GOP candidate Curtis Coleman visits SEARK
Curtis Coleman, founder and former president and CEO of Safe Foods Corporation in Little Rock who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, popped in for a visit with the Advance Monticellonian staff Thursday afternoon during his return to Little Rock from a campaigning trip in South Arkansas.
Coleman, father of three and grandfather of eight, has been turning heads in his bid to become governor of Arkansas based on his platform of tax reform and revitalizing the economics of the state, which he explained is ranked 49th in the nation for household median income.
“We, as a state, rank near the bottom in median household income,” he said. “Really, there is no excuse for this. It’s time that we ask ourselves ‘why is Arkansas doing so poorly. We are growing economically at a fraction of the rate of our neighboring states. Over the last couple of year, Oklahoma has grown three times as fast as Arkansas. Tennessee’s economy has grown six times faster and Texas’ economy 10 times faster.”
Coleman said that as he began studying these trends several facts became clear to him.
“One of these is that we have one of the highest cumulative tax rates of any state in which we share a border,” he explained. “We have the highest personal state income tax rate. We have the highest capital tax gains tax rate. We have the highest corporate tax rate. And then, there are several creditable studies out that show that we are the second most heavily regulated state in the nation when it comes to locating a new business.
“All of these negative traits can be fixed,” Coleman assured. “I am certainly not anti-regulations but, I feel that we are in a hyper, over-regulated place in our state right now.
“I’m a businessman so I’ve looked at the state from a businessman’s point of view,” said Coleman. “In doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that the state of Arkansas has the resources and capacities to be one of the most prosperous states in the nation.”
Coleman said that when he looked at the state from that point of view he realized that “my party and my state needed me.”
“If you look at our resources in this state, they are phenomenal,” he added. “And, especially in South Arkansas. While we were traveling today, we were talking about that very issue. I mean things like the fossil fuels, the timber, and the agricultural industries are awesome. When you add that with the transportation industry in Northwest Arkansas you get a fantastic economic dynamic.”
Coleman also tied in his education platform with improving the state’s economy.
“Education remains the most effective vehicle for social and financial mobility,” he said. “Still, Arkansas ranks near the bottom in producing high school graduates who are prepared for success in the workforce after graduation.”
Coleman said that one remedy to the problem is to encourage and build upon the technical training in state schools.
“The current emphasis on education right now in Arkansas is to double the number of students we have receiving baccalaureate degrees,” he noted. “Four-year degrees are great and very profitable but, we’re ignoring the entire population of our students who don’t want to go to college.”
Coleman insisted that one way to combat the problem is to build up the state’s community college system.
“Community colleges are the most flexible modules of higher education that we have in Arkansas,” he said. “What I envision is having two-year community colleges speak to prospective industries and inquire about the exact skills and abilities they need. These institutions could then develop a curriculum to meet the industries’ needs. That’s what I call putting government, business and education on the same path. And, we are not doing that in Arkansas at this time.”
Another issue prevalent in the state is what to do about the flailing Department of Corrections system.
There are several things that we can do to eliminate some of the problems,” he said. “One of the things is to repeal the state’s constitutional requirement that every county in Arkansas must have a county jail. We need to take away that mandate on every county. There are better ways to do local incarcerations.”
Coleman gave and example.
“What if Drew, Ashley, Bradley and Lincoln counties got together and did a regional jail where each county spread the expenses and profits,” he said. “Just cutting the overhead that these counties endure would just be fantastic.”
Coleman added that another goal would be to create longevity of county correctional employees.
“Right now the turnover of county correctional facility employees is horrendous,” he continued.
On a bigger basis, Coleman said that the state needs to step back and look at a couple more things.
“Number one: Let’s stop putting non-violent criminals in with violent ones,” he added. “What we are doing now is teaching non-violent offenders to become violent.
“Number two: Let’s talk about, instead of this crazy thing we are doing with parole where we sentence someone to 60 years and they only served a small percentage of it before being released to parole, let’s start doing day-one-to-day-last serving. These early paroles are causing a heavy burden on our local law enforcement and county governments.
“Number three: I think that we need to look at this whole idea of paying your debt to society. We say that when a guy gets in trouble and goes to prison and gets out that he has paid his debt society. The truth is though that we never really forgive him. He holds that crime on his record and it follows him throughout life. I’m proposing, especially if we keep parole, let’s tell a parolee that if they exists flawlessly through there entire term of parolment then we will expunge the felony that stands against your criminal record. Now, there would have to be some exceptions to the rule. But, that would give these non-violent offenders a goal to shoot for.
Coleman concluded by saying that it is his opinion and goal for Arkansas to become the “shining city on a hill.”
“I just think now that we’ve reached the point where we need a businessman at the head of our state government,” he said. “I am a successful businessman and I say that with the utmost humility. We started our food safety business in the 1990’s and there were years where we operated with almost no revenues. It’s doggone hard to run a company with almost no revenues. There were a lot of Friday nights that I didn’t know if the company was going to survive.”
Coleman added that one of his primary goals if elected to the governor’s office is to move the state from 49th to “at least 25th” in the terms of household median income.
“In terms of figures, that would move us from about $40,000 per year to roughly $53,000,” he illustrated. “That would be a huge leap for us. So, what I’m proposing is to focus attention on our lowest income producing counties first. Here’s the battle: it’s tough to make the bureaucrats understand that 70 percent of something is a whole lot more that 100 percent of nothing.”
In conclusion, Coleman said that Arkansas has the potential to be the 21st Century place for business in America.
“Arkansas can be the 21st Century’s version of Silicone Valley,” he said. “This is my passion and I think with certainty that we have that capacity here. And, I believe that Southeast Arkansas can lead the way.”