Grading the White County Judge’s Debate

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:

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:

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)

 

Bill Haynie:

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.

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8 comments

  1. Aaron Brooks

    I attended the debate as well. I saw things completely opposite of Mr. Biddle. I expected Mr Biddle to see it this way though. I would have given Judge Lincoln a B+ and Mr. Haynie a C-. Mr. Haynie was very vague and general in his answers. He did not appear to be comfortable with public speaking. He mumbled repeatedly and appeared to be reading direct quotes from his website. I am currently supporting Judge Lincoln, but I was very interested to hear Mr. Haynie’s ideas. With all due respect, I was not convinced after that debate that Mr. Haynie currently possesses the knowledge and understanding of county government/Judge to adequately govern us.

    Aaron

    • Scott Biddle

      Mr. Haynie provided just as much specificity as Judge Lincoln. While I will agree that Judge Lincoln was a slightly (and it was slightly) more polished speaker, my comments relate primarily to the substance of their statements and the presentation thereof. Judge Lincoln said more than once that his idea of transparency was to let people come to the courthouse square in Searcy to get information, which was a fine idea fifty years ago (though I will admit it was a specific response). The irony of that is that this is the same Judge Lincoln who in April 2010 tried to have folks arrested for having the audacity to show up at “His” courthouse for a TEA party rally. So, we should come to the courthouse for info on county goings-on so that Judge Lincoln can call the sheriff’s office AND the Searcy PD to attempt to get us arrested?

      As to the “mumbling”, I noted (and you can check the copy of my highly detailed notes posted elsewhere on this site) at the very beginning of the debate that Mr. Haynie’s microphone appeared to be off center, while Judge Lincoln’s did not and that this made it more difficult to hear him.

      Mr. Haynie provided specific responses to every question except number 8 (what he would do about veterans, where his response essentially was “we’ll do whatever it takes). Judge Lincoln provided significantly less specificity in his responses to questions 2, 3, 5, and 7. They provided simlar levels of specificity on 1, 4, 6, 9, and 10. (and that includes giving Judge Lincoln credit for his “specific” answer of “Come to our meetings and go to the clerk’s office if you want to know what the county government is doing”)

      • Aaron Brooks

        Scott, I haven’t met you personally, but I have read several of your comments in the past in regards to Judge Lincoln. I did not intend for my comment about you seeing the debate the way you did as any sort of attack or rudeness. I read it after I posted and thought it might come across differently than I intended, my apologies for that.

        One specific instance I recall is Mr. Haynie being asked what he would do to improve our roads (or something similar to that) and he said he would put an emphasis on them. That is very vague. Judge Lincoln named specific roads that would be improved over the next few years. Mr. Haynie complained about Joy Mt (which is on a state hwy, county judge does not have authority over that) and he was asked how to improve it and he had no specific answer. I do not recall Mr. Haynie listing specific docs he FOI’d and did not receive from the judge’s office. I do know that the all of the docs he requested are not housed in that office but in the clerk’s and other offices. The judge’s office did fulfill his requests early for the docs they had access to. Mr. Haynie seems to be a very nice man and I have nothing personal against him.

      • Scott Biddle

        I evaluated the debate based solely on the merits of what the candidates said Monday night. Mr. Haynie was not asked what he would do about Joy Mountain (as you stated), he raised that issue on his own in his response to Judge Lincoln’s answer to question four, stating that he believed fixing the highway on Joy Mountain should be a higher priority than the north bypass. But wait, the north bypass is a state highway project that according to you is not the county judge’s business (although Judge Lincoln would apparently beg to differ with you on that). Furthermore, Judge Lincoln specifically said on multiple occasions during the debate that he thinks fixing city streets is the county judge’s business as well but you seem to have given him a pass for that. Mr. Lincoln’s “rebuttal” on question four pertained solely to Mr. Haynie having opposed the county tax while not being an outspoken critic of the city tax. Mr. Haynie was never “asked how to improve it” (Joy Mountain) during the debate. Mr. Lincoln, on the other hand, provably lied about his office having fulfilled all FOI requests. I can provide the evidence to back that assertion up – keep reading the Patriot and there will be a column addressing the Judge’s failures with regards to FOI compliance in the not too distant future. How can we prove the existence of something the judge’s office denies exists? Keep reading the Patriot and see for yourself.

  2. Andrew Miles

    Although I am not White County resident, I can tell you that Bill Haynie would be a great county judge. I have known Bill since I was a kid and he was a police officer in my hometown- some 30 years ago. He truly cares about his community and I have seen firsthand his dedication, self-sacrifice and determination..

    He was an excellent mentor to many young people and because of this, I credit him with my own lifetime of service to the public as a soldier and as a police officer for the last 20 years. Even if not elected, White County is lucky to have him!

  3. Paul D. Love

    I had to let my buiness law students go early so I could attend the last half of the debate. BOTH candidates missed the best opportunity–the last question asked what the biggest problem in the County was. Both answered roads and bridges. (Sigh.)

    Drugs are breaking up marriages, destroying lives, and swelling the ranks of foster children and prison inmates. If either of the candidates had lifted his head and addressed us eye to eye and said, “The County is facing a spiritual crisis that has left us vulnerable to a meth epidemic, and we need to take action,” he could have brought the crowd to a standing ovation and clinched my vote.

    Both are good men and White County is blessed to have such depth of talent. God needs that talent for lives not just roads and bridges. Who else but the County Judge is poised to lead the County to make its communities meth free(er)?

  4. davis

    I was disappointed in both men’s performance at the debate. I would give them both low marks. Having said that, being a great public speaker or debater (i.e. BS’er) does not mean one will do a great job in an elected position, and being a poor public speaker does not mean you will do a poor job. Mr. Lincoln sounded agressive and defensive during most of the debate, and Mr. Haynie sounded unsure and vague. If I was someone who did not know either candidate and had attended the debate I would not have been impressed with either individual nor excited about voting for either of them. Both gave mediocre performances. I will be voting for Mr. Haynie because I think Mr. Lincoln needs to take a break and Mr. Haynie can do an acceptable job, but no one should think he is going to be the saviour of the county. There will still be problems and political drama. Having said all that, I doubt the debate changed the minds of many that were in attendance, as they probably had already made their choices beforehand.

  5. Pingback: Patriot Week in Review: KARK Beats a Dead Horse, Audio of Surgeon General’s Arrest, & Reviewing the White County Judge Debate «

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