Friday, May 07, 2010

TOP STORY > >Ponder seeks primary win in 1st District

Leader executive editor

Ben Ponder is one of six Democrats running for Congress in the First District to succeed Rep. Marion Berry, who is retiring.

Ponder is a businessman and educator from Mountain Home. He graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in communications and received a master’s degree in Christian studies from Regent College in Canada and a master’s degree in communication from the UofA. He earned a Ph.D. in communication studies from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Ponder has worked for SBC (now AT&T), as well as in construction and for a pharmaceutical company.

His book, “American Independence: From Common Sense to the Declaration,” is scheduled for publication this spring.

Ben and his wife, Amy, live in Mountain Home with their four children: Ava, Elise, Lincoln and Whit.

Who is supporting your candidacy?

Ordinary, working Arkansans across the First District are responding to my message of “New Ideas, Old Values.” We are running a grassroots campaign that isn’t shackled by the financial support of lobbyists and special-interest groups.

Why do you think you are qualified to serve in Congress?

When you boil the question down, I think what we’re trying to determine is this: “What is the best preparation for serving the citizens of Arkansas’ First District in the U.S. Congress?”

I have not served in the Arkansas Legislature or on the staff of a congressman, and while both are honorable forms of public service, I don’t think they are necessarily the best preparation for serving as a congressman. Instead of working as a politician,

I have prepared myself for serving you in Congress in two ways: first, by spending a decade studying and writing about the American Revolution and our founding fathers’ original design for how our government should work; and second, by working deeply as an executive, entrepreneur and educator in several of the hot-button industries of today, including health care, renewable energy, telecommunications, construction and education.

I can help fix these industries because I’ve worked in them, and I understand the vocabularies and problems of each more deeply than a professional politician could.

What makes you different from your Democratic opponents and your potential GOP opponent?

As I travel the First District, I have yet to meet anyone who thinks we’re on the “right track” as a country right now. If we’ve gone “off track” as a country, then wouldn’t it make sense to send someone to Washington who is an expert on the “right track” that our nation’s founders designed for our government? In addition to my experience as a leader in the business world,

I have spent the last decade researching and writing a 700-page book about the American Revolution.

I have a Ph.D. in Early American Political Discourse from Northwestern University in Chicago, and I’ve committed myself to understanding the values, ideas and ideals that have made our country great. I’m running for Congress because I want to translate those principles into contemporary terms so that we can repair a broken political culture in Washington.

How will you help Arkansas if you’re elected to Congress?

I will represent the state in Congress with grace, dignity and statesmanship—following in a long tradition of conservative-to-moderate Arkansas Democrats who have been leaders in the U.S. Congress. In addition to my tireless efforts to repair the health- care system, to create rewarding jobs for Arkansans, and to strengthen our public education system, I will marshal our state’s strengths in the areas of agriculture, transportation and logistics, and timber management and place Arkansas at the forefront of the coming “green revolution.”

I will make sure that we become a national and global leader in advanced renewable- energy research, production and generation.

Why did you get into public service?

I’m entering public service for my four precious kids and for your children and grandchildren. I have a governing philosophy that I call “legislating for posterity.” It’s an acknowledgment that the laws and regulations that we pass today will become either a blessing or a curse for future generations. Unfortunately, our society and our Washington political culture has be-come engrossed in instant gratification, quarterly profits and self-interest—at the withering expense of future generations of Americans. We must become fiscally responsible, and we must return to the “long view” of politics that motivated the founders of our country to make great sacrifices in the interest of those who would come after them.

We are at a crossroads as a nation, and unless we elect wise legislators who are willing to make hard calls and to exercise sound judgment, then America’s future looks bleak. I, for one, refuse to be a spectator of America’s decline. I will do everything in my power and by the grace of God to put us on the right course.

Has the political scene changed much in the past few months? Will that help you?

The political scene among the people is best characterized by a deep distrust of government and of politicians. There are two things that we can do to fix this problem. First, we need to elect trustworthy individuals, individuals of strong character and integrity, to Congress. But simply electing good men and women to Congress won’t repair what’s broken with a political system that leans toward corruption and dysfunction. So, second, we need to elect individuals to Congress who have the knowledge and aptitude to solve systemic problems, the kind of complex problems with a thousand variables and myriad moving parts. If your representative can’t understand and solve highly complex problems, then his or her effectiveness at “fixing Washington” will be minuscule.

How close are you politically to Rep. Marion Berry?

I have met him but don’t know him well. I respect all that he has done for Arkansas’ First District over the last 13 years.

Will you support the air base if you’re elected?


What can we do about health care?

As a former pharmacy chain executive and a hospital consultant, I am knowledgeable and passionate about health-care reform. We must improve the quality and lower the cost of American health care—in short, we must increase the value to patients. I have seven innovative proposals for solving the health-care problem, and I recorded a multi-part video series outlining those objectives. You can find the series and the ideas online at under the “media” tab.

What kind of legislation would you support in Congress?

My top three legislative priorities are health care, job creation and education. In the interest of brevity, I’ll mention only one aspect of each legislative area that I plan to introduce. On health care, we all agree that prescription-drug prices are too high, but most people don’t understand why they’re so high. I will introduce legislation that forces drug manufacturers to be transparent with their pricing and their rebate (i.e., kickback) schemes.

On job creation, I will introduce legislation to reform and streamline the Small Business Administration financing program and will introduce a continuing management education component of all SBA-backed loans. On education, I will introduce legislation that will provide 100 percent student-loan forgiveness for anyone who graduates in the top 20 percent of his or her college class and who commits to serve our children as a public school teacher for at least 10 years.

When it comes to health- care costs and taxes, what can we do to lessen the burden on individuals and small businesses?

When you look at the income statement of any small business, the employee-benefits line is one of the largest categories of expense.

Often, the majority of that line item is tied up in health insurance premiums. If you’re a business owner or manager, imagine what you could do with the amount of money you spend on subsidizing coverage. I am an advocate of creating portable pools of coverage that are no longer tied to or subsidized by small-to-medium sized businesses.

Reorganizing the health-insurance industry would promote entrepreneurship and would amount to the most effective economic-stimulus plan in our nation’s history. To learn more details about this and other health-care reform proposals, please see and look under the “media” tab.

How do we restart the economy?

We restart the economy by focusing on the businesses that I refer to as “too small to fail”: America’s entrepreneurial small businesses. We must improve the access to capital, support and management education for the small-to-medium sized businesses that create most of the jobs in our country. Entrepreneurship is one of the distinctive qualities that has made America so great: we are a nation of risk-takers, of innovators, of pioneers. Our public policy must encourage more people to create new products and services and to bring them to growing markets worldwide.

What does your family think about your running for office?

When my wife, Amy, and I first sat down with our four kids to tell them about the campaign, Ava, our third-grader, was full of questions.

Her class had just finished a social-studies chapter on American government, and she was familiar with the basic functions of the federal government. She said, “Dad, if you’re elected, you’ll help make the laws for our country, right?”

I agreed, and she continued, “So what kind of laws would you make?”

I proceeded in true politician-fashion to rattle off a list of vague categories like job creation, health care and education, but before I made it any further, Ava interjected, “Sure, I get that, but what specific laws are you going to write?”

It was then that I realized these little family meetings were going to be good practice for the rigors of the campaign trail.