Campaign controversies at the center of the attorney general’s race permeated Wednesday’s debate on AETN between Republican Leslie Rutledge, Democrat Nate Steel, and Libertarian Aaron Cash. Rutledge responded to criticism she received after it was discovered her former employer, the Department of Human Services, put a “do not hire” on her record.
“I was notified that my records had been altered. They were altered 10 days after I left at DHS. That’s something that as Attorney General, those sort of policies and practices, they will not be allowed in state government. We have thousands of state employees. They should have the opportunity to defend their record,” said Rutledge.
Rutledge also insinuated the mark against might have came because she left without giving two-weeks notice to work on Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2012. Steel found it troubling that Rutledge’s explanation of blemishes on her record involved a call for an investigation into DHS.
“Well it may be that Miss Rutledge was treated unfairly when she left DHS. We’ll never know that because she won’t disclose her DHS record. Again, she’s running for an office that would be the defender of the Freedom of Information Act yet she’s hiding her record behind an exemption. She knows what’s in that record she just doesn’t want the people of Arkansas to know that record,” said Steel.
The liberal investigative blog Blue Hog Report has detailed several e-mails from Rutledge’s time at DHS replete with traditionally risqué language and situations. One in particular has been touted by Democrats as evidence Rutledge is insensitive to issues surrounding race.
Libertarian Aaron Cash noted his record has not been attacked and promised a more transparent attorney general’s office. Cash noted he is the only candidate not to take campaign contributions and argued his opponent’s are more susceptible to corruption for raising funds from special interests and wealthy individuals.
Throughout the debate Rutledge peppered her comments with promises to use the attorney general’s office to challenge the federal government.
“Defending Arkansans from an overreaching federal government is a goal of mine as an attorney general but it’s also the responsibility of the attorney general. Matter of fact it’s a statutory responsibility. There’s a law on the books that dates back to the 1940s which is clear that says we shall oppose federal encroachment and it’s the role of the attorney general to do so,” said Rutledge.
Rutledge also regularly attempted to link President Obama to her Democratic opponent. Steel responded.
“My opponent talks a lot about President Obama. I’ve been practicing law here in Arkansas my whole life. I’ve been a prosecutor in southwest Arkansas, a legislator here, I’m focused on Arkansas issues. My opponent’s lived in Washington D.C. the last four years, if either one of us ever had a chance to meet President Obama it’d be her not me,” quipped Steel.
Both Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash said focusing on state issues such as prison overcrowding and the parole system would be prioritized, not launching lawsuits against the federal government. Steel touted his legislative agenda as a detailed plan to accomplish these goals.
Rutledge said using the office to push against the federal government is about asserting Arkansas values. She said she would even hire conservative attorneys to staff the office. Steel and Cash objected to politicizing the attorney general’s legal staff.