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Monday, May 08, 2006 

Ark. gov. candidates trade swipes on abortion, surplus, education

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson on Saturday accused Democratic rival Mike Beebe of being unclear on his abortion position and said the attorney general used "code words" to hide a pro-abortion stance.

"Whenever someone says 'I'm personally opposed to abortion in particular circumstances,' that's really not the issue in terms of leadership and where we have to go as a country and as a state," Hutchinson said at a candidate forum at an Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors Association conference.

"The issue is governmental action and the issue isn't the personal choices you make as a family but what the governmental responsibility should be,"
Hutchinson said.

Beebe in turn noted his support of a late-term abortion ban and parental notification requirements for abortions, and suggested Hutchinson - a former congressman and federal Homeland Security official - was vague on whether he would support a near-total ban on abortions.
Beebe said he personally opposes abortion but said it should be available in instances of rape, incest or health issues regarding the mother.

The exchange on abortion was part of one of the sharpest debates the two candidates have had in their campaign for the state's highest office.
Neither Beebe nor Hutchinson face an opponent in the May 23 primary.

Neither candidate said he would push for a near-total ban on abortion similar to one passed recently in South Dakota. That ban, which goes into effect July 1, prohibits all abortions except to save a woman's life, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Hutchinson said the South Dakota law puts Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion, into play for a possible reversal. But he added that "I would not be pushing a frontal attack from the Legislature on that."

Beebe, in response to Hutchinson's comment on the South Dakota ban, said, "I don't know what that answer was but I can tell you I won't do that."

Beebe also said he would support using part of the state's projected $332.3 million budget surplus to create a fund for future use. Part of the surplus, Beebe said, could also be used to phase out the sales tax on groceries.

"I do think some of it should be put away for a rainy day fund," Beebe said.
"I believe in savings because I've seen the good times and the bad. I've seen the roller coaster and I don't believe we need to put our people through that again."

Hutchinson said he would support using money from the surplus to provide tax relief to Arkansans and to pay for some of his education proposals.

"I believe that we can talk about a rainy day fund, but the fact is a lot of folks consider today a rainy day," Hutchinson said. "They're struggling to make ends meet...Whenever the government has got a potential surplus of $400 to $600 million, we can talk about a rainy day fund, but we also need to talk about what we can do for the long-term benefit of this state."

The candidates also differed on failed legislation that would have allowed districts with multiple high schools to be exempt from teaching all of the state-mandated courses.

The bill, introduced by Hutchinson's nephew, Jeremy, and co-sponsored by other legislators, failed in a Senate education committee in last month's special session.

The proposal was aimed at keeping Paron High School open. The Bryant School District recently annexed the Paron School District, and the Bryant School Board voted earlier this year to close Paron's high school. That decision must be approved by the state Education Board, which is to consider the issue Monday.

Beebe said that exempting some schools from teaching all the required courses could be out of compliance with a court order brought about by the Lake View school-funding case.

"The court has signed off on 38 units actually being taught in the high school and for those students, not shipping them somewhere else," Beebe said. "In terms of not even offering them, if you're going to maintain that high school building ... it runs the potential of being in violation of the court order."

Hutchinson said the issue does not relate to the Lake View case.

"I believe it is a matter of helping a rural school that did the right thing in consolidation," he said.

At its business meeting, the editors' group elected Rusty Turner, editor of The Morning News in Springdale, as its president for 2006-07; Shea Wilson of the El Dorado News-Times was elected president-elect for 2007-08 and David Bailey of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was elected vice president.

Continuing on the board are Andy Weld of the Blytheville Courier and Larry Fugate of the Pine Bluff Commercial. Fugate completed a one-year term as president Saturday.

Elected to the board Saturday was Rick Fahr of The Jonesboro Sun. Robert Shaw, AP bureau chief for Arkansas, serves as secretary-treasurer for the group.

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