Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TOP STORY >> Candidates hold forum as primary vote nears

Leader staff writer

Thirteen Cabot-area candidates spoke about the issues and themselves during the Cabot AARP candidates forum held Monday at the Cabot Senior Center. Early voting continues this week, and the primary election is Tuesday.

Both Republicans in the fiercely competitive state Senate race were at the forum. State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) is seeking re-election against his opponent, R.D. Hopper, who owns Sonny’s Auto Salvage.

Williams told around 30 seniors attending the candidates forum that AARP is a big part of what happens at the state Capitol. “I will not raise your taxes. Most of you are on fixed income. We’ve worked hard to take the tax burden off Lonoke County. Grocery taxes are gone,” Williams said.

“I’ve worked tirelessly to make sure electric rates are held down,” the senator added.

Williams said it’s important to people on fixed incomes that their utility rates stay the same. He said he helped write briefs for a state Supreme Court stay against the Obama administration trying to impose stricter rules on coal-fired power plants that would have caused electric rates to double.

Hopper spoke on different issues important to him.

“Teachers do not like the Common Core school curriculum. They are having to teach their children a certain way through scripts. Children learn in their own special way. Teachers need the flexibility to use their craft they learned over the years to teach their children the way they learn best,” Hopper said.

He also said students do not need to be taught how well to do on a test, but know how to think and integrate into society.

“They need to learn how to count change. They need to learn the basics, and we’ll worry about the rest later on. Parents and teachers say they want Common Core out of the school systems,” Hopper said.

He said he testified against Common Core at the state Capitol for Arkansans for Educational Freedom and would make it one of his top priorities to get Common Core out of the school systems. Hopper also said Williams may have changed his mind on Common Core but voted for it to be implemented in the school system on three separate occasions.

Hopper then focused on health care. He said health care insurance for employees at his auto savage business has gone up 72 percent in a year and small businesses cannot afford that increase.

He continued, “Arkansas, with a Democratic governor, decided to put 200,000 healthy people on Medicaid that is designed for elderly, handicapped and disabled people. If I am elected, I will fight to get the able-bodied people off our Medicaid system and have Medicaid for the people who need it and not socialized managed health care paid by the state.”

• Two of the nonpartisan North Lonoke County District Court judge candidates attending the forum were John Flynn and Clint McGue.

John Flynn said, “I’m a lifelong conservative. I believe very strongly that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. As judges, we cannot deviate from the Constitution. It is not a living document and cannot change just because society may have changed. The Constitution means what it meant 200 years ago. I would interpret things with a view toward ensuring that we’re not violating the Constitution or people’s rights under the Constitution.”

Clint McGue explained that district court deals with misdemeanor crimes, traffic citations and fines, code violations and small claims. The North Lonoke County District courts in Austin, Cabot and Ward heard 7,500 cases last year.

“The range of cases one has to deal with is vast and requires a special knowledge and a certain temperament to successfully navigate. The race for district judge is nonpartisan. We are on both ballots and a nonpartisan ballot. I’m prohibited from associating with, setting forth any polices or beliefs of any particular political party. When you are before any judge, it is important that the judge is fair, open-minded and completely unbiased,” McGue said.

He also said the Lady Justice in the Scales of Justice is blindfolded. “She doesn’t care about your race, nationality, religion, wealth or poverty or political affiliation,” he said.

• Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley, who is seeking re-election, and his opponent, Steve Finch, were also at the candidates forum.

Staley, who was elected in 2013, said the sheriff’s office has provided more training for deputies in the last three years than in the last 10 years.

“In law enforcement, lawsuits are filed; we have not lost one because we do what is right, not what is easy. We will continue to do that for you,” Staley said.

“Last year, we took 71,000 phone calls at the sheriff’s office and 29,000 911 calls.

“It ranges from theft, drugs and sex offenders; an average of two calls a week are kids that have been sexually assaulted. We put these guys in jail,” Staley said.

“I am tough on sexual offenders. We let you know where they are at, what they are doing. If we can’t find them, we’ll lock them up,” he said.

Staley also said the new jail holds 150 inmates. When he took office, there were 100 inmates at the jail. Today, it holds 180 inmates because they have added beds.

Staley said Lonoke County holds state inmates because those arrested by deputies who are convicted become state inmates.

He said the county also held federal inmates, collecting $800,000 in rented beds. The funds help with the county jail’s budget of $1.2 million.

Steve Finch is a retired Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigator.

Currently, he is a security officer for Lonoke County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Elmore.

“I dedicated most of my adult life to law enforcement serving the community of Lonoke County. The training and experience I’ve obtained over the years should benefit me should I be elected sheriff,” Finch said.

