Asa Hutchinson, Mike Ross Show Little Contrast at Arkansas Municipal League

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Friday, Jun. 20, 2014 7:44 am  

Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson and Democratic candidate Mike Ross

LITTLE ROCK - Gubernatorial candidates Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross went before a meeting of local government leaders Thursday, promising to both aid the leaders' economic development efforts and shield them from legislative mandates that are next-to-impossible to accomplish.

The duo did little to set themselves apart from one another before the Arkansas Municipal League. While both are former congressmen, they focused Thursday on their early work in local governments.

Hutchinson, before being elected to Congress as a Republican from northwestern Arkansas, was the Bentonville city attorney, and his father was a small-town mayor. Ross, a Democrat from southern Arkansas, was a county quorum court member before moving on to the state Senate and then Congress.

Hutchinson, who also served as the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said his executive experience further helps him understand what it takes to keep a city running.

"That's what a mayor does every day," Hutchinson said.

Each candidate answered the same set of questions in a format Ross called a "nondebate."

The two both said they oppose unfunded mandates, an eternal peeve of mayors and city councils in which legislatures make new rules without putting up the money needed to put them in place.

The pair did differ on public safety. Ross said he favors further prison reforms that keep violent offenders off the streets and put nonviolent offenders in rehabilitative programs.

"When people leave prison, they ought to leave with a job skill," Ross said. He advocated creating a tax break for employers who hire former inmates, saying it would save the state money if the offenders don't wind up back in prison.

Ross said the state needs about 1,000 more prison beds. But he added, "If we build a new prison, there needs to be meaningful prison reforms tied to it," he said.

Hutchinson differed on how nonviolent offenders should be treated, saying convicted burglars deserved to go to jail.

"We have a crime problem," Hutchinson said. "We don't talk about it enough."



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