It was a full house at Monday night’s debate between Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman, Republican candidates for state Governor.
The debate was hosted by the Faulkner County Tea Party at the McGee Center.
One substantial difference between the candidates involved education. Both said they are against “common core,” but from there Coleman said that he hasn’t seen data to convince him that pre-K programs are beneficial, describing himself as an “"old fashioned grandfather" who thinks "we need to let our kids be kids as long as possible and our parents be parents as long as possible.”
Hutchinson said that he does believe “that pre-K is important,” as is kindergarten and other early childhood education programs. However, he criticized Democratic candidate Mike Ross’s plan to increase pre-K funding to make the program available to all 4-year-old Arkansans. While Ross’s plan calls for an eventual expansion of Arkansas Better Chance a pre-K tuition assistance program to families making up to 400-percent of the federal poverty level. Hutchinson said that he would support a more modest increase in pre-K assistance at 200-percent of the federal poverty level. “The problem is we can’t even fund the existing program,” he said.
On curriculum, Coleman said that he would support a public school curriculum that reflected “Arkansas values” rather than those of the federal government or other states, and supports a renewed effort at vocational training, beginning with “"something as fundamental as returning shop [class] to high school" to prepare young Arkansans for "a career path that may not include a four-year degree."
Hutchinson said that he would support adding a core-graduation-credit computer science course at every school.
Both were also asked to answer in one word if they supported school vouchers — a program in some states that uses public funds to send children to private schools in certain situations. Coleman said “yes,” while Hutchinson said “no.” Hutchinson later asked for time to explain that he has “not seen a voucher plan that works well for a rural state like Arkansas.”
On taxes, both said they would lower income tax in Arkansas — Hutchinson by one-percent for middle and lower-income brackets in his first year and Coleman by 20 percent across-the-board over eight years.
Hutchinson said in response to a question about the difference in his tax proposal and Coleman’s that his was a “real” plan that “can get passed in the legislature.”
In another one-word question and response, Hutchinson said that he would favor a minimum-wage increase while Coleman said he would not. Coleman also said he would have vetoed the “private option” bill, while Hutchinson, who said earlier that he was against the private option and “Obamacare,” said he would not have used veto power.
Another difference in political philosophy between the two concerned immigration. Coleman said that he would support closing the nation’s borders — an obligation he said would fall to the border states. Hutchinson said that he favored enforcing immigration law already in place consistently, rather than selectively as he said it is being enforced.
Also, both said that they would support the other’s candidacy regardless of who wins the primary.
(EDIT: Hutchinson's campaign contacted this newspaper on Wednesday to clarify that while Hutchinson is against the Affordable Care Act, his stance on Arkansas' "Private Option" has been neutral.)