The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Massive Media Coverage of June 12-13, 2014 Delta Conference, Clinton Library

Posted on July 10, 2014 at 03:48 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus conference at the Clinton Library Great Hall on June 12-13, 2014 included over 150 grassroots leaders from the eight-state region who were there for parts or all of the conference, presentations by President Bill Clinton, Gov. Mike Beebe, Sen. Mark Pryor, Rep. Tom Cotton, gubernatorial candidates Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson, Congressional candidates for three contested US House races, and a series of distinguished speakers on women and children’s issues in the region.

Annette Dove, executive director of the exemplary TOPPS (Targeting Our People’s Priorities with Service) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas was awarded the Delta Nonprofit Leadership Award and spoke on the program right after President Clinton.

There was extensive media coverage, and rather than have the Delta Caucus leaders give our opinion of the conference, we thought it would be more interesting to send several examples of the massive media reports, which included:

–There were 40 television and radio reports in Arkansas on June 12-13 and a few more over the weekend as indicated by our state-wide news service in that state, including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates in Little Rock, who sent feeds to their affiliates in northwest Arkansas and northeast Arkansas;

–Memphis, New Orleans and other television stations picked up some of the reports;

–Four articles in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas’ largest newspaper, including one on the front page of Section 1A and another on the front page of the Arkansas section;

–At least four articles by the Associated Press, which as always were disseminated in many other states;

–Four articles by the Arkansas news bureau, which is part of the Stephens media chain;

–A series of in-depth articles by Talk Business, most of them by Roby Brock;

–Arkansas public radio, KUAR, broadcast a series of reports;

–Many smaller media outlets in the region published reports.

The subjects that were most widely reported were:

–Gubernatorial candidates Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson’s comments on economic development, Arkansas’ private option health care plan, education and related issues;

–President Clinton expressed appreciation for the Delta Grassroots Caucus’ advocacy for the region’s advancement, and emphasized the importance of SNAP, school meals and other nutrition programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the private sector in working for community and economic progress;

–The hotly contested House races and presentations by former FEMA Director and Democratic Fourth District nominee James Lee Witt; state Rep. and Republican Fourth District nominee Bruce Westerman;

–Mayor Patrick Henry Hays, Democratic nominee for the Second District, and French Hill, former high-level Presidential appointee, banker and Second District Republican nominee;

–US Rep. Rick Crawford, R-First District; and Democratic challenger Mayor Jackie McPherson of Heber Springs;

–US Rep. Tom Cotton’s controversial statements calling for major cuts in the SNAP nutrition program and for the abolition of the Delta Regional Authority, and the rebuttal by Sen. Mark Pryor in supporting those programs. (Note: the Delta Caucus does not make endorsements in elections, but we do take positions on vital specific issues and as an organization the Delta Caucus has been on record before, during and after this conference as strongly supporting the USDA nutrition programs as well as the DRA);

–Gov. Mike Beebe spoke about Arkansas’ innovative private option health care plan for expanding Medicaid; in a notable display of bipartisanship, Republican state Sen. David Sanders of Arkansas praised Gov. Beebe’s position and emphasized how legislators from both parties had joined together for this major health care reform.

–The conference generated literally hundreds of media reports, so we just include five of the most interesting examples below.


I. Appreciation for Sponsors for June 12-13, 2014 Delta conference at the Clinton Library

II. “Former President Clinton Makes the Case for Government Involvement in the Delta,” by Jacob Kauffman, KUAR Arkansas public radio, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, June 13, 2014

III. “Candidates Discuss Issues with Delta Group,” by John Lyon, June 12, 2014, Arkansas News Bureau

IV. “Candidates Discuss Social Security, Health Care, Minimum Wage,” by John Lyon, June 13, 2014, Arkansas News Bureau”

V. “Pryor Tells Group that Priorities are the Same,” by Roby Brock, Talk Business, June 14, 2014

VI. “Hutchinson, Ross Answer Delta Group Questions on Vision for Future,” by Roby Brock, Talk Business, June 13, 2014



Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas, Blytheville, Arkansas


Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC

Heifer International Seeds of Change Initiative

Southern Bancorp

Mississippi County AR Economic Opportunity Commission

McGehee Industrial Foundation

Kay Goss, Author: Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D. Mills; and Chair, University of Arkansas J. William Fulbright College Fundraising Campaign for 2020

