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Debate Seals Choices in State Rep Race

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November 1, 2010 by wcobserver

By Susan McCarthy

susan@wcobserver.com

Some arrived undecided about who would win their vote but the room was decided and divided after seeing the District 87 state representative candidates face off in a 90 minute debate last Thursday in West Fork in front of a crowd of about 120.

Justin Harris and Earl Hunton agreed on a couple of points, but quickly revealed their differences on a number of key issues.

Both agreed that job creation is a top priority, but differed on how they would spur job growth.  Hunton favors stimulus funds, but Harris feels stimulus funds provide short term gains and favors a cut in the capital gains tax which he says will help small businesses.

Hunton said long term job growth comes from education and he thinks the Arkansas State Lottery is a good start.

“It’s a voluntary tax…you don’t have to play if you don’t want to.”

Harris said education creates jobs for teachers, but the private sector creates jobs, not the lottery.

“The lottery is a mess.  I don’t like it.  It’s been a debacle from the start,” said Harris who said that some students didn’t receive scholarships they were promised.

On Education, Harris and Hunton disagreed on the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the Dream Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to attend college enlist in the military and provide a path to citizenship

“I am firmly against the Dream Act,” said Harris who said he didn’t believe tax money should fund education for illegal immigrants and supports legislation like Arizona’s which was passed earlier this year.

Hunton countered with, “Do we want people in our society that are uneducated?  The simple answer is no…”

Jail overcrowding was another issue where the two candidates landed on different sides.  Harris said he doesn’t support multi-million dollar prisoners and proposes that non-violent offenders be given bracelets for monitoring while continuing to be able to attend church and go to work.

State Representative candidate Earl Hunton, right, reacts during a debate with opponent Justin Harris, left, Thursday Oct. 14 at the West Fork Community Center. Both candidates spoke to over 100 residents about where they stand on the issues.

Hunton said Arkansas needs to revisit sentencing for non-violent crimes and feels community service could be more of a deterrent than sitting in a prison cell.

Harris and Hunton agreed that greater oversight and accountability is needed at the state level and that an overall belt-tightening was needed on spending.  Hunton repeatedly challenged Harris throughout the evening, asking him if he’d be willing to cut state spending that might impact the $500,000 in state Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) funding that his pre-school receives.  At one point, Harris asked Hunton whether he’d ever received federal tax dollars and suggested he may have received $759,000 for his farm.  Hunton said he has never received any federal tax dollars and that the money had been a guarantee for a loan for his farm, which has since been sold.

Asked whether either candidate favored repealing Health Care Reform at the state level, Hunton said no and didn’t feel this was a state issue.  Harris said he felt something could be done at the state level and he’d favor repealing the bill and starting over again.

Both candidates said they’d signed the “No tax pledge.”  And both candidates said they firmly supported the Castle Doctrine, which allows homeowners to defend their homes and property with deadly force.

“I was leaning toward Justin, but I wanted to hear what Earl Hunton had to say, said Connie Crawford of West Fork who said she preferred Harris.  “He (Hunton) has pretty much made up my mind.  If it’s broke, fix it; don’t blame the Republicans or the Democrats.”

“I think Earl Hunton has got a better response, a better answer…he’s more thorough,” said Jack Cunningham of rural West Fork.

This was the final debate for the candidates. Voters will make their decision on Nov. 2; early voting began Oct. 18.

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