State Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, and his GOP primary opponent, State Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, began their Friday (Jan. 17) debate at the NEA Political Animals club meeting in Jonesboro exchanging pleasantries, but it quickly turned contentious as the two blasted each other for their positions on a number of issues.
The first question asked by an audience member was that each man say something nice about his opponent to which both agreed.
“I think John is a good man that says what he believes,” Sullivan said.
Cooper added that he thinks “there is no doubt Dan is a conservative Republican.”
Then, both candidates went into attack mode.
Sullivan accused Cooper of voting for multiple tax increases, even as the incumbent has been touting how much money he’s saved taxpayers through his votes. Cooper fired back, saying he supported tax cuts that will equate to a taxpayer savings of $280 million in 2020 and that will balloon to $323.6 million next year.
Sullivan responded by saying that politicians often skew numbers and it’s hard to get an accurate accounting of what the real impact of the tax increases and cuts really are each year.
Cooper defended his “no” vote in committee on a proposed stand your ground bill that would have allowed a person to use deadly force without having to “retreat” if it’s possible during a confrontation, similar to the “castle provision” currently in law that allows a person to protect their home with deadly force even if they can retreat to avoid danger. Sullivan noted that Cooper was the lone Republican who voted against the measure coming out of committee.
In animated terms, Cooper said that police chiefs, prosecutors, defense attorneys and civic groups from around the state overwhelmingly opposed the bill. He said he talked to several attorneys and the bill would have essentially “legalized murder.” Cooper also noted that no weapons were mentioned in the bill, so it’s not a second amendment issue.
The two candidates got into a pitched verbal altercation over the state’s Medicaid expansion, the Arkansas Works program. Cooper has voted consistently to support the program, while Sullivan has voted against it. Cooper said that the expanded coverage has cost taxpayers in the state $244 million since 2014, and it has would have cost $1.2 billion to provide those same services during that time frame if it had been repealed. The majority of people in the state support the program and that’s why he’s voted to keep it, he added.
Sullivan attacked back, saying the healthcare lobby is the most powerful in the state and special interests support the expansion. He said that programs for the elderly, disabled, and the sick have been impacted and the program primarily only provides healthcare coverage for working age residents that don’t have children.