Hope Enterprise Corporation, based in Jackson, Mississippi, active across the region


First State Bank & Trust, Caruthersville, Missouri

University of West Alabama, Livingston, Alabama

Harvey Joe Sanner, American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas

Sen. Charlie Cole Chaffin

Rep. Mark McElroy

Dumas Chamber of Commerce

Southeast Missouri Grassroots Partners

AvanTech Services LLC, Marion, Arkansas

Lincoln County Industrial Foundation


Last but not least, we would like to thank the literally hundreds of grassroots partners across the eight states, the Washington, DC area and elsewhere who made small to medium-sized contributions in the form of annual membership dues and/or registration fees for $150, $125, $100, $50 and $25. For a grassroots regional coalition, it is important to have a diversified funding base of large numbers of modest contributions. They add up to a large amount and we could not do our work without these contributions from so many supporters across the Greater Delta Region and beyond.

1. “Former President Clinton Makes the Case for Government Involvement in Delta”

By Jacob Kauffman KUAR Public Radio, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Former President Bill Clinton said the federal government is critical in developing the Mississippi delta region of the country. He spoke Friday to the annual meeting of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

On Thursday Republican Senate hopeful Tom Cotton said he would abolish the Delta Regional Authority that Clinton had helped to create in 2000. Speaking via telephone Clinton made it clear he believes more government involvement, not less, is what the Delta needs.

“I think there is a role for government and it should be explicitly acknowledged. Here on the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty you hear people say it failed. It didn’t fail it just didn’t completely succeed.

There’s no question that child poverty is much lower than it would be if not for the WIC programs, the school meals, the SNAP program. Hunger is lower and child poverty is lower but it’s still way too high,” said Clinton.

Clinton claimed SNAP kept 4 million children from some of the effects of poverty in 2011 alone and that increasing development is the responsible way to reduce federal aid for food.

“The food stamp budget is going to go down as the economy comes back up,” said Clinton.

Clinton helped to create the Delta Regional Authority. It has never been funded to the levels outlined in its creation. Clinton also advocated for increased investment in broadband internet services.

Posted June 12, 2014 - 9:38pm Updated June 17, 2014 - 9:35pm

2. “Candidates discuss issues with Delta group”

By John Lyon Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK - Job creation, the Affordable Care Act and equal pay for women were among the issues discussed Thursday by three candidates for national office who spoke on the first day of the two-day Delta Grassroots Caucus Conference.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, a candidate for U.S. Senate, was in Washington for upcoming votes but spoke to the gathering at the Clinton Presidential Library via Skype. Patrick Hays, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd District congressional seat, and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, a candidate for re-election, spoke in person.

Cotton said he is working to promote economic development by fighting environmental regulations that kill jobs, including proposed regulations unveiled last week by the Environmental Protection Agency that seek to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.

“This would ultimately have the effect of driving more business overseas, because the costs of doing things in places like China or India that have less strict regulation will fall, and therefore we lose jobs - good, high-paying manufacturing jobs that we are increasingly attracting in east Arkansas and throughout the Delta region,” he said.

Cotton is challenging the re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.

Cotton said he supports reform of the tax code, streamlining federal programs that duplicate services and repealing the federal Affordable Care Act, which he said is bad for health care and bad for businesses.

In a question-and-answer period, Cotton was asked why he voted for a budget amendment that would have abolished the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership that supports projects to improve the quality of life in the Delta. He answered that too much of the spending on organizations like the DRA goes to overhead.

“I strongly support projects that an organization like the DRA funds, but I think Arkansans could get a little bit better return on their tax dollars,” he said.

Pryor said in a statement Thursday, “Maybe Congressman Cotton thinks he knows better than our Delta families, but his Washington ambitions are no excuse for recklessly voting to eliminate crucial lifelines for folks here in the Delta.”

Cotton also was asked whether he supports legislation to require equal pay for women. He said he supports equal pay for everyone, but “I don’t support legislation that would empower trial lawyers to file more frivolous lawsuits to drive up the cost of employment for everyone, costing jobs for Arkansans.”

Asked why he voted against an early version of the farm bill that the rest of Arkansas’ congressional delegation supported, Cotton said he opposed it because 80 percent of its spending was on food stamps, not farm programs.

