Central Arkansas businessman Curtis Coleman announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination this morning in the Old Supreme Court courtroom at the State Capitol.
Coleman was the Founding CEO and President of Arkansas-based Safe Foods Corporation until fall of 2009 when he retired from the Company to give his time and attention to state and national policy. He is Chairman of the Institute for Constitutional policy, an educational non-profit Arkansas corporation.
"I've made this decision because it is time to let Arkansas prosper," Coleman said. "The simple fact is that Arkansas has every right, reason and resource to be one of the most successful States, populated by some of the most prosperous people in the Nation."
"We're falling farther behind, and it's not because we don't have great people, or abundant resources or even good roads. We're falling farther behind because Arkansas has the most onerous, anti-business job-unfriendly tax and regulatory codes of any state we touch," Coleman said.
According to Coleman, Arkansas needs a businessman at the helm in state government. "If we make these changes, if we become the prosperous people we should be and can be, we don't need another professional politician at the helm. We need a businessman who's had to make a payroll, who's had to fight smothering and strangling over-regulation just to keep the doors open, who's provided health insurance for his employees, someone who's been under the regulations instead of over them and someone who knows that state government can be managed with business-like efficiencies."
"It is time we rejected the failed programs of the past and the failed policies of the past; policies that have been perpetuated by an establishment caretaker mentality. It's time we take our place at the top the list, at the head of the line and say to the rest of America, 'Watch us! We'll show you how it's done in America," Coleman said.
Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter and former Arkansas Congressman Asa Hutchinson are also running for governor.
It is my honor to declare today that I am a candidate for Governor of the Great State of Arkansas.
I've made this decision because it is time to let Arkansas prosper! The simple fact is that Arkansas has every right, reason and resource to be one of the most successful States - populated by some of the most prosperous people - in the Nation. Like many Arkansans, I'm sick and tired of some of our State's political leaders excusing their poor performance with the hollow pretext that "Arkansas is just a poor state." It's true that some studies indicate that we're 47th in the nation in average personal income. Dr. Shane Knight's research found that in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma, the average personal income in those states is $138 per week more than the average income for someone who lives in Arkansas.
This is inexcusable, and every Arkansan should consider this to be intolerable.
Arkansas has extraordinary resources and even more extraordinary people! We grow more food than we can eat, more fiber than we can wear, more timber than we can use, we produce more energy than we can consume and we have more water than we need. And we've produced incredible entrepreneurs including people like Sam Walton, J. B. and Jonelle Hunt, William Dillard, Jerry Jones, Ernest Joshua, Harvey and Bernice Jones, Charles Murphy, Whit and Jack Stephens and Don Tyson.
And there are many more where they came from!
But we must make certain that we don't let any more get away, like FedEx and AutoZone...great companies that could have been based right here in Arkansas providing hundreds of good paying jobs.
Letting Arkansas prosper means not just more jobs, but better paying jobs for hard-working Arkansans.
More jobs, better paying jobs means Arkansas state government has got to wake up to fact that we're competing with every state in the region - in fact, every state in the Nation - for businesses and jobs. If we are competing, we're doing it very poorly. One recent study shows that In the year 2011 alone, Oklahoma's economy grew at three times the rate of Arkansas's economy, Tennessee's grew at six times the rate of Arkansas' and Texas' economy grew at ten times the rate of Arkansas'.
We're falling farther behind, and it's not because we don't have great people, or abundant resources or even good roads. We're falling farther behind because Arkansas has the most onerous, anti-business job-unfriendly tax and regulatory codes of any state we touch. That means that Arkansans are suffering in two ways: we're paying too much for state government, and new businesses and the jobs they bring don't want to locate here and then pay too much for state government like we are.
Letting Arkansas prosper starts with reforming our tax code. The Simple Plan, developed by House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs and other foresighted leaders in the Arkansas Legislature, is a great start to putting us on the right road.
We can make Arkansas a much more attractive place to live and work by reducing and simplifying our personal state income tax. We must eliminate taxes on investments in Arkansas businesses just to be able to compete with our neighboring states to attract new investment capital to create new good-paying jobs in Arkansas. We must change the fact that it's more difficult to start a new vocation in Arkansas than in 48 other states in the country.
