Asked Thursday how he will handle a primary election against a former lieutenant governor, Southwest Arkansas political icon Mike Ross said that he is running “for” governor rather than “against” any opponent, and that he is unafraid to rest his political future on the foundation laid by current Governor Mike Beebe.
“I'm not running against anyone, I'm running because I've got a positive vision for the future of this state that is based on building what Governor Beebe has started in education and economic development,” Ross said at a campaign stop at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope.
Ross said he was not focused on attacks against him by former lieutenant governor Bill Halter.
“I've got a positive vision and a positive message, and my campaign is not going to be about the past,” Ross said. “It's going to be about the future and moving the state forward and insuring that every child in the state can get a good education and have a job to come home to.”
He said he was not going to match mathematics with Halter on his claim that he has a plan to provide full tuition scholarships under the Arkansas Academic Challenge program now funded through the state lottery.
“That's Halter's plan, not mine; he's the one who needs to put some numbers out,” Ross said. “His math doesn't add up.”
Ross said that was the kind of political bickering in which he would not participate.
“Arkansas is too small a state to let this place turn into a mini-Washington, D.C., down here,” he said.
Ross said he has observed some of that dysfunction in Little Rock, which, as governor, he believes he can resolve.
“We've started to see some of that in the state capitol among the Republicans in the state legislature,” he said. “That doesn't belong in Arkansas. We need a leader who can provide some balance in working with Democrats and Republicans. I've got a history of doing that; and, that is what I'll do as governor.”
Ross agreed the legislative session which ended Tuesday, in which Republicans held majorities in both chambers, was better than anticipated.
“It ended a lot better than it started, and they were able to come together toward the end of the session on the private option, which I support, and a few other issues,” he said. “I think Gov. Beebe and I have a similar temperament; we both have the ability to work with Democrats and Republicans to bring people together to work for what is best for this state.”
Asked how he would respond as governor to conceptual legislation such as the two abortion bills which Beebe vetoed, where the Arkansas General Assembly overrode his veto, Ross said he was bound by personal ethics in those decisions.
Page 2 of 2 - “The state legislature is a separate branch from the executive branch, the governor's office; and, we would have to look at each piece of legislation that comes before us,” Ross said. “First and foremost, we will determine whether it's constitutional, then I would ask myself, as governor, 'Does this make sense for the people of Arkansas? Does it represent our values? Is it constructive to a brighter future?'
“That, and the strong moral compass which my parents instilled in me at a very early age, will guide me in the governor's office,” Ross said.
In remarks to about 100 supporters gathered at Hempstead Hall, Ross outlined a general vision of his agenda of education and economic development which he introduced last week when he announced his run for governor. Noting that Arkansas missed the last economic boom and must be ready for the next one, Ross said too many communities in Arkansas live and die on the fortunes of a single local industry.
“There are small towns all over this state that are hanging on and existing on a single local industry,” he said. “Like in my home town, too many industrial parks across the state remain empty; or, as I like to say, 'There is too much park and not enough industry.'
“In downtowns and main streets all across the state, where many businesses once thrived, too many are now closed or are boarded up,” Ross said. “Our economic development plan is on a holding path, and we have got to do a better job.”
He said the change will come with a better educated work force.
“That is where our community colleges, like UACCH, can make a difference, just like here in this corner of the state; they're doing a good job of it,” Ross said.
He said, as governor, he will press for more economic diversification in Arkansas, coupled with broader higher educational opportunities at the state's community colleges, which have more flexibility to adapt curriculums to meet economic needs. He pointed to the UACCH partnership with AEP/Southwestern Electric Power Co. to develop its power plant technology degree program.
“They've got the flexibility that some of the four-year colleges don't have,” Ross said. “I'm going to be the biggest champion for community colleges this state has had.”