In a rare example of inclusivity all four of the candidates for governor debated together Friday. Libertarian Frank Gilbert, Green Party candidate Joshua Drake, Democrat Mike Ross, and Republican Asa Hutchinson all participated in a debate hosted by the Arkansas Press Association in Hot Springs.
Candidates were asked about prison reform, the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, the private option, and an industrial scale hog farm near the Buffalo River. One question centered on the future of Arkansas’s scholarship lottery. The legislature acted this month to temporarily prohibit an expansion into monitor-based games. The keno style games with drawings on screens ever four to six minutes could be located in retail outlets, restaurants, service stations, and bars.
Green Joshua Drake said the idea of using a lottery to fund scholarships is regressive and declining revenue does not mean the answer is to increase gambling.
“We as Arkansans can’t get desperate because our lottery revenue is dropping. I’m ashamed at the money we wasted in implementing the lottery. The executives that have been paid and the amount of monies that they’ve been paid and what we’ve got for it is a sin and a shame,” said Drake.
The Green Party candidate also said reforming the Lottery Commission itself is important.
Democrat Mike Ross said he was against the lottery when it began but now wants to work to make it better.
“It is providing greater opportunities and making college within reach for more young people in this state and I’m committed to making sure that as many as those dollars as possible continue to fund educational opportunities,” said Ross.
Ross said he does not believe voters intended for the monitor-based games the Lottery Commission had sought to roll out this fall. Ross’s closest competitor in the polls, Republican Asa Hutchinson, said the lottery’s authority should shift from its commission to a new state agency.
“More influence on the director by the governor as an executive branch agency I think would help them to look at problems down the road. We’ve got some significant challenges from reduced revenue for the lottery,” said Hutchinson.
Both Ross and Hutchinson have previously said they do not support putting state general revenue into the scholarships.
While Hutchinson, Ross, and Drake expressed distaste for the lottery they still talked about utilizing its funds for scholarships and continuing its existence. But Libertarian Frank Gilbert said using a lottery to fund scholarships is not an answer to rising higher education costs.
“If it were allowed, if it were possible, if I could I’d do away with the lottery right now. I believe the people of Arkansas could do that. We’re the ones that voted it in, let’s do away with it,” said Gilbert.
Having all four candidates together meant a wider array of perspectives for candidates to respond to and for voters to consider. If a third party garners 3 percent of the vote it gains automatic access to the ballot in the subsequent election. It's often argued by both Libertarians and Greens in Arkansas that the cost and energy put into statewide petition drives each election - in order to gain ballot access - means a party has to expend too much energy with limited resources which restricts their capacity to actually campaign.