Candidates Visit Rector Labor Day Picnic
The Rector Labor Day Picnic has been a must-stop for political aspirants over the years and that was never more apparent than in the latest edition.
The magnitude of the upcoming election was evident by the presence of a CNN reporting team Monday in Rector, the first time in memory a national news source has covered the event.
The eyes of the nation are focused on the race for U.S Senate in Arkansas and that indeed was the primary focus of the CNN team, led by veteran reporter Joe Johns.
"This is one of the hottest Senate races in the nation," Johns said while visiting the picnic grounds.
He cited other important races in Louisiana, Alaska and North Carolina as playing a major role in whether Democrats will be able to retain control of the Senate in the next session.
Asked why the Rector event was chosen by the reporting team, Johns said it fits with the new CNN motto of "Go There" in covering news events. Johns said his team, in addition to interviewing incumbent Mark Pryor and challenger Tom Cotton, was spending time visiting with local residents to gather their views on the issues.
Pryor, a two-term Democrat, and Cotton, currently the Congressman from the Fourth District, were among the many political candidates who participated in the annual Labor Day Picnic Parade and then spoke from the stage at Rector Memorial Park.
Both candidates, in comments to the Times-Democrat, said they still see the importance of "retail politics," reaching out individually to voters in such community events as the Labor Day Picnic.
Pryor said the importance of attending these community events is the understanding that "politics is about people," and he enjoys the opportunity to visit one-on-one with voters.
"The most important thing I can do is to listen," he said, noting he was in Rector long enough to gain valuable input on how residents feel about various issues.
Pryor said his major differences from Cotton are that he is "Arkansas-oriented" and also committed to working in a bi-partisan manner in Congress.
"I don't believe in a my way or the highway" approach to legislating, Pryor said. "Party is completely secondary to me," he said. "I don't think all Democratic ideas are good and all Republican ideas are bad," he added.
"I like to take the best ideas from both and put them to work for our country," adding that he has had success in the Senate with that approach. "I believe I have a very good bipartisan record."
Sen. Pryor said he has enjoyed his numerous visits over the years to the Labor Day Picnic and is pleased to see progress being made in the Northeast Arkansas region.
"This is a wonderful part of the state," he said, noting the positive developments are not always recognized in other areas of Arkansas. "There are a ton of good things happening here," he said, including manufacturing and value-added projects.
Pryor said his campaign is going well and polls generally have been positive. He said his campaign is braced for an anticipated $18-20 million that will be spent against him by out-of-state "super-PACs" in the coming weeks.
"I really can't do anything about that," he said, but added "it still feels good" in terms of his reception on the campaign trail.
Pryor said voters certainly are facing a choice that offers a "clear contrast" between the two candidates.
In an interview on the park grounds, Congressman Cotton said participating in "retail politics" such as afforded by the Labor Day Picnic enables candidates to gain a true pulse of the voters.
Cotton said all the campaign advertising and media efforts are "no substitute" for what one gains from one-on-one visits with voters or the "word of trusted friends and neighbors."
He said Northeast Arkansas has great potential because of the work ethic of its residents and good access to transportation, adding that "cutting taxes and regulations" on business is what is needed to really move the economy forward.
Cotton said the choice is clear for voters, claiming a ballot cast for Pryor is a "vote for the Obama agenda," including "Obamacare" and policies that, he said, have led to the accumulation of one trillion dollars in debt.
He said differences in immigration policy also are important and that he (Cotton) supports measures that will "secure our borders" in the future.
"In addition to adding a trillion dollars to our debt," he said, "Obama's policies also have led to cutting a trillion dollars for our military."
Cotton said federal regulations relating to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service threaten to create unnecessary burdens for the state's farmers.
The Congressman said he enjoyed visiting with area residents during the parade and at the picnic grounds.
A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cotton said the most notable personal comments he received during the morning were thanking him for his service to the country.
During his comments on the stage, Congressman Cotton said he grew up on a small farm at Dardanelle and understands the needs of rural communities.
He said residents of small communities such as Rector are struggling to improve economically and to obtain better paying jobs. That is not understood in Washington, D.C., he said, where top-paying positions are enjoyed by lobbyists and special-interest representatives.
"Seven of the 10 wealthiest counties in America are in the Washington area," he said. Comparatively, he said, wages have gone down in Arkansas in the last six years.
Cotton said his opponent has voted for the Obama agenda "93 percent of the time" while in Washington. Those policies have led to increased debt, he said, an "immoral burden for our children and grandchildren."
"If you think things are going well, then Mark Pryor is your guy," he said on stage. "If you are looking for a different future for our state and country, then give me a chance."
During his time on stage, Sen. Pryor said he didn't come to talk about his opponent and would veer away from negative comments.
"This race is about Arkansas, about you in this town, who work hard to make a better life for your families," he said.
Pryor said a sign on his desk says "Arkansas comes first" and that is his approach to service in the Senate.
He noted the large veteran population in this area, as well as farmers, and said he works hard to support both groups.
"Agriculture makes up 25 percent of our state's economy and I vote to make sure agriculture works for our people. I know how important it is to Arkansas and rural America...if we want Arkansas to be strong, we have to have the farm bill."
Pryor also added that he supports cutting interest on student loans in half to assist more young people in obtaining educational goals.
Pryor said he has a record in Washington as "an independent senator" and he has "stood up to my party" on numerous occasions.