American Legion hosts Meet the Candidates forum
More than 100 people filled the Eureka Springs City Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 20, to hear from candidates running for federal, state and local offices.
American Legion Auxiliary Post 9 sponsored the Meet the Candidates event, and auxiliary president Peggy Duncan said the forum was meant to be nonpartisan. Everyone would be given two minutes to introduce themselves, Duncan said, and up to four minutes to answer questions from the audience.
State and federal candidates
In one of the most local state races, current state Rep. Bob Ballinger is taking on Jim Wallace for the District 5 State Senate seat. Ballinger said he’s been listening to his constituents throughout this campaign. Wallace said his campaign is focused on education, healthcare, emergency healthcare and infrastructure.
Ballinger and Wallace were asked how they would improve grades for high schools and colleges in the area and if they could raise teacher salaries. To improve the grades for high schools, Ballinger said, the grades should no longer be based on standardized test scores. Raising teacher pay, Ballinger said, is partially up to the school districts.
Wallace said the public school system is a problem in general. Every student learns differently, Wallace said, and that should be reflected in school curricula.
The two were then asked what effect the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has on democracy, and Ballinger said the council doesn’t really affect Arkansans that much. ALEC is a nonprofit organization where conservative legislators get together and discuss bills, Ballinger said. Wallace said he would withhold judgment on how ALEC works, because he doesn’t have any experience with the organization.
Gary Morris and Harlan Breaux, who are running for Arkansas State Representative for District 97, said they both support the Second Amendment. Morris said he believes in the rights and responsibilities of gun owners and doesn’t want guns to be on any school campus. Breaux said it’s important to protect families, saying shootings don’t happen because of responsible gun owners.
In response to a question about universal healthcare, Breaux said he believes the current system is working. Morris said he embraces the idea of a new system so long as it’s done “effectively, responsibly and accountably.”
Josh Mahony and Michael Kalagais, who are running for U.S. representative for Arkansas District 3, described their platforms. Mahony said he’s running on public education, access to trade and higher education and affordable and accessible healthcare. Kalagais said he’s running to change things and would never vote for an unbalanced budget.
Attorney General candidate Mike Lee said he’s running to crack down on corruption in state politics. Recently, Lee said, six current or former state legislators were indicted on charges of fraud.
“The attorney general needs to take leadership on that kind of thing, and be the watchdog the people of Arkansas need,” Lee said.
County Judge candidates Sam Barr and Charlie Reece kicked off the portion of the forum dedicated to Carroll County races. Barr said he has served as Carroll County Judge for five terms and hopes to be re-elected. Reece, who is currently serving as Green Forest mayor, said he hopes to change some things if he’s elected.
He would work with the Carroll County Airport, Reece said, to make it a more viable asset to the community. Barr said his main focus is making sure the roads are good and the people are happy. In response to a question on how he’d bring more revenue to the county, Barr said he would maintain that focus. Reece said he would focus on cutting expenditures before he did anything else.
Mark Bailey and Jim Ross spoke on the race for county sheriff, with Bailey saying he’s worked as the police chief in Alpena for six years. His audits have always come back clear, Bailey said.
Ross said he worked as a postmaster for years before working for the Berryville Police Department. When asked how he’d address the opioid and meth situation in Carroll County, Ross said he didn’t have the proper information to answer that question. Bailey said he has experience in drug interdiction and would have deputies assigned specifically to work on that.
“Folks, we’re never going to stop the opioid trade in Arkansas or any other place in the United States, but we can slow it down,” Bailey said.
County clerk candidates Jamie Correia and Connie Doss addressed how they could improve the county clerk’s website, with Doss saying she’d make the site more user-friendly. Correia, who has served as county clerk for 10 years, said the website does need work.
Doss said she’d bring a multi-cultural attitude to the clerk’s office. Correia said that’s already there, saying she has a bilingual employee to help with the Hispanic community.
Makita Williams, who is running for county treasurer, said she’s worked under the current county treasurer for years and hopes to create a smooth transition in the office.
Ferguson Stewart said he’s running for District 3 Justice of the Peace to work with everyone on the Quorum Court to help the county on the whole.
Doug Hausler, who is running for District 4 Justice of the Peace, said he hopes to bring his experience on the Arkansas Wine Producers Council to the quorum court.