An Arkansas businessman called me a few weeks ago and said that he had calculated that he could move his business to Tennessee and save 9% or more per year. His business is growing rapidly and will likely be in the top 50 in the world in his particular business sector by the end of this year. We had lunch this week and he's going to hang in there with me; in fact, he's going to help craft a tax reform plan that will let him keep his business and his employees in Arkansas.
We can make simple changes like attracting more retirees to Arkansas - who are a fantastic asset to our State - by doing simple things like eliminating the state income tax on pensions paid to military veterans who retire in Arkansas (we need to do that just to catch up with other states).
Simple changes like expanding our cultural tourism industry in Arkansas -already Arkansas' second largest industry. If we can attract just 1% of retiring baby boomers to visit Arkansas, we can generate upwards of an additional $1 billion dollars into our state's annual economy.
The changes we need to make are not complex and we can make them happen!
Letting Arkansas prosper means dramatically improving the quality of education in Arkansas. Make no mistake. Arkansas has some outstanding teachers. They're not the problem. But public school teachers around the state consistently tell me they spend an average of 42% of their time just filling out paperwork. And as their students get older, they progressively lose control of their classrooms out of fear of litigation.
Gov. Beebe likes to report that Arkansas is 5th in the nation in education. But the same report that he cites also said that we're 45th in the nation in graduating high school students who are prepared for success in life. I think that's a much more important measure of how effectively we're educating our children.
Giving our children the opportunity to graduate with a chance of success in life means doing three things:
First, it means restoring the rights of parents to control where their children go to school, what their children are taught, and then letting the education money follow their children to the school of their choice. I call that moving public education from a government monopoly to a free market economy, and it is inarguable that a competitive free market consistently produces a superior product or service to that of a monopoly.
Arkansas is in desperate need of improving its high school graduation rate of only 74 percent, and a recent report revealed that Arkansas is one of ten states in the country where high school graduation rates are actually declining.
But even in Washington D.C., more than 90 percent of the students who were allowed to participate in the school choice D. C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, more than 90 percent graduated! Compared to only 70 percent of their peers in non-choice schools!
Second, giving our children the opportunity to graduate with a chance of success in life means putting a greater emphasis on producing skilled craftsmen and tradesmen in Arkansas. When did we lose the dignity of a trade, of making things with your hands and not just your head?
There is a striking skilled-labor shortage in America and in Arkansas. Earnings for four-year college graduates have actually been dropping over the last decade while the average annual salary for manufacturing jobs has risen to over $73,000 per year.
I am not advocating discouraging our children from a four-year or a post-graduate degree. Let's continue to encourage Arkansas students to create new technologies and new solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. But at the same time, let's stop ignoring our children who want to earn a great living and create wealth and independence for themselves and their families by excelling at a trade or skill. That means simple changes like putting shop back in high school and moving our outstanding two-year community colleges up the higher education "feeding chain" in Arkansas.
The second largest steel-producing county in North America is in Arkansas; Mississippi County in Northeast Arkansas. I had the privilege of touring one of Nucor Steel's impressive mills recently, and the opportunity to talk to about a dozen of their non-management employees, all of whom were proud of their jobs. I asked those few with whom I had the opportunity to visit two questions: (1) "Are you from Arkansas?" and (2) "Do you live in Arkansas." Of the admittedly few I got to talk to, none said they were from Arkansas and none said they lived in Arkansas.
None of them were from Arkansas because we don't produce nearly enough skilled craftsmen in our educational system, and all of them lived in Tennessee or Missouri where they got to keep more of their hard-earned paychecks. By the way, as I recall the average salary of a non-management employee at Nucor is about $88,000 per year.
Third, giving our children the opportunity to graduate with a chance of success in life means we must change our goal from just providing equal opportunities to providing first class educational opportunities for all Arkansas students.
The fact is if we allow any region of our State or any culture within our State to be trapped in poverty, we cannot prosper as a whole. Over many generations, the farmers of our State have taught us - not only simple economic lessons - but valuable life lessons....how hard work, kindness and pulling together can create a strong and vibrant economy. That's what we'll do as Arkansans - for all Arkansans - including all of parts of Arkansas and all people of our great State.
Third, letting Arkansas prosper means limiting the size and re-tasking the mission of state government.
