The Arkansas PBS U.S. Senate debate on Wednesday (Oct. 14) was very one-sided… because only one candidate participated. Libertarian Senate candidate Ricky Dale Harrington was interviewed for the full hour when incumbent GOP Sen. Tom Cotton declined to join the forum.
“I’m a little disappointed. I was looking forward to looking him in the face and talking about the issues and having an intellectual debate on policy,” Harrington said of Sen. Cotton’s no-show. “He’s on Fox News, I don’t know how many times a week – two or three times a week? – but he can’t come here to address the people of Arkansas. Why would you want to support somebody that does that?”
There is no Democratic challenger in the race as Josh Mahony filed for the office, but dropped out hours after the filing period closed in 2019.
Harrington answered questions from panelists, including Talk Business & Politics’ George Jared and TB&P contributor Steve Brawner, during the one-hour session. Donna Terrell, with central Arkansas’ Fox 16, also served on the panel.
Harrington said the state and country were reeling from the economic and health crisis that has gripped the U.S. due to COVID-19. Reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton, Harrington said in his opening statement:
“Right now in our country, we’re in pain. We’re in emotional pain, we’re in physical pain, mental pain, We’re in pain right now from the uncertainty of what’s going on in our country,” he said. “I want you to know, I feel your pain.”
A preacher and former prison chaplain, Harrington promised to be a problem solver.
“What we need right now is someone who is going to unite this country,” he said.
Though Sen. Cotton wasn’t present at the debate, Harrington drew contrasts with his challenger. Harrington said he disagrees with Cotton on his approach to criminal justice.
“… His statement on America’s criminal justice system – that we do not have an over-incarceration problem, but we have an under-incarceration problem. The United States holds about 25% of the world’s incarceration population. The state of Arkansas has one of the highest incarceration rates per capita … Our criminal justice system has been monetized. This is the main thing: we know people do bad things and they should be punished for what they’ve done, but there should be no innocent people in prison. And surely, no innocent people should be condemned to death.”
When asked for something on which he agreed with Cotton, Harrington said he couldn’t name anything.
“To be honest I can’t think of one, to be perfectly honest and straightforward,” Harrington said. “I respect Sen. Cotton as a human being. When it comes to ideas, when it comes to actions, when it comes to words, we are diametrically opposed.”
On the issue of healthcare, Harrington said he “personally benefitted” from the Affordable Care Act. He said that those calling for Medicare for All and those wanting to amend the ACA should find common ground.
“Why not amend it rather than replace,” he asked. “My vision is to try to bring those together for something that benefits those who want public health care and those who would like to go with private insurance.”
When asked about the national debt and how to control federal government spending, Harrington said he would start with a reduction in military spending.
“Whenever I talk about the military budget, it’s not the soldiers, the airmen, the sailors, the Marines, who put themselves in harm’s way to serve this country. We need them and their morale to be as high as it can be – ready to go out and defend America. But, we spend a lot of money on defense contracts,” he said, referencing weapons systems from companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. “We need to take a look at that, how much money we’re spending on that, and what we can cut.”
Harrington also shared his thoughts on topics including war powers, equal rights, abortion, the death penalty, COVID-19 response, climate change, bipartisanship, and defunding the police.
You can view his full debate appearance in the video below.