By ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK — Though they’re both running for a mostly ceremonial, part-time job, Democrat Shane Broadway and Republican Mark Darr argue that they can use the Arkansas lieutenant governor’s office to advocate for the state.
The two disagree on how they’ll do it. Broadway says he wants to work with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to promote economic development issues. Darr says he’d be a counterweight to national and state Democrats, including Beebe.
The two are locked in a tight race for a job that has few formal responsibilities beyond filling in for the governor when he’s out of state or unable to serve, presiding over the Senate and breaking ties in that chamber. But they’re running to replace Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who parlayed the office into a successful campaign for a state-run lottery for college scholarships.
Halter sought the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination this year rather than seek re-election. He lost in a runoff to incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Broadway, 38, a state senator from Bryant who has served in the state Legislature since 1997, is a former House speaker. He is a consultant for Saline County Economic Development Corp. and director of client development for Insight Communications.
Darr, 37, is an insurance agent from Rogers and owner of Mad Pizza Co. This is his first run for elected office.
The lieutenant governor’s race is one of several where Republicans are confident they can make gains in the November election in a campaign season that appears to favor the GOP. Recent polling showed a tight race for the spot.
The poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington this month showed Broadway was supported by 36 percent of those surveyed while Darr was the choice of 32 percent. Thirty percent were undecided.
The poll, conducted for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Broadway says he views the office as a chance to advocate primarily on economic development issues, and push for tax cuts that have been advocated by Beebe.
"Coming out of this recession, we’re going to come out stronger than any other state, I believe, and we’re poised to do great things because we’ve kept the focus on education and economic development," Broadway said. "If you do those things correctly and keep the mindset of the people on those two things, a lot of other issues start to diminish away."
Darr says he views the office as a chance to counter Democrats’ dominance of state office in Arkansas. Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature and all of the constitutional offices. Beebe leads in polling for his re-election bid against Republican Jim Keet.
"Right now, we have a one-party system," Darr said. "This allows some checks and balances. If Gov. Beebe remains governor or whether it’s Gov. Keet or whatever, it allows a different viewpoint. I think that’s necessary for the people of Arkansas."
Both candidates are advocating some forms of tax cuts. Broadway says he wants to see the state continue phasing out the state’s grocery tax, a reduction championed by Beebe. He’s also called for eliminating the sales tax on manufacturers, increasing the equity tax credit for investing in start-up companies and reducing the capital gains tax.
Darr has called for eliminating the corporate franchise tax, which was increased in 2004 to help pay for court-mandated improvements to the state’s education system. Broadway backed the tax increase, a move that Darr has criticized.
Broadway has defended supporting the tax increase, saying it was needed for the state to provide an adequate educaton to its students. Arkansas raised $22 million from the tax last year, with nearly $15 million of that going to the education adequacy fund.
Broadway says he would be willing to revisit the corporate franchise tax, but his priority is reducing the grocery and manufacturers’ utility taxes first.
Darr has also tried to inject national politics into the race with a vow to file a lawsuit challenging the federal health care law that Obama signed into law this year. Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, both Democrats, have said they don’t plan to join lawsuits challenigng the overhaul.
Darr says his lawsuit would be one he’d file as an individual, but says he still thinks it would be worthwhile.
"I think it’s good to know that your leaders are sticking up for the people of Arkansas," Darr said.
Broadway suggests Darr is grandstanding on a federal issue rather than focusing on the state’s needs.
"I think he should have run for Congress," Broadway said. "It’s a federal statute passed by the Congress of the United States. There are parts of it that I think are good and there are parts I certainly don’t agree with, but it’s a federal law. There’s nothing the lieutenant governor of Arkansas can do repeal, replace or fix that law."
Darr also says he hopes to establish an "online checkbook" to show taxpayers where their money is spent.
A similar proposal came up in the Legislature last year, and the Department of Finance and Administration estimated it would cost $4.5 million in the first year to set up and nearly $3 million annually.
Darr, however, says he thinks the site could be done without increasing any costs to the state by using existing resources. He says that he’s willing to take the proposal before voters as a ballot measure if it’s not approved in the Legislature.
"I believe the people of Arkansas will overwhelmingly want to know where their money is being spent," Darr said.
Broadway says he’s open to the idea, noting that the state already does something similar online detailing how federal stimulus dollars are spent.
"You’re not opening new ground. There have been some states have done this and there are probably some things you can learn in terms of what works and what doesn’t work," Broadway said.