Arkansas has some outstanding state employees who are committed to serving Arkansas' citizens, and eliminating their jobs is not the objective. But reducing the cost of state government by eliminating unnecessary duplications and creating a smaller, smarter more efficient state government is the objective. And the goal is to reduce the cost of government for every Arkansan. According to House Majority Leader Westerman's studies, since the year 2000 - in the last 12 years - the cost of Arkansas state government has grown at a whopping rate of 140 percent while the average Arkansan's income has grown at only 35 percent during the same time period. In the last 12 years, the cost of state government has grown by more than three times the rate of the growth of our ability to pay for state government. Obviously, that is an unsustainable course that must be reversed.
Letting Arkansas prosper means re-tasking the State's agencies to the priority of helping - or better yet - letting Arkansans be successful in their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. We will move to the process of evaluating every dollar state government spends to this criteria: Does it let Arkansans be successful? Or are we simply perpetuating an unnecessary bureaucracy?
And let me briefly say something about economic development in Arkansas. Arkansas' communities are the building blocks of our economy, and therefore the building blocks of our State's prosperity - not state government. In the coming months I will be introducing my "Plan for 21st Century Economic Development in Arkansas." It's a plan that distributes economic development to Arkansas' cities and counties, and creates- instead of just one centralized economic development engine in Arkansas - 150 or 200 economic development engines in Arkansas. This approach will mean that communities will be empowered to choose their own futures and create partnerships to make their vision a reality, with the State supporting their efforts, not controlling them.
It's a plan about which I am enormously excited and hope that I'll have the opportunity to share it with Chambers of Commerce and civic clubs across Arkansas.
Finally, letting Arkansas prosper means regaining the intended balance of power between the states and the federal government.
Letting Arkansans prosper requires getting government out of our faces, off our backs and out of our pocketbooks. There is no question that from Obamacare to the EPA, the federal government is increasingly encroaching on the fundamental rights to property and privacy, those rights considered by our Founders to be the twin pillars of liberty and freedom.
Washington is not going to give back the ground it has taken from the States; the States are going too have to push back. But Arkansas cannot and will not stand alone. If we try to stand alone, we will be squashed like a June bug on the sidewalk in the summertime. But the great news is that we won't have to stand alone. As your Governor, I will lead our State to join a coalition of other like-minded states and governors who - together- can become an irresistible political and legal force to recover the Constitutional Democratic Republic gifted to us by our Founders.
If necessary, I will stand on the border of our State and say "No! Not in Arkansas!" to a federal government that would attempt to infringe or destroy those fundamental rights guaranteed to us by our Creator, including and especially the right to keep and bear arms.
If you share these dreams and embrace this vision of a prosperous and successful Arkansas, please pledge your vote and give me your help. You can do both at CurtisColeman.com.
If we make these changes, if we become the prosperous people we should be and can be, we don't need another professional politician at the helm. We need a businessman. A businessman who's had to make a payroll, who's had to fight smothering and strangling over-regulation just to keep the doors open, who's provided health insurance for his employees. Someone who's been under the regulations instead of over them and someone who knows that state government can be managed with business-like efficiencies. And someone who not only has a vision for what Arkansas and Arkansans can be, but a passion to lead us there.
Arkansans have every right, reason and resource to be one of the most prosperous people in the Nation. It is time we rejected the failed programs of the past and the failed policies of the past; policies that have been perpetuated by an establishment caretaker mentality. It's time we take our place at the top the list, at the head of the line and say to the rest of America, "Watch us! We'll show you how it's done in Arkansas!"
God bless you! May God bless Arkansas! And may God bless America!
 U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/gsp_newsrelease.htm
 Institute for Justice, "License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing" http://licensetowork.ij.org/ar
 Education Week, State Report Cards http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2012/16src.h31.html?intc=EW-QC12-LFTNAV
 Building a Grad Nation, Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, http://www.americaspromise.org/our-work/grad-nation/~/media/Files/Our%20Work/Grad%20Nation/Building%20a%20Grad%20Nation/BuildingAGradNation2012.ashx
Joel Kotkin, distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University. Reprinted in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on 05 February 2012, Section H, with permission from the Autumn 2011 edition of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal (city-journal.org).