Arkansas' Second District Congressional candidates debate inflation and crime
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock., said the current inflationary climate was caused by Federal Reserve actions and federal spending, while his Democratic opponent, Dr. Quintessa Hathaway, said corporations are price gouging.
Libertarian candidate Michael White said inflation has been caused by the government’s deficit spending.
The three candidates for Arkansas’ Second Congressional District seat discussed that and other issues in their Arkansas PBS debate Thursday (Oct. 20).
Hill said inflation was caused by the Federal Reserve dropping interest rates to zero and buying bonds during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, he faulted President Biden’s administration for spending too much money and called for a return to pre-pandemic spending. Pandemic-related supply chain issues also contributed to inflation, he said.
Hathaway said more competition and diversity is needed in the marketplace. She said corporations are price gouging consumers.
“The buck is being passed down to average Arkansans, and if we continue to go down this track of not addressing this issue, it’s going to continue to hurt our families,” she said.
White said the economy is now in a “hangover” phase after excessive government spending.
On the subject of crime, Hill said it is primarily a local issue, with the federal government’s primary role being to secure the border and keep drugs out of the country.
Hathaway said poverty is the root cause of crime and that people need food and housing.
White said drugs should be legalized to end the black market profiteering that occurs in inner cities and along the Southern border. He said offenses that don’t have a victim aren’t crimes, and that for-profit prisons should be licensed based on a recidivism reduction measurement.
Asked about expanding renewable energy sources, Hill said the country needs an “all of the above” strategy and called for building new nuclear plants, which don’t produce carbon. He said energy policy must be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
He said the country was energy independent until President Biden took office and began taking actions against fossil fuel producers, such as cancelling drilling leases and ending the Keystone Pipeline.
“He’s made a big mistake, and the lack of production is at his feet,” he said.
Hathaway said the power grid should be addressed and that all power lines should be grounded in 3-5 years. She said the United States could be the world’s top energy producer.
White called for modernizing the grid, increased oil production and more nuclear energy. He said change should not be chaotic, abrupt or forced.
“The same people who can’t stop robocalls are telling you that if you just give them more money, they’re going to make the weather better, and if that sounds like a scam or it sounds like it doesn’t make sense, that’s because it doesn’t,” he said.
The candidates had differing views on United States policy related to Ukraine. Hill said he supports continued American aid, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t stop with Ukraine. Meanwhile, other authoritarian leaders will be sent a message that they can attack other countries.
“Nobody’s checked Putin for 20 years, starting with President Obama, who let him take over Crimea,” he said. “He paid no real economic, diplomatic or financial cost from that. That is what has led to the conditions that we have on the ground.”
White disagreed, saying that the same people who “lied” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and who led the United States into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “are now telling you that you must support a war with Russia.” He said the United States shouldn’t spend borrowed money on Ukraine and should take care of Americans and veterans first, he said.
Hathaway said Putin is a dangerous tyrant and dictator, that she didn’t want to see Arkansas troops die in Ukraine, and that the United States can’t be the world’s police officer.
The candidates were asked why many Americans don’t trust the results of the 2020 presidential election, and what could be done to restore that trust. Hill said it is good that elections are handled at the state level, and that elections should not be nationalized as he said Democrats want to do.
Hathaway called for national standards that would end racial gerrymandering. She said Arkansas is at the bottom of state rankings regarding voter registration, participation and turnout. She said the state should have same-day voter registration, allow people to use absentee ballots without having to explain themselves, and automatically register 18-year-olds.
White said people don’t trust the elections because they don’t trust the government. A third party is needed in Congress so no one party has control.
“Every two to four years, we fight this miniature civil war, where one side says if you vote for me, I promise you Utopia, and if you vote for the other person, I promise you Armageddon,” he said. “We will make a better system when we start to remove the unjust powers from government, as opposed to fighting about which side gets to wield them.”
Hill said Biden’s executive order cancelling student loans was unconstitutional and was a detriment to people who paid off their loans or never had them. He added that the order did not include the major reforms the student loan system needs. He said financial literacy training should be provided to students before they receive a loan, that universities should be on the hook for part of the loan, and that employers should pay part of the cost.
Hathaway said her students were happy to have their loans forgiven, saying it will help them when they leave college to start businesses and purchase homes and vehicles. She listed historically black colleges and universities in the Second District where a free college education should be available.
White said the two areas where government is most involved – education and health care – are outpacing inflation. He said the government should be removed from student loans and universities so the free market would find the best price points.
Asked about lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill said it led to more telemedicine and expanded broadband. He said the country learned it was too dependent on other countries for medical supplies. Hathaway said it made it harder to recruit medical professionals. White said the response to the virus was worse than the virus itself.
Hill agreed that too much was done, saying, “If we knew in February of 2020 what we know today, we would have not shut down the entire economy. We would not have shut down every faith community, every school, every small business. We would be able to learn to live with these kind of viruses and put more responsibility on individuals.”
Asked about addressing the $31 trillion national debt, Hill said Congress needs a balanced budget amendment and must return to pre-pandemic spending. A bipartisan approach is needed to reform mandatory spending, which is the two-thirds of federal spending that is not voted on by Congress on an annual basis.
“We need leadership from the president. We didn’t get that leadership from President Trump, and we’ve not gotten that leadership from President Biden, so we need that effort in order to do that,” he said.
White said the debt is a moral question and requires bipartisan support. Hathaway agreed that it’s a moral issue and that the government should help “the least of these.”