Dr. Chris Jones, the Democratic nominee for Arkansas governor, said he has concerns about state executions and would consider commuting death penalty cases to life sentences, if elected governor. He also challenged his Republican opponent, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to an eight-hour debate to discuss issues affecting Arkansas.
Jones appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. He officially received the Democratic Party of Arkansas nomination for governor last weekend. Jones is the first African-American selected by a major political party as a nominee for Arkansas governor.
“It was humbling,” Jones said when asked to reflect on the gravity of the moment. “When I think about the fact that my family has been in Arkansas for over 200 years, and my grandfather drove a truck and had a third grade education, and the reason he did that was because his brothers bound together so they could make sure their sister could go to school. And then now to fast forward and think about the opportunities that I’ve had, and the chance to stand and be ready to serve Arkansans, it was enormously humbling and exciting,” he said.
Jones has accepted a debate offer on Arkansas PBS for Friday, Oct. 21 with Sanders and Libertarian nominee Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr. There was confusion when Sanders announced she had accepted a date that Jones’ camp contended at the time wasn’t firm.
“Look, it’s more political gamesmanship that folks are tired of. I certainly agreed to a debate for that week, but it was news to us that that date had been selected. It’s news to us that there’s only one,” Jones said.
“Look, Arkansans deserve a conversation between folks who want to be the chief executive, period. And I’m guessing that Sarah’s watching your show now. You know, I’ll challenge her and say, ‘Look, let’s put all games aside. Let’s get together, you and I, no moderator, pull any questions we wanna pull, and we can talk for eight hours. We can bring notes, bring your dad, bring consultants. And let’s just go toe-to-toe, because Arkansans deserve to hear about the issues.’ And I’ll do it any day she picks. So while I’m surprised by the 21st, I’m willing to show up for Arkansans, and if that’s the date we have, then that’s the date I’ll go with,” he added.
This past week, a federal appeals court upheld Arkansas’ three-drug protocol for state executions. Jones was asked if he would carry out executions for the state’s death row inmates despite the governor having the ability to commute sentences.
“That’s a tough one, man. And I say it’s a tough one, because while we want to make sure that people pay the price for the crimes they commit, I am against the death penalty,” Jones said.
“There’s several reasons, not the least of which is the way that it’s carried out is unjust and unfair, you know? So you know, when I think about how we can rehabilitate someone, I think we have to put more resources into that. And again, I’m very concerned about the way in which the death penalty is carried out. So it’s a tough one for me.
“It’s a tough one for me because I can understand and appreciate, you know, the need for some sort of payment to the folks, to the victims and the families, and I care about that deeply. And yet I’m very concerned about the unfairness of the system. As you can see the, you know, lawyers that are supporting clients that are getting off death row for all kinds of crazy things. And you can’t reverse that decision. Once it’s done, it’s done. And I actually reflect back on, you know, Governor Rockefeller. You know, Governor Rockefeller said during his tenure, no executions,” he said.
When asked if he would commute death row sentences to life in prison, Jones said he’d consider it.
“That’s what I’m looking at very closely. You know, because again, you have to pay the price for your crime, and yet I really appreciate and respect what he did and how he did it,” Jones said.
Jones discussed several other topics in the wide-ranging interview including teacher pay, public safety, and his “walk a mile” campaign tour. You can watch his full interview in the video below.