“If elected, I assure you that I will go after those who use and manufacture drugs, those who steal and those who commit sex crimes,” Finch said.

He also said he would work with employees of the sheriff’s department and county residents to address any changes they feel are needed within the department.

• Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin is seeking re-election in the Republican primary.

“When I was elected in 2011, the audit report for the previous year came out and the road department had overspent their budget $1,148,000. Today, five years later, we’ve paved 100 miles of road. We bought $2 million of equipment. We don’t contract anything we can’t do ourselves. When they delivered the equipment, we paid for it. We did not need to increase any taxes, we did it with the money we had on hand,” Erwin said.

He also said the budget has been balanced each year and there are around 850 miles of roads in Lonoke County and 1,700 miles of road ditches.

“Everybody needs their roads fixed and their ditches cleaned out,” Erwin said.

He said people talk about how the county has $7 million but explained that amount is not in a savings account. It is money used to maintain and preserve the roads. It takes $100,000 a mile to repave a road.

The judge said the county has worked on Campground Road, the west end of Mount Tabor Road, Pickthorne Road, widened two miles of Kerr Station Road and helped repave Graham Road from Hwy. 89 to Jacksonville during his term in office.

• Lonoke County coroner Republican candidate Kenny Fraley attended the forum.

“We are going to do everything we can to serve this community with dignity and respect. We are working on ways to improve our response times. Sometimes, it can take up to two hours to get a coroner on scene. During that time, you have the fire department or the deputies sitting there. We need to improve that and make it better,” Fraley said.

He also said he intends to run the coroner’s office as neighbors helping neighbors.

• Lonoke County clerk Republican candidate Courtney Ruble spoke during the forum.

Ruble explained that the county clerk is the official record keeper for the county. The office holds ordinances, resolutions, probate matters, tax records, voter registrations, marriage certificates, payroll and accounting for the county. The county clerk is the secretary for the quorum court and for the equalization board.

Ruble was a probate clerk in the county clerk’s office.

“I am a person that stands for truth and fairness. I believe in God, family, honor and a duty to this county. I am a conservative who wants to build a relationship with the voters, not just as a representative. If elected, I will protect your voting rights and make sure there is honesty within our election process. I will upgrade our county’s record system into the 21st century. I feel it is important that they are open, accurate, accessible and preserved for our future generations,” Ruble said.

She also said it is important to hold the county clerk’s office accountable in its duties and responsibilities and that it is run with integrity.

• Lonoke County Justice of the Peace District 13 Republican candidates Bob Morris and Kenny Ridgeway were at the forum.

Ridgeway said he served on the quorum court for six years and learned some things.

“People don’t prepare. There were people (on the quorum court) who did not look at anything between the meetings and did not make a phone call,” Ridgeway said.

“The second thing is you have to be very careful dealing with people. You have to show respect to people. If you talk all the time like a know-it-all, when you do say something, you can’t get anyone to listen,” he continued.

“If there comes a point where I can’t just decide, I’ll just turn to Jesus Christ and get some guidance from that direction,” Ridgeway added.

He said, as a young Marine coming back from Southeast Asia on a helicopter, he had a conversion with the late Dale Bumpers, a former Marine who sat next to him.

Ridgway said they spoke about politics and he got Bumpers’ viewpoint on voting for taxes. Bumpers told him he thought about his parents who ran a small hardware store working 60 to 70 hours a week and had three kids in school.

“Is that dollar coming out of their pocket worth that tax?” he told Ridgeway.

“That is how I was on the quorum court. If there is reason to raise taxes and I researched it, then I’ll vote for it,” Ridgeway said.

Morris said, “I bring a business perspective to county government. The quorum court is very important to the success and continued growth of this county.

“We need to watch the expenditures of our tax money to keep our sheriff’s department and road department funded. The other assets that we have in this great community need to be protected. We should select our officials that are proud to be here,” Morris said.

• Doug Warner, who is running for Ward 2, Pos. 1 seat on the Cabot City Council. It’s a nonpartisan race.

He said, “I started attending the Cabot City Council and Planning and Zoning Com-mission meetings and others that go along with governing the city. I began to see the need to get involved in city service, for somebody that will take the time and go out and physically get involved with the issues,” Warner said.

He also said he would go out and look at the place where the city is going to build and ask questions to get the right answers.

“We are a democratic Republic, which means, when you elect somebody, they are your representative. They owe you a visit and communication. An elected official isn’t going to make someone happy all the time,” Warner said.

He added that, if he votes on an issue, he would talk with the people who aren’t happy with the decision and tell them why he voted the way he did.