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Chris Jones details proposals in first speech after clinching Democratic nomination for governor

Jones at podium, edited.jpg
Ronak Patel
Democrat Chris Jones says his experience as executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub inspired his run for governor.

Democratic candidate for Arkansas governor, Chris Jones laid out a few policy proposals in front of the Political Animals Club Wednesday at the governor’s mansion.

While working as the executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Jones said he saw a lack of opportunity in the state which motivated him to run for governor.

“I want every child in Arkansas to live out their dreams, whether it’s to be a doctor, a carpenter, a teacher, an astronaut, a plumber, a firefighter, a poet or a CEO. But too often those dreams feel out of reach. There are too many barriers to getting ahead,” Jones said.

While traveling across the state and speaking with Arkansans, Jones said the price of the gas is the biggest issue mentioned to him. If elected governor, Jones said he would temporarily suspend the gas tax. Current governor Asa Hutchinson has ruled that out, because it would limit infrastructure funding, which he has said would lead to poor road conditions that could damage vehicles.

In an interview after the event, Jones acknowledged there are infrastructure funding concerns with his plan, but said temporary relief is needed.

“Part of the challenge is, and while it certainly does begin to drain some of the infrastructure money, the bigger problem is that folks are struggling in their pocket book,” Jones said. “We have people trying to decide between paying for gas to go to work and paying for their prescription drugs. That’s a challenge in Arkansas, you have to drive.”

Scott Hardin, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, said the state’s gas tax is 24.8 cents per gallon for regular gas and 28.8 cents per gallon for diesel. Last year the state generated about $577 million in revenue with the funding primarily going to highways.

“There may be an assumption that the state receives more revenue as the price of gas increases but that is not the case (since it is a specific amount per gallon and not a percentage of the sale),” Hardin said in a text message.

Jones said the suspension of the gas tax isn’t a long-term solution and he would eventually bring the tax back. When asked if there’s a certain cost per gallon he would use to assess reinstating the tax, Jones said he wasn’t sure.

Speaking to the group, he praised President Joe Biden's proposal to suspend the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon. Biden will need congressional approval to suspend the tax.

"It would be very unlikely that gas prices would fall by more than a dime because of this change. And oil company profits would go up by billions of dollars," Jason Furman, who served as a top economic adviser to former President Barack Obama, told NPR News.

From his travels around the state, Jones said he has also seen the need to improve education.

“I saw far too many overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers. I met people who felt left behind, forgotten and unheard,” Jones said.

He said Hutchinson’s recent proposal to increase the minimum teacher salary to $46,000 a year is a step in the right direction, but argues more needs to be done by also raising the salaries of first-year teachers.

When asked about his stance on charter schools, Jones said he is not opposed to them, but isn’t sure if they are the solution for the state.

“The reality is in Arkansas most places the only option is a public school,” Jones said.

Jones with Jerrilyn Jones.jpg
Ronak Patel
Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, wife of Democrat Chris Jones, explains to the Political Animals club the type of work she does as a doctor. Jones was appointed to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Winter Task Force related to COVID-19.

During a Q&A with the audience, Jones was asked about how he is different from his Republican opponent Sarah Sanders.

Jones said it is difficult to differentiate the plans of the two candidates because Sanders hasn’t laid one out. Sanders has floated the idea of phasing out the personal income tax as a policy proposal to combat rising inflation if she is elected governor.

Jones, who is the former executive director of the Arkansas Regional Hub, said voters should look at his experience versus the experience of Sanders who is the former press secretary for President Donald Trump.

“I have significantly more background, understanding and experience in these issues that matter today as a former educator, as an urban planner, as a business owner, as someone who helped businesses get started, as someone who worked in communities and as someone who worked with large scale systems,” Jones said while being met with applause by the audience.

Jones will face Sanders along with Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington in November. Jones acknowledged to the crowd he has an uphill battle to win the election given Arkansas is a Republican stronghold.

Shane Broadway, chairman of the Political Animals club, said an invitation to speak at future events has been offered to Sanders and Harrington.