- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson tried to portray one another as out of touch with Arkansas voters as they clashed over the minimum wage, health care and other issues at a debate Friday.

The two ex-congressmen primarily focused on each other as they squared off in a four-man debate hosted by the Arkansas Press Association at the group’s convention.

“He’s totally disconnected from working families in Arkansas,” Ross said about Hutchinson.

Hutchinson later said: “I’ve been a consistent conservative. Mr. Ross has been a conflicted conservative.”

Ross criticized Hutchinson for not supporting a ballot measure to gradually raise Arkansas’ minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Supporters of the proposed initiated act submitted petitions Monday to the secretary of state’s office to try and put the proposal before voters in November.

“He does not trust the voters to decide whether or not the minimum wage in Arkansas should be increased,” Ross said.

Hutchinson said he believed the minimum wage should be raised to at least the federal level of $7.25 an hour, but said it’s an issue that should be decided by the Legislature since amending the initiated act would require a two-thirds vote.

“It’s just good government and responsible government if you raise the minimum wage through the Legislature,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson accused Ross of being inconsistent on health care, criticizing him for supporting a version the federal health overhaul in a House committee. Ross voted against the overhaul that was signed into law and voted for its repeal in Congress.

Ross then accused Hutchinson of misrepresenting his record, saying he was one of three Democrats who voted to repeal the act.

The debate also featured Libertarian nominee Frank Gilbert, who proposed issuing pardons to all non-violent drug offenders, and Green Party nominee Joshua Drake, who said he backs legalizing gay marriage.

Candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general also debated at the convention.



The two major-party candidates for lieutenant governor sparred over who is a “career politician.” Democratic nominee John Burkhalter, a businessman and former state highway commissioner, threw that label at Republican nominee and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin. Griffin participated in the debate via Skype from Washington.

“I think in this race, there’s going to be a distinction between a career politician who’s been in Washington, D.C., for 20 years versus a small businessman who’s been in Arkansas for 30 years building business and helping people,” Burkhalter said.

Griffin noted he’s only been in Congress for less than four years and questioned whether Burkhalter was slighting his running mate’s experience.

“If he’s talking about a career politician, he’s not talking about me, he’s talking about Mike Ross,” Griffin said.

Libertarian nominee Christopher Olson said he supported abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office. Griffin and Burkhalter oppose that move.



The candidates for attorney general were split over whether to use the office to fight the federal government.

Republican nominee Leslie Rutledge continued her vow that she would challenge federal laws and regulations that she says harm the state.

“As attorney general, I want to use the office to go after the federal government when necessary to protect Arkansans,” Rutledge said.

Democratic nominee Nate Steel said he’s also frustrated by the federal government, but accused Rutledge of focusing too much on national issues and not enough on the state.

“I don’t think that the solution to an overreaching federal government is an overreaching attorney general,” Steel said.

Libertarian nominee Aaron Cash said he supports legalizing marijuana, a stance Rutledge and Steel both said they oppose.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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