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State Senate candidates talk differences

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a three-part series of stories covering the candidate forum for local candidates held Tuesday night.

The five Republican candidates vying for the nomination for state Senate District 28 agreed with each other on some matters at a candidate forum Tuesday night, but not everything.

State Sen. Bob Ballinger of Oark, state Rep. Keith Slape of Compton, Bob Largent of Harrison, Ted Walker of Huntsville and Bryan King of Green Forest, a former state senator, are all in the May 24 Republican Primary Election. The winner of the primary, which could easily come down to a runoff, faces Democrat Jim Wallace of Eureka Springs in the fall General Election.

State Senate District 28 covers Carroll and Madison counties, parts of Franklin, Johnson and Newton counties and about the western half of Boone County. It was created during redistricting following the 2020 census.

Ballinger currently represents part of what is now District 28. Slape is the former Newton County sheriff and has represented much of Newton County and southern Boone County in the House of Representatives. Largent is the president/CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce and retired from the military. Walker is retired from the military after 38 years. King once served the district Ballinger currently represents.

The candidates were asked how the state could address drug overdoses, which resulted in more deaths in 2020 than firearms deaths associated with homicide.

Ballinger said he was a substance abuse counselor in the past. He said the legislature could tighten restriction on prescription drugs, but that could also make it harder on legitimate pain patients. Drug dealers could be given longer prison sentences, but Ballinger said not every societal issue has a governmental answer. He encouraged churches to fill the void.

Largent said he didn’t see a lot that the state Senate could do other than increasing prison sentences. He laid the problem at not having a strong southern border.

Walker said there is a cause and effect in everything. He said if they weren’t building a new jail in Madison County they would have to set people free. If politicians didn’t benefit from drug companies, the could possibly be fewer drugs on the roads, he said. Cleaning up small parts of the problem will result in cleaning up the bigger picture.

Slape said many people convicted of drug dealing spend only a portion of their sentence before being granted early release. That, he said, should be tightened up so they spend more time out of polite society.

King said he had witnessed legislators leave the Capitol, then return as lobbyists where they make more money. He said reducing the governmental control that some pharmaceutical company wield over lawmakers is a first step. If there’s a profit for those companies or drug dealers the problem will persist.

The candidates were asked about a continuing problem with some health care providers no longer taking Medicaid programs such as ARKids. Specifically, they were asked if they would consider exempting a portion of state income taxes if they take those patients.

Largent said healthcare is a problem, but he didn’t believe it would be possible to exempt those providers from state income taxes without a great deal of research regarding the impact it might have on the state’s finances.

Walker said fewer and fewer providers are taking Tricare, the military insurance program, because the reimbursement rate is so low. He said he would “absolutely” be in favor of exempting those providers from state income tax because they need their money, too.

Slape said the legislature tackled part of that problem in the fiscal session this year by appropriating more money to boost reimbursements. The problem with an income tax exemption is that is that it could cost the state more if the Department of Finance and Administration had to make all those adjustments.

King said some Medicaid providers are going out of the system while others are getting rich. He said not everyone is playing by the same rules in the system, which results in waste, fraud and abuse. Cleaning up the system should be taken on first.

Ballinger said most legislators are already working on a plan to abolish the state income tax, so the exemption would almost be moot. He agreed with King that doing away with waste, fraud and abuse will be the first priority.

The candidates were asked if they would consider their political philosophy more in line with Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan.

Walker said it would be a combination of Roosevelt and Reagan, but more closely to Reagan because he was honest.

Slape said he liked all three, but during the pandemic with mask mandates and the like, he recalled Franklin saying someone will to give up liberties for safety deserved neither.

King said he identified with Roosevelt’s plan to bust up corporations that were feeding off the people, but also Reagan’s philosophy of lower taxes and less spending, something the current state legislature, a majority Republicans, hasn’t followed.

Ballinger said that even though Reagan began in politics as a Democrat, he eventually embraced the limited governmental constitutionalist, which he Ballinger said he would be in office.

Largent said Franklin was a thought leader, Roosevelt a force to be reckoned with and Reagan was bold. The one thing they had in common was the ability to work with others to solve problems, so he could identify with each depending on the situation.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban later this year, which could overturn Roe V. Wade, the candidates were asked if they could see any exceptions to the ban on abortion in Arkansas that could follow the ruling.

All five men said they are pro-life, but only Slape and King said they would consider exceptions for rape or incest or if the mother’s life was in danger in childbirth.

The candidates were also asked about their opinion regarding lower court rulings that the $18 fee collected to repay bondholders over the NABORS landfill fiasco would be upheld if appealed to the state Supreme Court.

King said the reason for the $18 fee was an amendment filed by a state legislator stating the bondholders would be repaid in case of default. That legislator is now waiting to go to federal prison for bribery. He said the bondholders need to be identified rather than allowing them to remain secret.

Ballinger said he thought the rulings would be upheld on appeal. Judges have never been granted authority to decide a tax on citizens. Largent agreed with Ballinger and King.

Walker said he isn’t confident that any taxpayer will truly get anything because corruption will prevail and the money will be hidden somewhere.

Slape said the entire ordeal “stunk from the word go,” but it didn’t involve just state corruption. He said there were other people who pocketed tens of millions of dollars and they would probably be waiting with legislators to go to prison if they were alive. Still, he agreed the Supreme Court would uphold the rulings of unconstitutionality.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Follow the internet link https://youtu.be/06JLAzFh66Q to watch a video of the entire forum.

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