Hays told the group he supports preserving Social Security and Medicare, easing regulations that hinder economic development and increasing Arkansas’ minimum wage.

“If people who are working hard move into the middle class and get paid a fair wage, they’ll put that money back into the economy to buy groceries, clothes or even a car, and not have to choose whether to buy food or pay the rent,” he said.

Hays’ Republican opponent, French Hill, is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.

Hays said he would support legislation to require equal pay for women. He said he likely would not have voted for the Affordable Care Act but said he would work to fix it and praised the bipartisan way in which the Arkansas Legislature passed the private option, the state’s version of Medicaid expansion.

Discussing energy policy, the former North Little Rock mayor said he recognizes the need to reduce carbon emissions but said that as the nation transitions to cleaner energy it should rely on an “all of the above” approach that includes coal and natural gas.

“I think that we ought to look at all of the above when it comes to transitioning to an energy future that is indeed cleaner,” he said.

Crawford told the group that discrimination against women in the workplace is a crime and should be prosecuted, but “if we legislate too much, we may be taking flexibility and power away. In the interest of trying to empower women, we could be doing more harm than good.”

Crawford’s Democratic opponent, Jackie McPherson, is scheduled to speak at the conference Friday.

Crawford said he believes the federal Affordable Care Act is “the wrong approach” and will put a strain on the national budget. He also said he was disappointed in last year’s government shutdown and will work to avert any future shutdowns.

Asked about the level of animosity toward President Barack Obama in Washington, Crawford said it is fine to disagree with the president but not to do so disrespectfully.

“Regardless of what our political stance may be, we’re Americans, he’s our president, and that commands a degree of respect,” he said.

The caucus also heard a speech by Gov. Mike Beebe, who is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term. Beebe said he expects that reauthorizing the private option will be a tough fight again next year but that its benefits, as well as the negative effects of ending it, will persuade legislators.

The private option is the state’s program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for law-income Arkansans. The Grassroots Delta Caucus said in a news release Thursday that it supports the program.

Posted June 13, 2014 - 6:38pm Updated June 13, 2014 - 8:11pm

3. Candidates discuss Social Security, health care, minimum wage

By John Lyon Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK - Social Security, health care and Arkansas’ minimum wage were among the issues that candidates for state and national office addressed Friday at the Delta Grassroots Caucus Conference.

Seven candidates spoke on the second day of the two-day conference at the Clinton Presidential Center, including U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is facing a tough re-election challenge from U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.

Pryor told the group he is working to protect Social Security and Medicare. He said he used the think the programs were safe, but now “I’m worried.”

“I’ve been watching what is going on down the hall in the House, where they a number of years in a row now have voted to do things like increase the age up to 70, do things like turn Medicare over the private insurance companies and turn it into a voucher system,” he said.

Cotton spokesman David Ray said in a statement Friday, “Sen. Pryor (just two years ago!) advocated for increasing the Social Security age to 68 or 69.”

Ray provided a video clip of Pryor telling a reporter, “You could pretty easily make Social Security solvent in perpetuity. Probably the biggest change would be, you would take my kids’ generation, teenagers today … and probably say that they couldn’t get Social Security until they turn 68 or 69. If you just did that one change you could fix about 80 percent of it right there.”

Pryor told reporters he favors reforming Social Security and other entitlement programs in ways that protect seniors.

“I think we sit down, we talk about that and see what we can come up with. But I absolutely do not support raising the age to 70,” he said.

Pryor also said he strongly supported the farm bill, which Cotton, alone among the Arkansas delegation, voted against.

“If there is any one single piece of legislation that helps Arkansas, it’s the farm bill,” Pryor said.

Cotton told the group Thursday he voted against the bill because 80 percent of the spending in it was for food stamps.

Pryor said the Affordable Care Act, which he voted for, “is not perfect,” but he has been working to fix problems with it.

“When I talk to my Republican friends about it I say, give me something better and I’ll vote for it,” he said.

Pryor also said he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which seeks to reduce the pay gap between men and women.

“Women are a hugely important part of our economy, and I would argue at least in the Arkansas Delta, they’re a hugely important part of the Delta’s economy as well, so we need to make sure they get equal pay,” he said.

Other speakers Friday included the major-party candidates for governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross.

