medical marijuana. Kerry said the job of public officials is to allow the people to decide these issues, and it’s not the job of public officials to obstruct the initiative measure process based on “family values.”
Rutledge fired back, saying the Arkansas Supreme Court has raised the bar for language used in these measures. Voters deserve the measures that appear on the ballot to be unambiguous, she added.
All three candidates said one of the most serious problems facing the state is the number of state legislators under investigation for a myriad of crimes. Hicks, if elected, would be proactive in investigating politicians. He said a division within the Attorney General’s Office needs to be formed to deal with public corruption. Hicks said he would not be in favor of expanding the power of the Arkansas Ethics Commission because he doesn’t think government powers should be expanded.
Public corruption has been rampant in Arkansas in recent years, Rutledge said. The sitting Attorney General said an integrity unit has been formed to tackle the issue. During her tenure, Rutledge said she’s worked with law enforcement in the corruption cases, and she would ask any lawmaker involved in illegal activities to vacate their office.
Lee compared the corruption at the statehouse to “The Swamp” in Washington D.C., a reference President Donald Trump has used to attack longtime federal lawmakers and government employees who work in the federal government. If elected, Lee said he would push to give the Arkansas Ethics Commission broader powers and would support legislation that would prevent legislators from immediately becoming lobbyists once their public service ends. He also supports a measure that would prevent elected officials from going on all expense paid trips, something he accused Rutledge of doing.
Rutledge said she fully supports legislation that allows students to carry firearms onto college campuses, saying it gives college students the ability to protect themselves. Hicks agreed with Rutledge. Hicks said he hasn’t owned a gun since he was 19 years old, but there should be no prohibitions when it comes to gun rights. Both said they would support a requirement that would make students register weapons with the college, but Hicks said he would support it if it was on a voluntary basis.
Lee was non-committal about the registry proposal. He said he would talk to law enforcement and campus security officials to learn what they think about it. He too, staunchly defended the second amendment.