This is the first interview with candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Tuesday we'll have an interview with Lynette Bryant's opponent for the nomination Mike Ross.
Kauffman: Thanks for listening, I’m Jacob Kauffman with KUAR. Substitute teacher and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Lynette Bryant joins me in the studio. Thanks for being here.
Bryant: Thank you.
Kauffman: You’re welcome. I want to begin by focusing on economic development. What are your feelings on the idea of state investment in projects such as Big River Steel?
Bryant: Well, you know when you think about economic development we want to also make sure that the people are able, we are able, to keep the companies here. That’s one of our problems. We can possibly get a company here but to make sure that we have people educated enough to maintain the jobs. So we have to also look at an educational background. We need to make sure that our citizens of Arkansas can handle those jobs. In this way I look at education where we have to make sure that we make some changes in it. For instance, get rid of the Common Core; making sure that parents can work with their students so that they can understand and end up with a better future.
Kauffman: Arkansas’s current tax structure has lower income residents paying a higher percentage of their income than wealthier residents. Can you detail some of your tax ideas?
Bryant: Well, you know I have not written out any tax ideas at this point but I would work with those who has and look over and review those tax ideas that has been there. I have a masters in biochemistry so I basically research everything to make sure I can compare because there’s often something out there. So in working with the legislature then we would decide what is best. I found that if you make too many promises beforehand then what kind of governor would you be.
Kauffman: That in mind though, do you have any general philosophies on tax structure whether or not there should be a higher percentage paid by the wealthy, or poorer people, or corporations?
Bryant: I think that we have to look at everything and see how it affects Arkansas’s budget and the people. If you’re overtaxing folks then we have to also look at the fact that will we lose our wealthy? We want them to stay here. For instance in New York they’re losing a lot of their wealthy citizens who often donate and give back to the state because they feel as though they’re being overtaxed. We don’t want to lose our base so we’re going to have to really take a look at that.
Kauffman: Could you articulate your position on the private option – Arkansas’s plan to use expanded eligibility and funds from the Affordable Care Act, intended for the federally run Medicaid program, but Arkansas has chosen to purchase private insurance for those low-income individuals.
Bryant: Right, when I talk to different people about the Affordable Care Act a lot of Arkansans do not want it so it’s like an alternative to it. For instance, this one elderly lady who does not want the Affordable Care Act she’s paying Blue Cross Blue Shield. Twice she has stated that her quarterly has increased $200. Look at that and that’s $400 plus the amount of base in which she had to pay plus she has a spouse. So at what point can she still afford $1000. When you look at the Affordable Care Act it’s really needed for someone who has catastrophic illnesses or high blood pressure or diabetes. They need that. I think you have to come up with a plan that works for those people something like people who want food stamps can get food stamps and folks who do not want food stamps do not get them. When you look at it in that respect there are so many Arkansans who don’t want anything to do with the Affordable Care Act you have to address that.
Kauffman: With that in mind though just look at one aspect of it, the part that the state arguable has the most control over the private option, it will be coming up for review every year of the governor’s term would you press the legislature to continue that program or discontinue it?
Bryant: Well if we have citizens the majority of the citizens that I’ve talked to at this point that do not want the Affordable Care Act you have to have an option. That being the option we’re just going to have to go with that unless we can find something different. You have to go in with an open mind.
Kauffman: At this point over 150,000 people have gained insurance through the private option and by the time you’re elected governor it might very well be over 200,000 people. Right now we’re at 70 percent of those eligible what would you do to those people by discontinuing the program? What would their fate be?
Bryant: Do you realize that there are 313 million people in the United States that Arkansas has 2 million, 900 and something that was 2012 Census. So today it’s 2014, let’s say that there’s about 3 million people in Arkansas so you have to look at that base as well and you’d have to come up with something else. You cannot make the majority of the people do something that they do not want because they are a part of the Constitution as well. We have to understand what it is that we need and we’re going to have to just revampand find something new.
Kauffman: I don’t want to harp on it too much I just want to make sure that I have it clear. You’re opposed to the private option Medicaid expansion that the legislature passed and for those 150,000 people, that are low-income people who’ve got insurance through the government, you’d prefer for them to not have that insurance through the government.
Bryant: I am not opposed I’m saying that you have to…if Arkansans do not want it you have to honor Arkansans and find an alternative. I believe that with the Affordable Care Act there has to be changes made in it. It is so controversial there has to be some changes made.
Kauffman: Just for this one aspect though, the private option, what’s your opinion on that one aspect of it?