On the private option, Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion, Hutchinson said, “I will work in a bipartisan way, with Democrats and Republicans, to figure out the right solution that is unique for our state, to make sure that we can advance health care in Arkansas but also make sure that it’s affordable for our state’s future.”

Asked if he supports the Common Core academic standards, the former congressman said he supports high standards but also favors giving local school district flexibility.

“My education commissioner will take a fresh look at that,” he said.

Asked if he supports a proposed ballot measure to increase Arkansas’ minimum wage, Hutchinson said he would rather see the Legislature take up the issue.

Ross told the group he voted against the Affordable Care Act but supports the private option, which he said is helping hospitals stay open and is “the right thing to do.”

“I have not danced around it and I’ll be very clear with you: I would have voted for it, I would have signed it, and as governor I’ll protect funding for the Medicaid expansion, the so-called private option here in Arkansas,” he said.

On Common Core, the former congressman said there is a lot of misinformation about the standards, which he said did not originate with the federal government but with state governors. Ross said he favors ensuring that “Arkansas always has control over its curriculum.”

Ross also said he supports the proposed ballot measure on raising Arkansas’ minimum wage.

James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th District congressional seat, said he would have voted against the Affordable Care Act because he believes it is flawed.

“But it is the law, and I don’t think we need to repeal the law,” he said. “I think we just need to work together in a bipartisan way to fix it.”

The former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the nation should “pull out all stops” to become energy independent, “whether it’s oil, gas, coal, whatever.” He said is concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly proposed regulations on carbon emissions and would rather see Arkansas set its own carbon standards.

Witt said he supports raising Arkansas’ minimum wage and supports equal pay for women.

Witt’s Republican opponent, state Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said he believes the Affordable Care Act is unsustainable. He said he favors repealing it and replacing it with a block grant program that would give states complete control over Medicaid funding.

“The ideal program would be one that takes administrative power away from the federal government and places it with a state government,” he said.

Westerman said he opposes the EPA’s proposed carbon emission standards, which he called “unfair attacks on our pocketbooks.”

He said he supports equal pay for equal work, but “I’m not for policy that forces companies to do that. I think companies should be doing that because it’s the right thing to do.”

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, Democratic challenger to 1st District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said he would not have voted for the Affordable Care Act, but “I think it’s here to stay, and I’m going to work to make it as good and as efficient as we possibly can.”

On energy policy, McPherson said the nation should not put “all its eggs in one basket” but should rely on a variety of sources, including coal, while working to make those energies cleaner.

“They’ve made a lot of headway with cleaner coal burning,” he said.

McPherson said he supports the proposed ballot measure to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage and federal legislation to ensure equal pay for women.

Crawford spoke at the conference Thursday.

The group also heard a live audio address Friday from former President Bill Clinton, who praised the caucus for the work it does to improve the quality of life in the Delta.

4. Pryor Tells Delta Group That Priorities Are The Same

By Roby Brock, Talk Business

June 14th, 2014

Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Pryor faced a friendly audience at the Delta Grassroots Caucus a day after his Republican rival riled the group.

On Friday, Pryor told the Democratic-heavy crowd that the Delta’s priorities were the “same priorities” for America as he walked through his positions on jobs, education, infrastructure, and equal opportunities.

“We want the same things, we believe in the same things,” he said.

Pryor used the forum to declare “sharp contrasts” between himself and GOP challenger Cong. Tom Cotton, who had defended several controversial positions at the Delta caucus the day before.

The Farm Bill provided the biggest contrast between the two men, Pryor said. Cotton said the measure should be renamed “the Food Stamp” bill - a phrase he’s used frequently in describing his primary reason for voting against the bill in Congress - while Pryor said the legislation should be titled “the Rural America” bill.

Saying the bill has a host of positive policy and funding measures aimed to help the Delta and non-urban areas of Arkansas, Pryor said he supports Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding as well as reforms to the controversial food stamp program that evolved from the latest debate last year.

“I do support funding SNAP where it is,” he said.

Pryor also said he supported continued funding for the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), an eight-state commission that focuses on health, education and economic development issues in the Mississippi Delta. A day earlier, Cotton had defended his vote to defund the DRA and other regional commissions saying he didn’t feel taxpayers were “getting a good return on their investment.”

