LITTLE ROCK — Job creation, the Affordable Care Act and equal pay for women were among the issues discussed Thursday by three candidates for national office who spoke on the first day of the two-day Delta Grassroots Caucus Conference.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, a candidate for U.S. Senate, was in Washington for upcoming votes but spoke to the gathering at the Clinton Presidential Library via Skype. Patrick Hays, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd District congressional seat, and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, a candidate for re-election, spoke in person.
Cotton said he is working to promote economic development by fighting environmental regulations that kill jobs, including proposed regulations unveiled last week by the Environmental Protection Agency that seek to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.
“This would ultimately have the effect of driving more business overseas, because the costs of doing things in places like China or India that have less strict regulation will fall, and therefore we lose jobs — good, high-paying manufacturing jobs that we are increasingly attracting in east Arkansas and throughout the Delta region,” he said.
Cotton is challenging the re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.
Cotton said he supports reform of the tax code, streamlining federal programs that duplicate services and repealing the federal Affordable Care Act, which he said is bad for health care and bad for businesses.
In a question-and-answer period, Cotton was asked why he voted for a budget amendment that would have abolished the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership that supports projects to improve the quality of life in the Delta. He answered that too much of the spending on organizations like the DRA goes to overhead.
“I strongly support projects that an organization like the DRA funds, but I think Arkansans could get a little bit better return on their tax dollars,” he said.
Pryor said in a statement Thursday, “Maybe Congressman Cotton thinks he knows better than our Delta families, but his Washington ambitions are no excuse for recklessly voting to eliminate crucial lifelines for folks here in the Delta.”
Cotton also was asked whether he supports legislation to require equal pay for women. He said he supports equal pay for everyone, but “I don’t support legislation that would empower trial lawyers to file more frivolous lawsuits to drive up the cost of employment for everyone, costing jobs for Arkansans.”
Asked why he voted against an early version of the farm bill that the rest of Arkansas’ congressional delegation supported, Cotton said he opposed it because 80 percent of its spending was on food stamps, not farm programs.
Hays told the group he supports preserving Social Security and Medicare, easing regulations that hinder economic development and increasing Arkansas’ minimum wage.
“If people who are working hard move into the middle class and get paid a fair wage, they’ll put that money back into the economy to buy groceries, clothes or even a car, and not have to choose whether to buy food or pay the rent,” he said.
Hays’ Republican opponent, French Hill, is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.
Hays said he would support legislation to require equal pay for women. He said that “in all likelihood” he would have voted for the private option, Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion, and that if he is elected, he will work to fix problems with the law in a bipartisan way.***
Discussing energy policy, the former North Little Rock mayor said he recognizes the need to reduce carbon emissions but said that as the nation transitions to cleaner energy it should rely on an “all of the above” approach that includes coal and natural gas.
“I think that we ought to look at all of the above when it comes to transitioning to an energy future that is indeed cleaner,” he said.
Crawford told the group that discrimination against women in the workplace is a crime and should be prosecuted, but “if we legislate too much, we may be taking flexibility and power away. In the interest of trying to empower women, we could be doing more harm than good.”
Crawford’s Democratic opponent, Jackie McPherson, is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.
Crawford said he believes the federal Affordable Care Act is “the wrong approach” and will put a strain on the national budget. He also said he was disappointed in last year’s government shutdown and will work to avert any future shutdowns.
Asked about the level of animosity toward President Barack Obama in Washington, Crawford said it is fine to disagree with the president but not to do so disrespectfully.
“Regardless of what our political stance may be, we’re Americans, he’s our president, and that commands a degree of respect,” he said.
The caucus also heard a speech by Gov. Mike Beebe, who is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term. Beebe said he expects that reauthorizing the private option will be a tough fight again next year but that its benefits, as well as the negative effects of ending it, will persuade legislators.
The private option is the state’s program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for law-income Arkansans. The Grassroots Delta Caucus said in a news release Thursday that it supports the program.
***This article has been updated from its original version because of a correction. View the correction notice by clicking here.