Bryant: That one aspect we have to go with it because it’s what we have for now.
Kauffman: The state legislature has aggressively pursued restrictions on abortion. Do you support those efforts, including an act currently being challenged banning abortions, most abortions, after 12 weeks?
Bryant: When I look at abortions I look at an individual and I still believe that the person has the right. Because when we die it is the individual who stands before God and says this is my sins. I look at it in that respect that that individual is standing before God and saying this is my sins, this is what I’ve done wrong.
Kauffman: So does that mean you support the ban on abortion at 12 weeks or you oppose it?
Bryant: At this point I have not made a decision on that.
Kauffman: Regarding environmental issues…many in the state are re-examining their feelings on oil pipelines after the spill in Mayflower. That fear of pollution and contamination extends to other industries like natural gas drilling and the building of an industrial hog farm on the Buffalo River. Do you think we need further regulations to help safeguard our watershed and sensitive areas or do you think the current regulations are sufficient to safeguard Arkansans?
Bryant: Well, we need our water, we need our environment so we do need to safeguard our environment.
Kauffman: In particular then, the Pegasus pipeline that ruptured in Mayflower runs through the Lake Maumelle watershed which is drinking water to over 400,000 Arkansans, do you think that pipeline should be moved or relocated?
Bryant: I would need to do more research into that to see exactly how we can readjust it.
Kauffman: Going back to your thoughts on education which we opened with. Higher education officials will tell you their budgets do not keep up with costs, the same critique goes down the line to pre-school. What are your plans to try to get adequate funding for these institutions.
Bryant: When Mike Ross talked about pre-school for everyone what he did not tell you is he was coming from Obama’s address. He also doesn’t mention how it’s done. For instance, when you talk about Head Start that is money coming from the federal government and it’s for low-income. When you talk about the ABC, Arkansas Better Chance, that is money coming form the state legislature. So when you want early childhood education, pre-k education for 4 year olds, you have to look at it like this: I believe that we should make it a Constitutional Amendment in which people would vote on and say okay let’s add this to our Constitution. Therefore, everyone gets a break on that, I would look at it like that. So in doing that moneys that folks had saved for that that were spending, if you’re middle class and you had to spend money for your pre-k you’re no longer spending that funds so you’re able to save it now. Also, when you have so many children that have had problems to begin with and you’re starting them at a younger age then the educational problem will probably decrease. That means that you have money that you were spending down the line that you no longer have to spend anymore. We will now be able to take that money, save it, and put it toward education.
Kauffman: I guess, after speaking with you today, you’re ambivalent or opposed to the private option you’re not exactly sure on this particular abortion issue in the legislature, what tenants make you a Democrat?
Bryant: I didn’t say I was opposed to the private option I said that with the, the Obamacare, that one, I said that people do not want that. So therefore when people do not want the Affordable Care Act you have to make an adjustment. I said right now all we have is the private option.
Kauffman: So maybe you’re not opposed to it but you wouldn’t be advocating for its renewal because people seem to be opposed to it from your perspective?
Bryant: I would see how it goes, right now we have, I would have to see how it goes. If you say okay, I won’t do this, I won’t do this, and I won’t do that that puts all bars on everything you’re going to do. What you want to do is keep an open mind so that you can make adjustments so that the state can move forward. Right now everyone seems to be bickering, the Democrats want this, the Republicans want this, but I believe that it’s somewhere actually in the middle. We have to start listening to the people. We have left the people’s voices out for so long that folks don’t really understand that they have a voice. I think at some point that’s what catapulted me into the race. For instance, when we look at our race now and we look at our state and federals we have one person’s name on every slot for state and federal officers. Mike Ross was endorsed by Governor Mike Beebe very early, August the 17th. That does not give people an option in fact it basically says we’re pre-slated, the individual is unopposed, we’re walking into the office, we don’t really need the vote so therefore we don’t have to listen to you. But you give us your money, you give us your time, you volunteer for us and help us win in November. That’s not democracy and that’s not participatory democracy. That’s what the Democratic Party has done. They have closed out and become very exclusive. To be able to enter into that door you now almost have to do exactly as they say as though you are an indentured servant, or almost type of like a slavery. Because when people are talking to me sometimes they’re very nervous. So what I’m telling people now is this is your government. This is your right to have choices and to decide how it is you would like this state to go. What I’m trying to be is more open and that’s why I also put my name to run for governor because I wanted a more open state, not so exclusive. Because I have friends from both parties, Democrat and Republicans, so I guess that’s why sometimes it seems as though my ideas are open because I now want to listen to the people because I know what it’s like not to be listened to.