Kellie Stevens Matt and Colin Stimson said they are running for District 7 Justice of the Peace to help the people. Matt said she has a long history in Carroll County. Stimson said he hopes to be welcoming to everyone who comes to Carroll County, whether they were born here or moved here.
With three people running for mayor and many others running for city council, Eureka Springs dominated the portion of the forum dedicated to city candidates.
Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry spoke on his desire to maintain consistency in town, saying that’s why he is running for a second term. His opponents Theodore Cottingham and Mike Seals said they were looking to bring their experience to the role.
“Every time we change mayors, we change the captain of the ship and the city keeps turning in different directions,” Berry said.
Over the last four years, he said, he has seen Eureka Springs put money back in reserves.
“I’ve got a lot of hope and a lot of plans for the next four years if I am elected,” Berry said. “I’m real excited about where we’re going with ecotourism.”
Cottingham said he’s unhappy with the state of the city.
“I believe city hall has lost its touch with what it means to be service-oriented,” Cottingham said. “Our latest city plan is over 20 years old. We have no city goals.”
Seals said he moved to Eureka Springs five years ago and has served on the chamber of commerce. When asked if he’s in favor of a public parking structure in the city, Seals said he doesn’t know why that hasn’t happened already.
“It’s been a problem here for a long time, and it needs to be resolved,” Seals said. “Not only do we need a parking garage of some sort … we need a master transportation plan for the future of our community.”
Berry said he supports the idea of a parking structure but isn’t sure how the city will pay for it.
“I’m certainly in favor of it,” Berry said. “Can we afford it, and how can we afford it?”
Cottingham said he’d like to look into the idea further.
“I believe it would be great to have parking. I would be for seriously considering researching it and putting it forth to see if it will pass,” Cottingham said.
The three were then asked if they believe city codes are being enforced properly. Seals said he could answer that question better once he reads the codes, and Cottingham said he’s looked over the codes and sees some problems. That’s true, Berry said, but city employees do the best they can.
“When I hear someone is operating illegally, that person is investigated,” Berry said. “A lot of the codes just need to be revised and looked at.”
In the races for city council, Caitlin Branaman and Susan Harman spoke first. Branaman said she’s running for the Ward 1 Position 2 seat because the council doesn’t have diverse representation. She sees herself as a bridge between longtime residents of Eureka Springs, Branaman said, and those who are new to town.
Harman said she has lived in Eureka Springs for four years and has a heavy focus on tourism. To bring more jobs to town, Harman said, she’d work on economic development. Harman said it’s important to consider why tourists come to Eureka Springs. Branaman said she wants to focus on locals, too.
“While tourism is a source of revenue for our city, there are people who still live here when the tourists leave,” Branaman said.
Melissa Greene and James DeVito, who are running for the Ward 2 Position 1 seat, answered a question about what role The Aud would play in Eureka Springs’ future.
“Right now, we’re restoring the basement as a meeting hall. We’d be able to attract a lot of the state conferences,” Greene said.
DeVito said The Aud would be more successful if the city built a parking garage. There’s a perfect place for the garage, DeVito said, in the parking lot across from New Delhi.
“You can’t have an auditorium with little parking,” DeVito said.
Terry McClung and Joyce Knowles, who are running for the Ward 3 Position 1 seat, described the skills they’d bring to the position. McClung said he’s served on the council for years and knows how the city of Eureka Springs works. Joyce Knowles said she worked as an insurance underwriter in Texas, where she learned to find creative solutions to tough problems.
Joyce Knowles said she hopes to help repair city sidewalks and usher the medical marijuana industry into town.
“With medical marijuana, it sets us up for a 12-month economy rather than a tourist economy,” Joyce Knowles said.
McClung said he’s focused on tourism.
“Number one is figuring out how to get more heads in beds,” McClung said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to bring businesses to town.”
Eric Knowles and Harold Meyer, who are running for the Ward 3 Position 2 seat, addressed a question about how they would improve the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission. Meyer said he hasn’t examined that issue closely enough to have an answer, and Eric Knowles said it’s important for the city to remove impediments to change. Those impediments include parking and city sidewalks, he said.
“I think the CAPC does an excellent job of advertising. I don’t think they do a good job of promotion,” Eric Knowles said.
If you missed this event, two other forums are slated for October. The Carroll County Bipartisan Candidate Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Carroll Electric Meeting Room in Berryville. The Carroll County League of Women Voters will host a town hall at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Holiday Island Ballroom. Both events are bipartisan.