“They’re getting about one percent, or a little bit less, of all the money the federal government spends on those commissions - much of which is being spent on administration, expenses and other overhead,” Cotton said on Thursday. “I strongly support the projects the organizations like the DRA funds, but I think that Arkansans can get a little bit better return on their tax dollars when you look at the amount of money we’re spending on regional commissions all across the country.”

Pryor disputed that assertion, as did the Delta Caucus which issued a press release on Friday asking Cotton to reconsider his stance.

“In the case of the DRA, the allegations that this agency inefficiently spends large amounts of money and that the federal deficits could be significantly reduced by its elimination are ludicrous, because the DRA is a small agency with a very limited budget of only $15 million that stretches its small resources a long way to serve an economically distressed population of the Delta areas in eight states,” said Caucus director Lee Powell.

Claiming the DRA’s budget is too small, Powell said Cotton’s position was troubling to its members and led to the issuance of the statement.

“At Delta Caucus conferences over the years the members of Congress have been overwhelmingly supportive of the DRA, and we are baffled that a member of Congress from Arkansas would be so dismissive of the agency,” he said. “It is rare for our organization to make a statement publicly taking issue with a member of Congress, demonstrating the depth of feeling on this subject.”

Pryor also drew more distinctions between Cotton and himself on the issues of raising the state minimum wage and supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act, which purports to improve equal pay for women. Pryor restated his support for raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 per hour and said he was in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Cotton has not taken a position on the state minimum wage initiative and has declared his opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act on the grounds that it would “empower trial lawyers to file more frivolous lawsuits,” in turn driving up the costs for business owners.

Pryor defended his vote on the federal health care law, Obamacare, citing a previously stated position that “the law is not perfect” and that he was open to changes.

The Cotton campaign questioned Pryor’s stand and reminded reporters that Pryor once called Obamacare “an amazing success.”

Pryor also declared he would continue to “fight hard to protect Medicare and Social Security.” The assertion led to another challenge by the Cotton campaign who highlighted a 2011 interview that Pryor did in which he discussed raising the retirement age to improve Social Security’s solvency.

“[Y]ou could pretty easily make Social Security solvent in perpetuity,” Pryor told KTSS in a June 6, 2011 interview. “Probably the biggest change would be is that you would take my kids’ generation, teenagers today, and life expectancy is longer et cetera, and probably say that they couldn’t get Social Security until they turn 68 or 69. If you just did that one change you would fix about 80% of it right there.”

Meeting with reporters after his speech, Pryor said, “I’ve always been consistent on this. I’ve never advocated for raising the age on Medicare. There’s no doubt about that. I’ve never advocated raising the age to 70 on Medicare. I’ve always said that was a terrible idea.”

He said his 2011 interview referred to entitlement reforms that were part of a national discussion following the Simpson-Bowles report, a bipartisan document that looked at ways to balance the federal budget and reform entitlement programs.

“For me, Social Security is age 67, for my parents it’s age 65. I think you talk about it, but I actually think there are other ways to fix it. You don’t have to do that,” said Pryor. “I feel like I’ve been very consistent on Medicare and Social Security in terms of saying that we need to do entitlement reform, but we need to do it in such a way that we protect our seniors because - like I said in there - for the vast majority of Arkansans to hit age 65, all they have is Medicare and Social Security.”

“I can’t remember all the criteria that Simpson-Bowles went through but I think raising the age was one, I can’t remember what they all were. But again, I think we sit down, we talk about that, and see what we can come up with. But I absolutely do not support raising the age to 70,” said Pryor.

Fred Brown, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, issued a statement after Pryor’s remarks claiming the Senator had “selective amnesia.” He claimed Pryor contradicted his previous positions on health care reform and Social Security.

“Senator Pryor started off his talk launching into attack mode over raising the age of retirement for Social Security. That begs the question, when did Senator Pryor no longer believe that raising the retirement age to 69 would ‘solve 80%’ of the program’s problems?” Brown said.

“Senator Pryor was also asked about his support for Obamacare. Instead of answering, Senator Pryor danced around the question, deflecting attention from his deciding vote on the law. Not only did the Senator vote for the law, he has called it ‘an amazing success story,’” Brown also stated.

5. Hutchinson, Ross Answer Delta Group Questions On Vision For Future

By Roby Brock, Talk Business

June 14th, 2014

Arkansas gubernatorial candidates Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross spoke in back-to-back appearances to a Delta advocacy group to discuss issues of concern for the region and the state as a whole.

