The three candidates for Arkansas's next lieutenant Governor debated the role's influence on state economic policies Thursday, while also asserting views on how the office should be managed.
The Arkansas Lieutenant Governor is constitutionally obliged to preside over the state senate and cast a tie-breaking vote when needed, while also serving as next in line in case the Governor cannot fulfill his or her role. The debate was hosted by AETN at the University of Central Arkansas and will air Thursday night at 7. It was moderated by AETN's Steve Barnes. Sarah Whites-Koditschek of KUAR, Lance Turner of Arkansas Business and Kelley Kissel of the Associated Press asked questions.
Democratic nominee John Burkhalter touted his qualifications as a businessman, engineer and former state economic development commissioner.
“The Lieutenant Governor can be an advocate for job creation and education. If I hadn't gotten a great education in Arkansas I wouldn't be standing in front of you today. Anyone who says the Lieutenant Governor cannot make a difference in education and creating jobs is wrong and I wouldn't even know why they're running for this office,” he said.
Libertarian nominee Christopher Olson said economic policy making and legislative advocacy are outside the purview of the Lieutenant Governorship.
“I will treat the office as a part time position and decline more than half the salary. Unlike some of the opponents, I am not a wealthy man so, if elected, I will need some money to pay for gas and such to get back and forth,” he said.
Burkhalter has said he would decline the entire salary of the position, unlike Olson. Republican nominee and current Second District Congressman Tim Griffin said he also wants to focus on job creation and efficiency.
"I've said I'll reform the office. I've said I'll cut the staff,” he said. “You can call it a part-time job. I've never done anything part-time in my life. Anybody that knows me know I'm full-time all the time.”
The Lieutenant Governor's office has been vacant since June after Mark Darr resigned in January amid ethics violations. Earlier this year the Arkansas legislature voted to not hold a special election to fill the seat.
After a question regarding the discrepancy in average pay between men and women in Arkansas, Christopher Olsen said he'd rather keep the role limited, not choosing to address such issues with policy advocacy.
“While I don't agree with it, I don't condone it and I don't encourage any business owner to actually do it, I don't see the role of the state to regulate that arrangement.”
While offering no plan for specifically addressing pay inequity between women and men in Arkansas, Burkhalter said he wants to create a better environment for education and new employers.
“I have two daughters. I'm concerned about their future. I have four sisters. They all got a chance to get an education in Arkansas. They all went to college and they all graduated from college, but they all live out-of-state today. They didn't get the opportunities they should have,” he said.
Griffin, who declined to support a recent federal Paycheck Fairness Act as Congressman for Arkansas's Second Congressional District, said workplace discrimination is already illegal.
“What can we do to help with this problem? In addition to enforcing the law, obviously, we need to further educational opportunities. But we also need to further growing jobs,” he said.
Both Burkhalter and Griffin repeatedly emphasized their hopes of promoting economic development and workforce training in the state. Olson argued that the Lieutenant Governor be nothing more than a part-time position.