CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - The three candidates for U.S. Senate debated together for the first time Wednesday. They talked about the presidential race, but also touched on issues that will impact Arkansans.
Senator John Boozman (R-Arkansas) shared a stage at AETN’s studio in Conway for an hour with Democratic challenger Conner Eldridge and Libertarian challenger Frank Gilbert.
Much of the discussion centered on the candidates’ views of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but they also discussed some of the issues to face whomever spends the next six years in the Senate.
The two policy areas in which they found the most to talk about were education and health care. Eldridge was the only candidate to support the Affordable Care Act, saying that 300,000 Arkansans now have health insurance who did not have it before the law was implemented.
“I just don’t think we should walk out here in Conway, and walk down the street and look one out of 10 people in Arkansas in the eye and tell them they should lose their health insurance,” he said. He did mention that costs are too high, but gave no specific answer about how to lower them.
Boozman discussed voting to repeal the act, often referred to as Obamacare, and said opening up the insurance market would make health care coverage more affordable.
“I can shop around any place that I want for my car insurance. You can’t do that (for health insurance) outside of the state,” he stated. “There’s a third of the counties in America now that have one insurance provider. We need competition.”
Gilbert called the health care law an abomination, and said the real issue is health care, not health insurance.
“You could, for the amount of money that we’re spending on the Affordable Care Act, build, I believe, a free clinic in every county in Arkansas,” he said. “We could address the crisis in health care without even talking about insurance.”
The other substantive policy discussion the three candidates had was about education. They all said the Department of Education is getting in the way of quality education, and Gilbert added the Arkansas Department of Education to that claim, as well.
“Those two departments of education saddle the public schools with regulations, rules, requirements,” he said. “Every teacher in every school district spends more and more time every year filling out more paperwork for some government bureaucrat.”
Boozman made a case against federal initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. “I would say the greatest argument, in the sense of, did it work or not completely: ask the school teachers that were having to deal with all of the testing, all of the things that were coming out of Washington,” Boozman said.
Eldridge spoke about his mother, who was a schoolteacher, and how much passion she had for her students. He joined the other two candidates in promising to fight for increased local control of schools.
“That’s really what we’ve got to support, build up, and do at every level, at the local, state, and federal levels: we’ve gotta support and empower the teachers,” he stated.