Hutchinson spoke first, reminding the Delta Grassroots Caucus that he had been a co-sponsor of the bill that created the Delta Regional Authority when he represented Arkansas’ Third District in Congress in 2000.

The Republican nominee for Governor discussed education and economic development reforms that he said were vital for advancing the Delta’s well-being.

“There’s no challenge that can’t be met without economic growth,” Hutchinson told the group.

Ross, who previously represented the Fourth Congressional District, said his vision for education and economic development would be a boost for the impoverished Delta region and a high priority for his campaign.

“I’m committed and I will pledge to work with anyone and everyone who will work with me to make this state an even better place to live, work and raise a family,” declared the Democratic nominee.

CHARITY AND CHRISTIANITY The most obvious distinction between Ross and Hutchinson centered on support of the Private Option, Arkansas’ low-income health insurance alternative that uses Medicaid expansion dollars for private insurance plans.

Ross said he unequivocally supports the Private Option.

“I would have voted it, I would have signed it, and I will protect it,” Ross said to an applauding audience. He said it was crucial to the survival of rural hospitals and he said it was helping hard-working Arkansans who have been limited in their health care options. In describing the target groups the plan is predicted to help, Ross said the Private Option also appealed to his sense of righteousness.

“As a Christian, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Ross said. “I’m going to do my best as Governor to make sure we continue to fund it.”

Hutchinson has adopted a more cautious approach to the Private Option, reflecting the nature of the debate that has fractured his Republican base.

“When you look at the Private Option, we’re learning a great deal,” he said. “I’m optimistic that our legislators and our state will do the right thing with the 150,000 that have enrolled in the Private Option. We’ll do the right thing in terms of making the adjustments that are needed to reflect the values of Arkansas and to make sure this program is an incentive for people to work.”

He also stressed that the affordability of the Private Option would also drive the debate under his gubernatorial leadership.

While the federal government pays 100% of the costs of the Private Option in the first three years, in subsequent years, the state of Arkansas must bear a percentage of the expenses.

Hutchinson said in his travels on the campaign trail, he has found that the Private Option has been good for rural hospitals, but that the program has shifted some health care from charitable organizations to the government.

“You go across Arkansas and the Christian or the faith-based or the charitable care that doctors provide through health care clinics, free of charge to indigents, they no longer have a mission,” Hutchinson said. “That charitable care has been shifted to the government.”

“I’d like to see those charitable missions brought back together and say, ‘How can we renew a mission?’ and redefine it so we don’t lose that asset in our state of charitable giving for medical care as we continue to evaluate the Private Option,” he added.

COMMON CORE, COMMON CONCERNS Hutchinson and Ross both expressed concerns about maintaining flexibility around Common Core, an education policy standard that has been at the center of controversy in recent months.

Initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a set of educational benchmarks that describe the skills students should have in English language arts and math. They have been adopted in a majority of states, including Arkansas.

Ross and Hutchinson both said they would charge their Education Commissioners to review Common Core. For both men, they expressed concerns that the standards must maintain flexibility in its implementation so that state and local school officials could meet specific needs and concerns.

“I’ve always been one who believes in local control and I believe that we need to have flexibility,” Ross said. He suggested that there is a lot of misinformation about Common Core in circulation.

“There’s people out there that want you to believe this has been pushed down by the federal government, this is something that Pres. Obama is responsible for. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, noting that governors of both stripes initiated Common Cause as well as business leaders like Bill Gates.

“We need to ensure that the state of Arkansas always has control over its curriculum,” Ross said.

“When it comes to Common Core, I pledge that we’re going to have a review of that,” Hutchinson said, emphasizing that high standards must be maintained, but flexibility would be important. “I’m going to be listening to the teachers, I’m going to be listening to the parents. I think we did have some problems with the implementation of that where we really didn’t bring in all of the stakeholders to have the buy-in on those new standards that we adopted.”

Hutchinson and Ross also shared concerns over diverting general revenue dollars into highway funding. The idea has been discussed in recent years as gas tax revenues have declined due to fuel efficiency straining the state highway budget as construction costs have risen.

