The following are some raw notes put together after watching Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman square off at the Faulkner County Tea Party Debate.
I've heard from several people that the Teapartyists put on a good and well-organized and thoughtful debate, and I'll tell you also that they do. I've even got my suspicions that the local Tea Party might have called in a moderator from outside their own ranks — though it'd take some digging to confirm it.
(EDITED: Turns out the moderator is the Tea Party chairman. Yes, I do feel stupid.)
The first difference that springs to mind is education.
Asa and Curtis had quite a gulf between them tonight on education, especially pre-K. Curtis said that he was an "old fashioned grandfather" and "I think we need to let our kids be kids as long as possible and our parents be parents as long as possible," and that there was no data showing a beneficial effect to the state from pre-K programs.
This is in contrast to Asa's statement that he does believe "that pre-K is important," as is Kindergarten, he said, and other early childhood development and education programs. He criticized Mike Ross's increase in state pre-K funding from 200% of the poverty level to 400% when "the problem is we can't even fund the existing program," and I get that, too.
At the end of the debate or forum or whatever it was, if I'd had one question, I'd have tried to narrowed down Curtis's statement that Arkansas' state public school curriculum should reflect "Arkansas values." I cannot imagine what he was talking about, because I know of no arguable difference in beginning algebra in Little Rock and beginning algebra in Louisville or Mayflower or Kansas City or world history in St. Louis or Greenbrier or Los Angeles or science in Chicago or Conway or New Orleans.
Reasonable minds may differ, but I think that math, history and science are fairly immutable — they don't change with political whim — and so that's the one point I would have asked politely for some clarification on. I suppose he was talking about the theory of evolution, or something.
On higher education, I appreciate that Asa acknowledged that one of his sons went to UCA (I knew Seth while he was there, and while we disagreed quite a bit and I sensed that Thanksgiving dinner may have been a bit tense at times around the Hutchinson family table I still admire the kid's inexhaustible supply of moxie).
Back to point on higher education: Curtis has to what is to my mind a wonderful message about the decline of vocational and technical school education where the beginning of the fix is "something as fundamental as returning shop [class] to high school" to prepare our young people for "a career path that may not include a four-year degree."
Asa wants computer science in every classroom in a few years. They're both right. A well-designed hay bale trailer takes about 12 hours to make, and so does a well-designed Google-worthy website. They pay about the same for the first few goes, and I'd be happy enough to take steady paychecks for life from either — but eventually we all know that there's a lot more potential value these days in a well-designed website than a well-designed hay bale trailer — and we also know that there's always going to be steady local demand for anybody who can put together a beautiful Mig weld bead. Again, they're both right.
On immigration, Curtis's statement that we need to close our borders got a fair smattering of applause from a crowd that had been told to hold it until the end. He said border closing should be left to the discretion "of the governments of the states that share southern borders [with Mexico]."
This is in contrast to Asa's statement that, as far as Arkansas goes, the laws in effect should be enforced properly, as opposed to a federal government policy of selective enforcement.
Some other statements from the debate or forum or whatever I believe to be relevant:
Curtis's "attacks" (one of his strongest of the night, to my mind): "I'm not a professional politician; I'm not even a lawyer, I'm a businessman," and that he hasn't lived in D.C. and "wouldn't want to."
From Asa, On ObamaCare: "Is it an incentive for people to go to work, or an incentive that tells people to not go to work?" And if it does fail, "We've got to look at the private sector to provide insurance through employers."
Asa on re-testing of "ObamaCare" recipients to see if they've become successful enough to be ineligible (Asa and Curtis both opposed "Obamacare" from the start): "Somebody who drives a Mercedes and has $300,000 in the bank" is a burden on the taxpayers if they remain on the government's healthcare payroll.
Curtis on bureaucracy: A one-percent cut on state agency operating expenditures across-the-board followed by an intensive cost/benefit analysis "to see if they are accomplishing their mission" and that there are no "bureaucracies that exist because it exists." Fair enough.
He also said that, government regulations were his "biggest competition" that made his private company struggle. (Curtis said a lot about state/federal regulations stifling business without mentioning specifics, and I think an example or anecdote or two would have been well-received.)
It was a good counter by Asa that Curtis' business is predicated on state-funded studies and state business loans. Curtis came back some time later and clarified that it was federal, and not state, regulations that made life hard while he was growing his business.
And that brings us to the final score: If this was a debate, then Asa won. During the "ask your opponent a question" phase of proceedings Curtis couldn't even seriously put together a question to challenge Asa, who effectively called the mercy rule after it became clear that his opponent wasn't capable of returning the ball.
If I was going to be cynical about it, I'd say that Asa's got more experience at losing a Gubernatorial election in Arkansas than Mike Ross and Curtis Coleman and any other cumulative combination of breathing souls within Arkansas' borders combined.
But if we're being real about it, then Asa's going to walk over Curtis Coleman and beat Mike Ross by between five and eight points unless the Democrats put something together quick.