Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter said Monday that he decided to run for governor in 2014 well before Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced last month that he was dropping out of the race.
McDaniel was the only announced Democratic candidate in the race until Jan. 25, the day he announced he was bowing out because of the attention being paid to a past extramarital affair that McDaniel admitted to in December. Halter announced the same day that he was getting into the race.
In an interview Monday with the Arkansas News Bureau, Halter said McDaniel’s announcement affected the timing of his announcement but not his decision.
"In a campaign you’re always subject to changing circumstances and so forth, but we had made the decision well before," Halter said. "We had been putting a team together, and the next day in fact we announced some of the members of that team. Given the developments (with McDaniel), it just seemed to make sense to not delay an announcement any further, and so that’s what we did."
Former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson announced as a candidate on Jan. 4. Republican businessman Curtis Coleman said Monday he also plans to run.
Halter said he was not concerned about raising enough money to be a contender in the race. He said that within the last five days more than 100 people have offered to volunteer for his campaign.
"For those folks who’ve conducted campaigns in the past, they know that having over 100 volunteers in just a few days is a very, very good pace," he said.
Halter is known for having successfully led the drive to create a state lottery to fund college scholarships while he was lieutenant governor. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, narrowly losing to incumbent Blanche Lincoln, who lost to Republican John Boozman in the general election.
Republicans gained majorities in the House and Senate in last fall’s general election, and the GOP captured the last U.S. House seat in the state held by a Democrat. But Halter said he is not deterred by the new political landscape.
He said he expects Democrats to win back majorities at the Capitol next year, and he said he believes Arkansans do not vote according to party labels.
"I think that Arkansas voters look to the qualities and the capabilities of the candidates for office and they look to the ideas and the proposals of those candidates, and they make their judgment," he said.
Halter said his campaign will focus on education and improving Arkansas’ economic prospects, particularly by increasing the number of skilled workers in the state. Helping the middle class will be a major theme as well, he said.
Discussing issues of the current session, Halter said he hopes Gov. Mike Beebe and legislators will reach an agreement to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
"To me it wouldn’t make sense for those Arkansans who are paying federal taxes to wind up paying taxes for the health care improvements in 49 other states and not access those funds for our own citizens," he said.
Halter said he has not studied the abortion bills now in the Legislature, but speaking in general terms, he said he would like to see bipartisan efforts to reduce the frequency of abortions while respecting and preserving a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.