DEBATING: From left, Chris Olson, John Burkhalter and, via TV, Tim Griffin. Brian Chilson

The Arkansas Press Association, in convention in Hot Springs, is having a series of debate-style appearances today from candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general and governor.

Events opened with lieutenant governor — Democrat John Burkhalter, Republican Tim Griffin (by computer link from Washington), and Libertarian Christopher Olson.

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Griffin: He’s a “common sense conservative” who wants to “grow jobs.” How? Tax cuts. Decrease regulation. (You mean like those tough regs against hog feeding operations?)

Olson: “Peculiar,” he says that previous officeholder, Mark Darr, resigned and his four-member staff kept “working.” He said he saw no need for full-time staff members to “babysit” the lieutenant governor. The money could be better spent elsewhere. He said the legislature should move to abolish the office. If it doesn’t, he wants the office budget to be a “part-time budget for a part-time job.” The budget under Darr was about $400,000 a year.

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Burkhalter: Not a politician and a small businessman, said the multi-millionaire in describing himself. He’s been “blessed” in his engineering career, in part thanks to hard work. He described difficulties in obtaining capital and he said he wanted to help others achieve the “American dream.”

Questions included:

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* QUALIFICATIONS TO BE GOVERNOR: Burkhalter cited his business experience at making tough decisions and his experience as a highway commissioner. Griffin said his 18 years in the Army Reserve, his work in the Bush White House and his House experience qualified him. Burkhalter’s gig of Griffin as a career politician was turned by Griffin into a “career politician” gig of Mike Ross. Olson said he’s the only candidate who is not a politician.

UPDATE: The Democratic Party fired back post-debate with a news release calling Griffin a career “political hack” and details his more than a decade of work for the likes of Karl Rove and Republican oppo research efforts, including an infamous voter caging effort in Florida aimed at disenfranchising minority voters, including many enlisted service people.

* SHOULD OFFICE BE ELIMINATED: Burkhalter defended the office. 45 states have them and two of the last four have become governor, he noted. He said, however, that Darr ran with “nothing to offer.” He’ll be different. Griffin said the lt. gov. can be an advocate for policy change. He said he wanted to do that with job policies.

Griffin had to leave for voting in the U,.S. House. Burkhalter and Olson proceeded to talk in generalities, though Olson conceded he was in the race mainly as an alternative, with low expectations of winning. Burkhalter urged the press to get to know him better. He said he’d operate on a small budget but he’d have an agenda — jobs and education.

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