LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman joined the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Thursday, laying out an agenda that includes proposals to cut taxes and using public money to send Arkansas students to private schools.
Coleman became the second Republican to announce a bid for the state's top office. Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson last month announced he was running for governor, and several other Republicans are eyeing the race. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is term-limited and can't run for re-election next year.
Coleman, the founder of a North Little Rock food safety company who now chairs a nonprofit institute on constitutional studies, ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. He faces an uphill fight against Hutchinson, who's already won the support of top Republicans in the state, including as Lt. Gov. Mark Darr.
In a speech at the Arkansas Capitol, Coleman called for cuts in the state's income taxes and proposed allowing parents to send their children to private schools using public tax dollars. Coleman didn't detail how such a voucher system would be set up, but told reporters he didn't believe it would run afoul of past court rulings on the state's school funding system.
"I call that moving public education from a government monopoly to a free market economy," Coleman said.
Coleman told reporters that he would use the governor's office to push back against what he sees as the federal government's overreach, especially on gun rights.
"If necessary, I will stand on the borders of our state and I will say, 'no, not in Arkansas' to a federal government that would attempt to infringe on those fundamental rights guaranteed to us by our creator, including and especially the right to keep and bear arms," he said.
Coleman also told reporters that he's opposed to Arkansas expanding Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health care law, an idea that Beebe supports but has faced resistance from the Republican-led House and Senate. He also said he opposes a $125 million financing plan lawmakers are considering to lure a steel mill to northeast Arkansas.
Coleman joins a race that remains fluid on both sides, especially after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel dropped out of the Democratic gubernatorial contest over questions about an admitted extramarital relationship. Other Republicans considering a bid include state Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home.
Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter and state Sen. Keith Ingram of West Memphis are also considering running for the Democratic nomination. Former Congressman Mike Ross, who last year he wouldn't seek the Democratic nomination, left open the possibility of rejoining the race after McDaniel admitted to the relationship in December. Ross has not returned repeated calls since McDaniel dropped out.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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