District 97 state Rep. Harlan Breaux (R-Holiday Island) is seeking a second term on Nov. 3, but faces a challenge from Eureka Springs Democrat Suzie Bell.

Breaux won a seat in the Arkansas House in 2018. District 97 includes portions of Carroll, Madison, and Washington counties.

Breaux is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and is a retired aluminum plant clerk and insurance salesman.

He recently joined a group of conservative Republican lawmakers who filed a lawsuit claiming Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Health should not be the ones to declare an emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic. The group said only the General Assembly should make such a determination.

Bell is a retired speech-language pathologist who has served on the Eureka Springs City Council. She and her husband, Dr. Dan Bell, co-founded  Christian Health Outreach (ECHO) Clinic in Eureka Springs in 2005. She and her husband also founded ECHO Village, a planned community of 26 small homes.

The Record sent a list of questions to both candidates. The first question concerned what made them the best candidate.

Breaux: “I believe my values best line up with the values of the residents of our district.  I am the conservative in this campaign, and as such, I am the only candidate who can be counted on to protect life, defend our gun rights, lower taxes, and fight big government bureaucracy.  My first term in the State House has allowed me to build the relationships needed to make a positive difference for the people in our area.”   

Bell: “I have a track record of working for the community. For over 15 years I have worked to give people free healthcare for those without insurance. I am building low income housing for those in need. I am a mission leader of my church and go to disasters with my team and my pink chainsaw. I am a servant leader who gets things done.”

Both candidates were asked about Issue 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot, which would permanently dedicate a 0.5% state sales tax for roads and bridges. If it is not extended past 2023, Madison County could lose more than $500,000 a year, according to County Judge Frank Weaver. 

Breaux: “I voted against placing Issue 1 on the ballot because I am uncomfortable placing a tax in our State Constitution. I do support funding for our local roads and bridges, and my voting record proves that. If voters pass Issue 1, I am fully supportive of their decision. If they choose not to pass Issue 1, I will work with others to find a solution for highway funding. We had several alternatives for funding roads that were discussed last session, including setting aside a portion of General Revenue.”  

Bell: “This issue is deceptive because I do not think people understand they are voting for a permanent tax that is never ending. There are creative ways to help with infrastructure. For example Madison County has no jail and pays for Washington County to house their prisoners. We can do some restructuring of that plan, such as moving all mental health persons to a mental health facility rather than jail. There are other cost effective ways to find the very necessary funds for our much needed roads and bridges.”

Both candidates were asked if there should be term limits for both state and federal office holders.

Breaux: “There are term limits in state government. Currently, someone may serve up to 16 years in the Arkansas legislature.  During the past session, we voted to put a proposal on the ballot to limit that to 12 years.  I was supportive of Issue 2. There have been attempts before to create federal term limits. Those attempts have not held up in federal court. This would take a national effort, but depending upon the wording of the measure, I could be supportive of federal term limits. That said, ultimately, voters get to decide how long someone should stay in office. They have the power to vote someone in or out.”  

Bell: “Absolutely. This should not be a career for some who use this to build their wealth and status. This is a job of servant hood for the people of the state and we need to have continuous fresh ideas and persons.” 

The candidates were asked about where they have been in the district campaigning, even during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Breaux: “While Covid-19 has slowed down some campaign activities and canceled others, I still make an effort to travel around the district as much as possible.  I have begun my door to door effort and plan to hit every part of our district before November 3rd.” 

Bell: “I have covered every bit of District 97. I have been working since July 2018. After the pandemic I have been delivering meals to people in need.  I am still going to every county with literature drops of information. I am mindful of people’s health and do not knock doors.”

The candidates were asked to assess the job of Gov. Asa Hutchinson in dealing with the pandemic. 

Breaux: “The Governor has mostly done a good job handling the Pandemic. With the help of the legislature, we quickly created the $173 million Covid-19 Rainy Day Fund, have helped protect assistance programs from fraud and abuse, and have unemployment relief for citizens who have lost their job during this time. I do think the Governor and the Department of Health have overstepped their authority by continuing mask mandates, limiting capacity at restaurants and events, and forcing some places to remain closed for extended periods without legislative approval.”  

Bell: “Overall the governor has done a good job. I appreciate his consulting with health experts and listening to them. I would have done the mask mandate sooner and would like to see a better plan with support for the school reopening, such as adequate PPE and test analyzers available. But I support the governor and his response.”

The candidates were asked what other issues are important in District 97. 

Breaux: “Over the past two years, we have worked hard to lower taxes, improve access to rural healthcare, and provide more educational opportunities. I’d like us to continue expanding these efforts. Additionally, its important we work to expand rural broadband and I fully anticipate we will address that during the next legislative session.” 

Bell: “Health insurance for our people. There are still 180,000 adults without health insurance and 35,000 children in Arkansas who do not have insurance because of the actions of the legislature. This is abysmal. There is not adequate affordable housing in our area. We need landlord tenant laws. We need to have mandatory pre-K for our children. We can build jobs with solar and wind energy. These are just a few things.”

The candidates also were asked about the state of education in Arkansas.

Breaux: I’m supportive of creating more educational opportunities for all students. I believe it is vital we help our rural school districts provide workforce training, get grants to purchase more resources or improve facilities, and ensure they can attract quality teachers. I supported the teacher salary increase last session and hope we can find more ways to continue supporting our educators.”

Bell: “Covid has exposed the holes with our education. We do not have reliable Internet access across our area. This is critical for our children to succeed. I am a speech language pathologist. I spent 30 years in our schools and I understand the needs. I am a strong advocate for education and because of my experience I am best suited to advocate for changes.”

Early voting will take place at the Madison County Courthouse. Week one will be Oct. 19-24 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Week two will be Oct. 26-31. The last day to Early Vote will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. 

Fear of voting on Nov. 3 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic prompted state officials to allow voters to submit absentee ballots.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot, by law, is one week before the Nov. 3 election. Madison County Clerk Tamitha Blocker has urged voters to request an absentee ballot sooner rather than later.

Voters can request an absentee ballot at madisoncogov.com or by calling (479) 738-2747. A voter also can get registration and polling information at www.voterview.org.