Kauffman: At what point in the campaign do you think you would have those ideas after listening from people? Obviously you want to vote for someone knowing what they think.
Bryant: Right, I have already said what I feel about pre-school. With pre-school I am definitely going to ask for the Constitutional Amendment, for that to be in. That will allow middle class people to have a say so in that as well. With abortions I feel as though it is the individual’s right to decide because that individual goes before God. So, I’ve answered that.
Kauffman: So you don’t support the 12 week abortion ban?
Bryant: The 12 week abortion ban I’m not sure how I feel about that. I know that I believe that the person has a right to do it.
Kauffman: Doesn’t that suggest then that you’re not in favor of any bans if they have the right to do it?
Bryant: Well, you know what, that medical field a part of me understands why they are saying okay at this point we’re going to cut this off, at this point we’re going to cut this off, at this point we’re going to cut this off. So, from a medical point I’m still looking at that.
Kauffman: You mentioned Mike Beebe’s endorsement I certainly don’t want to argue for him or put words in his mouth but he has known Mike Ross for decades. It’s not as if the person with the most money applied first so he endorsed them. These are people he clearly knows.
Bryant: Right, and I’m glad that you said that. You can know someone for decades but does it make it right that you endorse someone 181 days to six months before the filing date set by the Secretary of State that will allow many other people to come out. If a governor endorses someone extremely early then what happens is that sends a subliminal message that other people are not welcomed. That’s exactly what happened to our entire slate state and federal, we only have one person. If Governor Beebe would have waited to the proper time after the filing date I believe then we would have more people running in every slot.
Kauffman: Is there any reason why you didn’t try to enter earlier after seeing Mike Ross enter?
Bryant: I was waiting to see if other people would enter, someone that I would believe, that I could get behind and back, I can not back Mike Ross. I can not get behind him. One of the reasons is because when he understand that Governor Beebe was endorsing him very early, and that gives a subliminal message...he is not dumb, he went ahead and he took that. To me it I’m like where is your moral compass…where you’re not thinking about the people. What happens is that when you’re looking at our Constitutional rights and you’re looking at the Civil War how people died for us and fought for us that means that each person’s normal birth right is removed when you have no other choices and that’s what happened. There’s only one name in every slot.
Kauffman: But you were able to file for office. How were you prevented from filing?
Bryant: Because for me I understand, I’m an army brat, so I was able to just not stop because somebody would say oh please don’t run and believe me that was said to me. I got that pat on the back that said..
Kauffman: Who said that to you?
Bryant: It doesn’t matter, people.
Kauffman: It does matter because you’re making a claim about people in the Democratic Party.
Bryant: No, no, no, no, I’m being specific. The Democratic Party did not say it other people associated with the Democratic Party gives that pat on the back and says Dr. Bryant do you really think that you can win this and I said I’m going to do my best to.
Kauffman: I’m not trying to accuse you but you’ve made this claim that the Democratic Party and people affiliated with it are pressuring people not to run. Who are some of those people pressuring?
Bryant: I am hoping that those people because I’ve stepped forward. I am hoping that those people will come and step forward as well now.
Kauffman: But you’re stepping forward with a claim without any names that we can’t verify.
Bryant: Well, you know something I am putting out, I’ve written to the Secretary of State, I’ve written to the Attorney General, and I’m writing to the Ethics Committee, I’ve written to that and I’m asking them to follow up on people who might have wanted to come forward.
Kauffman: Did you name any people?
