The Salem VFW sponsored the event which allowed the two candidates to make opening statements, and field questions from more than 30 people in attendance.
Baltz went first, explaining he is a life-long resident of Randolph County. He works as the Pocahontas Fire Chief, is a member of Quorum Court and a cattle farmer.
Baltz said he decided to run for the District 61 State Representative seat because he wants to make a difference in the newly redrawn district that includes all of Fulton County and portions of Baxter, Sharp and Randolph Counties.
|"From my job as fire chief and Justice of the Peace, I know how to maintain a budget. We do it in the city and county. I work well with people, and I like to help people," Baltz said.|
Baltz praised the Salem school district, teachers and parents for helping students achieve some of the highest grade point averages in the state. He said, as representative, he would work to make sure education was properly funded so all schools in the region can succeed. According to Baltz, one of the things a business seeking to relocate looks for first is a good education system.
Baltz also promised to be a big supporter of agriculture, since it is "one of the biggest economic boosters in the state."
"I am a Democratic candidate," Baltz told the crowd, "but united we stand, divided we fall. We've got to quit being mad at everybody. We've got to work together down there (the legislature) to get some things accomplished."
In her opening statement, Rep. Benedict, a Fulton County Republican in her first term, said she expected to find problems with state government when she took office, but was shocked to see how bad things really are in Little Rock.
According to Benedict, the biggest problem is the federal government's attempt to run the state. "The federal government has been dangling carrots in front of legislators saying, 'bite this now, and we'll catch you later on.'"
The main issue Benedict cited was changes coming because the health care reform bill, which she called "Obamacare," was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Benedict said the legislature will have to decide in January whether to add 250,000 people to the state's Medicaid system, which is already operating at a deficit.
According to Benedict, the federal government is offering to pay the increased cost for the first three years, but in year four, Arkansas taxpayers would have to bear the cost of the program. While Democrats, who control the House and Senate, appear to support the Medicaid expansion, Benedict said, "I am here to tell them no," on that issue, and other attempts by the federal government "to implement their liberal agenda through (state) legislators."
Benedict also complained state government has created a "welfare state" that needs to be reined in, and changes are needed to make it more difficult for people to be approved for disability.
Benedict criticized Democrats for refusing to allow most Republican proposals to be heard, and for forcing Democratic members to vote the party line on issues many disagree on -- including forcing them to vote for late-term abortions in the last session.
During a question and answer period, Baltz was asked what bills he would introduce, if elected. He replied that he feels the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has "gotten out of hand." One example is, many fire departments are willing to "clean up" (burn down) old houses that are eyesores in communities. While the (ADEQ) air quality division allows it, the asbestos division does not. Baltz wants to end situations where community progress is slowed by two departments in the same agency being in conflict.
Saying he was "pretty conservative," Baltz said he opposed gay marriage and abortion.
Asked whether he would support expanding Medicaid, Baltz said he intended to talk to area doctors and rural hospitals to see exactly how it would affect them, before making a decision on the complex issue.
Benedict said, as a sitting legislator, she is already educated on the Medicaid expansion, after attending months of hearings, and she knows approving the expansion will hurt "seniors and old people" in the state. According to Benedict, the more that is spent on Medicaid, the less will be available for Medicare, the medical program for seniors.
Benedict added Medicaid expansion is the only Obamacare--related issue the Arkansas legislation will have any say over. The only way to change health care reform, according to her, is to "get a different President and Senate."
Both candidates were asked their position on gun control.
Benedict said she had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and is working with it to introduce some bills regarding conceal and open carry laws. "Your guns are safe with me," Benedict said.
"Yes, your guns are safe," Baltz said, explaining he was an NRA member, a member of the Wild Turkey Association and had a concealed carry permit in his pocket.
Asked what other bills she would like to introduce, Benedict said she was preparing a bill to stop cities from "grabbing up farms" through annexation. She also intends to introduce a bill requiring welfare recipients to be drug tested and is considering introducing a bill that would require Fulton County Quorum Court to allow video recording of its meetings -- something it banned in 2011.
Reminded several times he was a Democrat, a member of a party that supports abortion, gay marriage and other controversial issues, Baltz continued to insist he would be an independent lawmaker.
"It seems like what comes out of Washington stereotypes everybody," Baltz said. "I'm just like y'all. I've got guns. I own cattle. I shoot a bow and arrow. I don't agree with everything that goes on in Washington -- not by any stretch of the imagination. I want to do things here in Arkansas to help Arkansans."
Benedict responded, "As good intentioned as Mr. Baltz is to defy his party, when he gets there, I guarantee he will not be able to defy the Democratic Party in Little Rock. When they want a tax, they get it, and they only allow a few of our (Republican) issues to come up."
Benedict said the new Speaker of the House is, "Liberal, liberal, liberal...It's going to be, implement the Obama agenda."
After the meeting, both candidates talked informally with citizens. Both said they enjoyed the chance to discuss issues face to face. So far, no other joint appearances have been scheduled in the district.