I attended the debate Monday night between Judge Michael Lincoln and his opponent, businessman Bill Haynie. There were lots of people in the crowd (I would estimate it as being in the hundreds), and the event itself was well run. I took lots of notes (five and a half pages type written). With that being said, I thought I’d share my impressions and hand out some letter grades.
The crowd was polite and attentive. It was larger than I expected and was full of folks who were clearly interested in the process. Several individuals had signs protesting against Randall Homsley of Higginson and wanting to know why the county prosecutor wasn’t doing anything about his alleged misbehavior. It’s great to see people getting involved in the process.
Overall grade: A (if the crowd had been larger I’d have given them an A+)
The Debate itself:
The debate was in a fair format and even started (almost) on time. The moderator did a good job of keeping things moving, and on the one occasion when the candidates got off topic (Judge Lincoln continuing the discussion of question five instead of answering question six), he got them back on topic smoothly and quickly enough. Question ten seemed open ended and unnecessary (and a waste of an opportunity) as both candidates essentially had the opportunity to address the “biggest problem facing the county” in their opening and closing statements. It would have been nice to see something else there.
Overall grade: B
Judge Lincoln repeatedly hammered home the concept of road improvements and bridge improvements that have occurred on his watch. His opening statement, his closing statement, and his responses to at least four of the ten questions discussed roads and bridges. He attempted to deflect attention from the OEM scandal by declaring that because “we have nothing missing from the county” we have no theft. He stated that complete restitution had been made and that this absolves the party involved from any wrongdoing. He was also asked specifically if he would do anything differently with regards to his promotion of the countywide sales tax before the election last fall. His response was twofold. The first part was to imply that the tax election was actually brought about by actions of governor Mike Beebe and former Searcy mayor Belinda LaForce. His second answer was that he stood by all of his actions and wouldn’t do anything differently.
In my opinion, the biggest flaw in any of Judge Lincoln’s positions was his assertion that the current system of county government has “so much accountability” and transparency that it is a “beautiful system”. He asserts that any citizen of the county can go to quorum court meetings (what percentage of the county’s approximately 80,000 residents could fit into their meeting room?) and that any citizen can go to the clerk’s office and request to see any document.
Overall grade: C (he met expectations and performed adequately)
Mr. Haynie also repeatedly discussed roads and bridges, touting equitable treatment for all citizens in the paving program. He emphasized the need for transparency and accountability in county government more than his opponent did, and cited specific instances where FOI requests were met with responses indicating that the records requested had been destroyed accidentally. He made several excellent points regarding the need to post all agendas, budgets, expenditures, and upcoming ordinances online and free to the public and stating that if elected he would do so.
When Judge Lincoln said (regarding the allegations of employee misbehavior) “Thank God we live in a country where it is innocent until proven guilty”, Mr. Haynie missed out on the opportunity to point out that our government employees should be held to a higher standard of behavior in their official capacities, not the lowest standard of behavior available.
He also declined to point out that Judge Lincoln’s assertion that he wouldn’t do anything different with regards to the tax election meant that Judge Lincoln was willing to repeatedly violate the law (as stated by the Arkansas Ethics Commission) in pursuit of a proven losing strategy.
Overall grade: B- (he did better than his opponent but missed multiple clear opportunities to go after his opponent’s missteps)
Scott Biddle is formerly chairman of Searcy Friends of the Voters & a guest contributor to The Arkansas Patriot.