Zachary Gramlich and Jim Medley, two Republican candidates for the Arkansas House District 50, explained Monday (April 18) during a forum their visions of how they would help the Fort Smith area if they are elected.
In the candidate forum sponsored by the League of River Valley Voters, Gramlich said his fresh approach as a political newcomer would benefit the region. Former legislator Medley said his experience would be the biggest help.
District 50 covers the central and western portions of Fort Smith. The House seat is open because Rep. Justin Boyd is running for the District 27 seat in the state Senate. The Republican primary winner will face Democrat Diane Osborne in the Nov. 8 general election.
Medley served three terms in the legislature from 2003 to 2009 in House District 64. Medley also served three years on the Fort Smith School Board and is the Sebastian County Justice of the Peace for District 7 in Fort Smith. He retired six years ago as the CEO of the Area Agency on Aging of Western Arkansas. Gramlich is a teacher at Darby Middle School and a small business co-owner.
Medley told the gathering at the forum that if elected he wants to focus on making sure the state pays Sebastian County what it costs it to house state inmates.
“Serving on the Quorum Court, it is quite obvious that the state should be paying us at least $500,000 more per year for housing those state inmates, who are also causing overcrowding of our current jail. … No, we should not raise state taxes. No, we do not need to build another jail. We need to have the state take care of their state inmates that they are charging through the court system,” Medley said.
He also noted that while serving in the legislature in the past he voted against all tax increase legislation.
Gramlich said if elected to the state legislature, he wants to focus on tax reform, which he said will attract more businesses to the area.
“We need to make it more attractive for businesses. If we get more businesses coming to the area, they bring jobs and everything that comes with that,” Gramlich said.
He also said he wants to ensure that schools are adequately preparing students for the future and that students are not having to take classes that aren’t going to help them. As far as helping the area to grow, Medley said in order to increase jobs in the area, you have to attract manufacturers and business.
“I think the state legislature is going in the right direction but I believe we have to address the state income tax. We need to do everything we can to eliminate the state income tax,” Medley said. “Taxes have to be kept to a minimum if you want to increase the job market in our state.”
The state’s income tax has in the past eight years been reduce from 7% to 5.5%. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislature in the past session approved a plan that will further lower the individual income tax rate to 4.9% in the coming years.
Gramlich agreed that the state needs to look at taxes, but he said legislators need to go deeper and focus on the workforce and workforce education.
“When you look at what Fort Smith is doing with the Peak Center, that is huge. That is what we need to be focusing on around the state,” Gramlich said, noting that students who receive technical training in high tech areas can get ahead. “We need to be investing in those types of education, so that our students as soon as they graduate high school will be able to fill those jobs that we know are going to be needed.”
Gramlich said the two primary issues facing the state are “the brain drain” and the lack of jobs for students graduating throughout the state.
“We put thousands and thousands of dollars into our public schools. … But then a lot of our students are getting scholarships to go to a big university, which is great, but then they leave to go to some other place and then all that intellectual capital is gone. We’ve got to figure out how we can keep that intellectual capital … in the state,” Gramlich.
Part of that is also finding a way to attract more businesses that will entice those students to the state.
Medley believes the biggest issues facing the state include a need for better education systems and to continue the focus on adult education. He said more needs to be done at the grade school level to increase reading levels.
Both candidates see a bright future for Fort Smith over the next few years. Medley said specifically for the area in the next few years, he would like to see a continuation of growth in the Chaffee Crossing area, more work to complete Interstate 49 in the area and an improvement to roads.
Gramlich agreed with all those and said he knows that is coming and will be here.
“I want to be able to continue to create an environment that is business friendly. I want to be able to cultivate a city where families will want to come and grow,” Gramlich said.