Bryant: No, I did not. But if they ask me to then I will talk to them. Because I’m hoping these people will come forward and say you know something, I wanted to run and this is what I got. For instance, I’ll give you another example. I’m at Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Jefferson County and I had just given my talk and then Vince Insalaco, and he is the Chairmen of the Democratic Party, and he tells the attendees which just happens to be majority African-American that the next governor of the state of Arkansas is going to be Mike Ross. Well, the Democratic Party is not supposed to do anything like that. They’re supposed to stay neutral. So then I don’t say anything at that point people come to me and apologize for the actions that are being done and I don’t say anything. I’m at Russellville, something similar happens, I don’t say anything. Now the other candidates they have their rights to endorse whoever they want, that happens more. I now have tickets for Saline County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner and I’m getting my tickets I’m looking at the website of Democratic Party. It does not have a speaker there so I’m thinking it’s going to be the same as Jefferson County. All the sudden I see a memo from a different group, Pulaski County Democratic Committee, on that memo Mike Ross is the speaker. So I call Saline County Chairmen George Ellis and I call him and asked him if I may speak and he says no Mike Ross is our guest speaker. I said well I’m also a Democratic candidate and I would like to speak. So I wrote it on paper and I sent it to him and asked for a written no. He writes me back and he tells me no I can’t speak but he has made an adjustment for an elderly person, someone who is retiring. Then I call the Democratic Party headquarters and ask to speak to Vince Insalaco who is not there. Upon him not being there I ask for his e-mail and I send him an e-mail. This is the beginning of me verbally speaking out. Then I thought about everything that had happened to me at that point. When I thought about everything that had happened to me at this point, my name not showing up on the Democratic Party website, just everything. Then I decided I was going to verbally step forward, which I did. I begin to write letters, I said I was going to use every aspect of me that makes me an American citizen, NAACP, DNC headquarters, the female and the male DNC, our Attorney General. Upon receiving a letter from the Attorney General it stated that I needed to involve the Ethics Committee, the boards, federal and state, so I am as well as the Secretary of State. I dropped off a letter for the Secretary of State. It is through those incidents that I finally opened my mouth because I was waiting for my Party to be fair, I was not complaining. But at some point when do you say enough is enough, I’ve had enough? Then Pulaski County Chair committee letter state that we are getting ready to push for Democrats coming out and working for our party. They state different names and they state governor, parenthesis Ross, my name is not there. The primary has not taken place. When I look to see that the primary has not taken place and we are not following the general rules in which a Democratic Party should take place it’s one thing for the Governor another thing for the Democratic Party. When you look at all of those rules and you find that they’re not being followed then I’m stepping up and saying follow the rules because it’s being directed directly at me. People are nervous and I don’t’ want them to be nervous. People have come to my house and said are you alright? I’ve gotten phone calls, are you alright? When you’re going against the grain you can’t say that everything is perfect but I have the energy to say this is a democracy, this is participatory, I have worked for you, I’m a Hillary Clinton delegate, I’ve done all that I’ve been asked to do, I’ve gone on a bus gone to a different state, worked for other people’s campaign. I’ve worked for Blanche Lincoln’s campaign, Governor Beebe’s campaign, licked envelopes, washed dishes, mopped floors, swept, cleaned up. If you ask that of me is it not only fair that I ask the same thing? I think that is fair game. That is not what’s occurring that is not fair game at all.
Kauffman: This will be my final question. A lot of what you’ve talked about, the majority of the time, has been that the Democratic Party of Arkansas itself is unfair in not giving multiple candidates a chance. They seem to have pre-selected endorsements which they’re not allowed to do. Do you think that any of that has to do with the fact that you waited until near the deadline to file and that you haven’t actively tried to raise money for the governor’s race?
Bryant: No I don’t because you see it I not just me that has a right to run for governor.
Kauffman: Do you know other people who were threatened or intimidated out of not running?
Bryant: What I’m saying is that everybody has a right, they should not feel intimidated, they should not feel bad.
Kauffman: But who is making people feel intimidated? Which people wanted to run who were then intimidated out of it and who was intimidating them?
Bryant: Take me for instance. All the things that I told you…
Kauffman: But you’re claiming it for everyone down the ballot.
Bryant: Well, I’m going to claim it for me. Take me for instance, everything that has happened to me is not the norm. Nothing like this should be taking place before the primary. I am that that you can totally attack and say anything about. I have said here I am and it has to be fair, totally. Now if they’re responding to a person that has placed their name on the ballot I don’t even want to think about what happens to someone who is not.
Kauffman: Despite it all you are on the ballot, people can vote for you, and you are out there campaigning, and raising money now.
Bryant: And votedocbryant, that’s v-o-t-e-d-o-c-b-r-y-a-n-t.com. That’s my web, please go to it. Thank you.
Kauffman: Thanks for joining us.
Bryant: Thank you.
Kauffman: I’m Jacob Kauffman, KUAR News.
Candace Martin the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Arkansas has the following statement about Bryant's comments regarding exclusion by the Party:
"The Democratic Party of Arkansas does not endorse in primaries and has not endorsed any candidate in the gubernatorial primary. At the last State Committee meeting, Dr. Bryant was invited to speak along with all other candidates running in the May 20th primary. As recent polling has shown, Democrats are poised for victory in Arkansas and we look forward to working with all of our nominees to continue Governor Beebe's fiscally responsible leadership."