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Two lieutenant governor hopefuls talk job growth; one wants office abolished


LITTLE ROCK — The Republican and Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor said Friday they would use the office to promote job creation and worker education, while the Libertarian candidate said he would support abolishing the office.

The candidates faced off in a debate that was held at the annual convention of the Arkansas Press Association in Hot Springs and steamed live online. Democrat John Burkhalter and Libertarian candidate Christopher Olson participated in person and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, participated from Washington via Skype.

Griffin said providing incentives to businesses is useful, but if Arkansas wants to grow jobs significantly and compete with other states, changes to state laws and policies are necessary.

“That includes our tax code, our regulatory structure, the difficulty … that a lot of people have in starting a business in Arkansas — we’ve got to look at all these things to make us an even easier place to create jobs,” he said. “We also need to work on workforce training, because we know that everybody’s not going to college.”

Burkhalter also said he would promote job growth and workforce training.

“We need to put more funds into vo-tech and career tech and give these people a chance,” said Burkhalter, an engineer and the owner of a construction company. “We need more people in the trades. The jobs of the future, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the educated workforce to fill those jobs.”

Olson, a mental health paraprofessional, said he would “drastically” cut the lieutenant governor’s $400,000 annual budget and encourage the Legislature to abolish the office.

“I think the functions of the office could be better served perhaps by some other officeholder such as the secretary of state. I see no reason why the secretary of state couldn’t act as governor if the governor was out of state or the governor was incapacitated,” he said.

Regarding job creation, Olson said, “I wish somebody would point to me some jobs created based on who was lieutenant governor.”

Burkhalter and Olson said they are not career politicians.

“I think in this race there’s going to be a distinct distinction between a career politician that’s been in Washington, D.C., for 20 years versus a small businessman who’s been in Arkansas for 30 years building businesses and helping people,” said Burkhalter, a former member of the state Highway Commission and former chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Griffin responded that he and his family live in Arkansas and that he has only been in Congress for four years, whereas the Democratic nominee for governor, Mike Ross, was in the state Legislature and Congress for a total of more than 20 years.

“If he’s talking about a career politician, he’s not talking about me. He’s talking about Mike Ross,” Griffin said. “I think that’s interesting.”

Between 1999 and 2007, Griffin held positions with the Republican National Committee, the office of Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff and President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign; was an aide in the Bush White House; and was an interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock.