Dustin McDaniel Makes First Speech Since Admission

FORREST CITY — Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dustin McDaniel focused on policy Thursday in his first public speech since admitting to an extramarital relationship, saying Arkansas is poised to outpace its neighbors in education and economic development.

Speaking at a Forrest City Chamber of Commerce banquet, McDaniel touted his office's work on consumer protection, drug enforcement and other issues.

It was his first public speech since admitting last month to an inappropriate relationship with Hot Springs attorney Andrea L. Davis. McDaniel publicly apologized for the relationship earlier this week, but he did not mention it during his 18-minute speech Thursday.

McDaniel didn't cite his 2014 bid for governor during his speech, but he said the state was at the "crossroads between opportunity and responsibility."

"I think no other state is similarly situated as Arkansas to make those investments, make those commitments over the next 10 years," McDaniel told the audience. "Generationally what we do for our children will allow us to outpace the rest of the south, the rest of the country."

McDaniel also told the audience that his job has included regularly battling the federal government, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency, over unnecessary regulations.

"We all want to do what's right by our environment, but we also have to recognize that we can't just regulate by throwing a hodgepodge at the walls seeing what sticks and dealing with the expense that comes from that," he said.

Before the speech, McDaniel declined to comment further on the relationship with Davis. He also declined to respond to Davis' suggestions that he was not telling the entire truth; McDaniel has said he stood behind his public comments about the relationship.

Davis was the opposing counsel in five cases handled by McDaniel's office, including a school choice lawsuit the state lost. McDaniel has said no ethics rules were violated and said the litigation wasn't compromised by the relationship.

McDaniel, who has been married since 2009, said he and Davis met during his 2010 re-election bid and the two had "limited" interaction in 2011. At a news conference Tuesday, McDaniel said the two were in each other's presence less than half a dozen times, including at public events. Davis has claimed the two exchanged more than 500 text messages in 2011 and 2012.

Thursday's speech was the first of several public appearances McDaniel has planned in the coming days. He's expected to appear at a fundraiser for his campaign in Hot Springs on Friday night and at the annual Coon Supper in Gillett Saturday.

"My calendar actually was never altered, so we're keeping my schedule," McDaniel told reporters.

Sen.-elect Keith Ingram, a Democrat who endorsed McDaniel last year, said after Thursday night's speech that he still backed the attorney general's bid for the state's top office, though he said the issue would have an effect on the campaign.

"There's no good way to handle something like this, but I think Dustin has been forthright and been honest," Ingram said. "He's taken responsibility, and that's the best way to handle anything, especially something like this."

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