The two gubernatorial candidates also expressed reservations on tapping more general revenue for Academic Challenge scholarships, which presently receive some state funding and a large portion of money from the scholarship lottery. Lottery revenues have been declining as the lottery has matured.

PRE-K DEBATE Ross spent time describing his pre-K program to the Delta group. He has proposed expanding the state’s pre-K access to a larger universe of families saying it is crucial to long-term economic health.

“We’re behind the curve on this. This is not some wild-eyed, radical, liberal idea,” said Ross. “Oklahoma, a pretty conservative state… in Oklahoma today, if parents want their kids in a pre-K classroom, there’s a seat for them. If Oklahoma can do it, we can do it. And we have to do it if we want to remain competitive with our neighbors in attracting the good-paying jobs of today and tomorrow.”

Ross wants to phase in the expansion of pre-K, which would carry a $37 million annual price tag when fully implemented.

“Everything starts with education. I said I want to be the ‘education governor.’ In doing so, that’s how you become the ‘jobs governor.’ Everything we do starts with education,” Ross said.

Although he supports current pre-K efforts, Hutchinson sharply differs from Ross on the issue.

Hutchinson contends that Ross’ plan is unaffordable and that the expansion would benefit families who shouldn’t receive a government handout.

“My position is why would we want to create a new government program when we’re not funding the existing program?” he asked. “I oppose creating a new program and expanding a program and benefitting those that are making up to $59,000 a year to provide free, taxpayer-funded pre-K education.”

Hutchinson said Gov. Mike Beebe has been unable to achieve an expansion of pre-K and he doubted Ross could do it.

“I think it’s the wrong direction for us. There is a lot better way for us to use that money and I think we need to concentrate on our pre-K program right now that is not adequately funded and that is my commitment,” said Hutchinson. “I support pre-K. I just don’t want to offer the voters something that is not the right direction for Arkansas in terms of the use of our taxpayers’ dollars.”

CRIME, MINIMUM WAGE Hutchinson challenged the Delta Grassroots Caucus to study his positions on the state’s criminal justice system. The Republican candidate hasrolled out a public safety plan aimed at reforming the parole system and addressing the state’s drug problems.

“That [crime] should be included in the challenges we face in the Delta,” Hutchinson said, touting drug treatment court funding and more effective re-entry programs for those leaving prison and wanting a job.

“That is economic development in the Delta. Whenever they’ve paid their price, they need assistance to be able to get a job and re-enter society and be taxpaying, productive citizens,” he emphasized.

A former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency and a former federal prosecutor, Hutchinson wants to pump $1.3 million into new efforts and tweak Act 570 of 2011. Act 570 was a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s sentencing and parole system passed by the legislature in the 2011 General Assembly.

Hutchinson said he would move the state’s drug czar back to a cabinet level position.

Ross said he was supported by 65 of the state’s 75 sheriffs and has pledged to roll out his vision for public safety in the near future.

He noted that as much as $80 million may be required to build a new state prison. With a backlog of nearly 3,000 inmates in county jails, a new prison might be able to accommodate up to 1,000 incarcerated.

“If we’re going to build another prison, there’s going to be prison reform,” Ross said of his upcoming proposal.

When asked about returning the state’s drug czar to a cabinet level post, Ross said, “You’re stealing my thunder.”

Ross also reiterated his support of the state minimum wage hike. Supporters say they have the signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Their initiative would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

“I’ve endorsed that,” said Ross, who noted he had voted for minimum wage increases while in Congress. “I think it’s something I think we should do… At the ballot box, I plan to support it.”

Hutchinson said he wanted to address raising the minimum wage in next year’s legislative session. He said he preferred state lawmakers set the minimum wage versus an initiated act.

Later in the day, Hutchinson’s campaign also responded to a new TV ad that was launched Friday by the Democratic Governor’s Association.

The new DGA ad accuses Hutchinson of voting against a lower-income tax cut and wasting taxpayer money when he worked for the Bush administration. The ad says under Asa’s watch, the Transportation Security Administration spent nearly $461,000 on a banquet for a birthday party for employees.

The Hutchinson campaign said the ad was a sign of “desperation.” It issued a statement that said the ad “falsely claims” Hutchinson authorized wasteful spending.

“In fact, Asa Hutchinson did not authorize the spending and when the Inspector General reported the questionable spending, Hutchinson took action to stop the waste,” the Hutchinson campaign said.