On Friday, I sat down with Jonesboro state Senate candidate Dan Sullivan. Sullivan is running for the Republican nomination in the special election for Senate District 21. The vacancy was created after former Senator Paul Bookout resigned amid ethics violations.
I contacted Sullivan to learn where he stands on major policy issues and why he’s running for state Senate. These are generally critical elements of any political campaign. Unfortunately, after our discussion, I’m afraid I have no better understanding of where Sullivan stands on the issues — even on the issues that he identified as his “priorities.”
I think it’s important for you to hear from Sullivan in his own words, so I have produced a transcript of our conversation:
NH: “Tell me three or four of your top policy goals. What are three or four things that, if you get to go to the legislature, you want to get to work on right away?”
DS: “Well, I know the health care reform issue is going to be very important for our state, for my district. I know right now education, uh, is very important to me — I’m a former educator. That’s very important. Controlling our taxes and budget in our communities and in our state are very important.”
NH: “So you mentioned education — specifically, what do you want to do to improve education in the state?”
DS: “Well, ASU — Arkansas State — is very important…to continue the funding, but to, uh, do that in a responsible manner and manage our budget with Arkansas State to allow them to continue to grow. They’re a great, uh…looking for the word there…but they’re a great engine for our community, so we want to continue that.”
NH: “OK, do you have any specific ideas for reforming elementary or high school education?”
DS: “I’m not, we’re not…I’m not on the reform kick right now. This election happened very quickly. And, uh, everything came up…I’m going to be listening to our community to find out what the needs are there. And what our folks need and what’s important to them. I talked to some folks yesterday that said the train stopping on the, stopping the road or crossing the roads and stopping at the stops was important to them. And blocking the roads, that’s an important issue to some of our people. I know the health care right now with the teachers in, uh, our region and the way health care costs are going up and insurance costs are going up — that’s a huge issue.”
NH: “What is a proposed solution to [spikes in teacher insurance premiums] that you would like to see?”
DS: “Well, I don’t have a solution to it. I haven’t listened to all the issues that are out there. I’ve heard what the problems are, some of the problems are. I know their insurances are going up. I know they’re worried about that. I haven’t heard a solution and I’m not ready to propose one right now.”
NH: “Are there any specific transparency reforms you would like to see? For instance, would you support putting cameras in the senate? Any type of transparency reform you would like to see in the state?”
DS: “Well, I think we have a lot of transparency laws right now. I think it’s the people that are not transparent, not the laws. If we have transparent people, then people oughta act honestly and fairly and dealing the way they should, I don’t know that we need more laws. Again, I’m just not familiar with all the laws that are on the books right now. Before we start adding more laws, I’d like to make sure that we’re enforcing the ones that we have and people are acting in a credible and transparent manner.”
NH: “So, specific to, let’s say putting cameras in the senate — I’m sure you know the House records their committee meetings and their floor proceedings and the senate does not. Would you support having cameras in the senate so the people of Arkansas could watch what’s going on in there?”
DS: “Transparency is good. People watching what’s going on is good. I’m not aware right now of what all the reasons are behind why we don’t have that. And I think before I make decisions, it’s important to make informed decisions. Again, I just don’t have that information to answer that question right now. But am I for transparency? Absolutely. I’m willing to be transparent, I’m willing to talk to people in an honest and upfront manner. That’s what our constituents, our citizens deserve. If there are questions, ‘Can I put cameras here, can we put cameras there?’ I’m not prepared to…make a statement on that right now one way or the other till I have more information.”
NH: “You mentioned tax reform. Is there any specific idea or plan that you have that you would like to see for reforming the state’s tax code?”
DS: “Well I think we made some big moves this last session towards that and we’re going to be implementing that over the next three years. So I’m going to continue to, uh, work to enforce that and help that to occur. I know tort reform is going to be an issue coming up. I’m interested in hearing the opportunities to move towards tort reform. So I think those are a couple of big ones that will be on the horizon coming up.”
NH: “Last question: you mentioned health care several times. I know the ‘private option’ is a big question for a lot of candidates out there and a lot of voters. Where do you stand on the ‘private option’ at this point?”
DS: “That’s done. And I’m not going to look backwards. I think I’ve found a lot of questions: ‘Would you have voted for it? Would you have voted against it?’ I’m going to look forwards. Uh…we need to advance what we have. We need to move the ball down the field and…trying to figure out how I would’ve made call in the…historically, in the past, doesn’t help us advance the ball. If you just look around you, and look around the state, the tremendous cost to people and, uh, monetary costs are just tremendous. We’re going to have to, uh…consider all of those things as we move forward. I think the Affordable Care Act was a very poor law nationally. And Arkansas is now forced to deal with that national law. And decisions were made based upon projections, based upon numbers and data. And now, those data and those decisions are starting to hit people’s lives. Insurance is going up. People are starting to work fewer hours. People are being laid off — none of those are good. And it’s all the result of a federal law that Arkansas had to deal with. So, I’m prepared to move forward and make decisions that help us correct all the mistakes that were made as a result of that law.”
NH: “So, as the private option stands right now, you support it going forward?”
DS: “Well I think we’re going to, uh…that’s going to be the question coming up. We just don’t have all the information yet. I think, ya know, when October gets here, people will start to sign up for that. It’s going to make it more difficult, not less. We’re hearing — things are going on in businesses right now, uh, with workers’ hours cut. Businesses having to lay people off just over the health care. I think there will be a lot of information that comes out between now and, uh, February, that are going to impact how we respond to that. But again, I’m not prepared to say I’m going to respond one way or the other without the information there.”
I interviewed John Cooper about his policy goals in early August. At that time, Cooper was a candidate for the Arkansas House, but he has since jumped to the Senate District 21 race. Just before Cooper made the switch, I briefly interviewed him again. If you read those interviews, I think you’ll agree that Cooper has been (both absolutely and relatively) transparent about his views and his goals.
Chad Niell is the third Republican candidate for Senate District 21. He has not responded to a request for an interview.