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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Robinson challenges Berry in First District

Friday, May 24, 2002

Voters have come to expect the unexpected from Tommy Robinson, the former 2nd District congressman who is challenging Rep. Marion Berry (D) in the November general election.Even in his own house."I didn't even tell my wife until the day I filed," he said in a recent campaign stop in Salem.Robinson, 60, said the Democratic Party orchestrated a cross-over campaign that cost him the election in his Republican primary race for governor against Sheffield Nelson in 1990. Keeping his candidacy under wraps until the last minute was designed to avoid a repeat of that, he said.Before being elected to Congress as a Democrat, Robinson was a headline grabbing sheriff of Pulaski County who gained notoriety when he handcuffed jail inmates to the fence to call attention to overcrowding of the jail.He served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party. After his defeat for governor he moved to Brinkley in the 1st District. He has farmed, operated a tractor dealership and assisted his wife in the operation of her liquor store over the past decade.The candidate said former 1st District Rep. Bill Alexander, despite his liberal voting record, had served the district well by bringing lots of federal projects to eastern Arkansas, a record Berry has failed to match.Robinson said he is running because Berry has not helped the residents of the district. "Our current congressman is not fighting for the family farms of Arkansas. In fact, they are worse off today than they were when he went to Congress six years ago, even though he serves on the House Agriculture Committee," he said.But Robinson criticized Berry for taking the side of farmers in the controversial Grand Prairie irrigation project, which is designed to divert water from the White River to rice farms. The project is opposed by environmentalists and sportsmen."The big rice producers have already depleted the aquifer." he said. "This will hurt the environment. And it will hurt hunting and fishing. I'm a farmer, but I'm opposed to it."Robinson accused Berry of hypocrisy in opposing high prices for pharmaceuticals. "He gets most of his money from big pharmaceutical companies," Robinson charged. "I'm not going to take big bucks from drug companies. And I'm not going to let him get away with saying one thing here and doing something else in Washington."He said the cost for pharmaceuticals went up 17 percent last year and is expected to go up 10-11 percent in each of the next four years. "These big drug companies are ripping the people off," Robinson said, adding that Congress needs to step in and look at the pricing system.Social Security can't survive after 2016 operating as it does now, Robinson said, and Congress will have to choose from three possible solutions: 1) raise the payroll tax, 2) cut benefits, or 3) change the structure for new workers entering the system. He said the first two solutions "won't fly" with the American public."We're going to have to look at new workers coming into the system," he said. "I agree with George Bush. We're going to have to cut their benefits and give them incentives to invest privately.""It's a different ballgame. It's a different economy," he said. "I disagree with the Democrats; the government doesn't create wealth, private business creates wealth." He said he opposes new federal taxes "unequivocally."Social Security was set up by President Franklin Roosevelt as merely a supplement, he said, but it has grown to be the sole source of income for many retirees.Robinson said he can win in the heavily Democratic district, even though no Republican has ever represented it in Congress. "I'm not two faced," he said. "What you see is what you get. I get overwhelming black support."Robinson angered party leaders at the 1988 Democratic National Convention when he cast his presidential vote for the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the first ballot. Robinson said at the time, "Jesse Jackson touched my soul, he pricked my conscience." Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, nominated by then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, went on to win the nomination but lost the general election to then-Vice President George Bush.The candidate said he is a strong advocate of gun rights. "I'm totally opposed to gun control. I'm 100 percent NRA," he said. "I carry a gun in my wife's liquor store. If someone comes in to rob it, I intend to kill them. I'll call the coroner, not the police."Robinson said he will vote pro-life, but he thinks the issue has hurt the Republican Party. "I am pro-life in my voting record. However, we had a daughter who got pregnant a few years ago and we told her it was her choice. I'm pro-life until it comes to my own life," he said. "I'm glad she did not have an abortion."He added, "That's not going to be a major issue in the campaign. I'd rather run from the issue."The United States should withhold the $3 billion it gives Israel annually unless Israel agrees to our terms for a ceasefire with the Palestinians, the candidate said. Israel has killed far more Palestinians than the reverse, he said, and so he rejects the suggestion that Israel is taking a moral stand comparable to the U.S. War on Terrorism."To me, none of that ground's worth fighting for," he said.Robinson developed a high profile as a critic of Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, but last week he praised the former president. "I'll give Bill Clinton credit where credit's due. He got out and supported education," he said.Arkansas should never have promised public school teachers a $3,000 raise, he said. The Lakeside School District lawsuit challenging the state's school funding formula will force the state to consolidate districts, in Robinson's opinion. The state will be better off with fewer but better schools, he explained. He also said one superintendent in each county could serve all the districts, thereby cutting administrative costs.He said he favors a state sales tax to help pay for education, because that generates revenue from visitors to the state in addition to residents.

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