LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — We're now only a few months away from Arkansas’s primary election for governor as five democrats, two republicans, and one libertarian all campaign for the job. The seat is set to empty as current Governor Asa Hutchinson is ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits.
Recent funding data shows Chris Jones, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Ricky Harrington Jr. as the front runners in their respective parties.
Media personality Doc Washburn is also running in the Republican race, as James Russell, Supha Xayprasith-Mays, Anthony Bland, and Jay Martin are all competing against Jones on the Democratic side.
As we get closer to the election, here's a closer look into how each candidate feels about social issues from abortion, to transgender healthcare, to police reform.
The candidates are sticking mostly to party lines when it comes to social issues. Abortion can be a controversial topic and democratic candidate Chris Jones acknowledged that.
"Abortion is one of those issues that that even talking about it gets people fired up," he said.
Arkansas’s near abortion ban remains blocked by courts, and leading democratic candidate Chris Jones is aware that this is an issue he could inherit if he gets the governor’s job.
His stance on the law is clear. Jones believes that "the new abortion ban creates new problems."
Jones is also continuing his more centrist approach of avoiding certain labels, such as pro-life or pro-choice, instead referencing with landmark cases like Roe v. Wade.
"I certainly support Roe v. Wade. and I certainly believe it is a healthcare issue that needs to be left with families," he said.
Jones also shared interest in supporting different systems that are impacted by abortion decisions, like foster care and educational support.
Libertarian Candidate Ricky Harrington shared similar views, but is staying more focused on maintaining the status quo.
"My stance on abortion is, I don't support any expansions nor retraction of current protections. Personally for myself, I don't agree with it, but I know that I cannot control other people," he said.
As for his perspective on the near abortion ban, Harrington shared that he was against it.
"The total abortion ban that was passed, I don't really support it," he said.
We reached out to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' campaign for her stance on the issues. We gave them four months to do a sit-down interview, but they declined to talk to THV11 and that they did not have anything to contribute right now.
So, the limited information we do have comes from past events.
At her rally this summer Sanders pushed a strong pro-life agenda.
"Look, I'm an unapologetic pro life advocate and we push for anything that strengthens our ability to continue to have strong pro-life legislation here in the state of Arkansas," she said.
Sanders also followed up and said that she "would not advocate" for exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
Another big issue that’s also playing out in the courts is Arkansas’s law that would limit access to certain aspects of transgender healthcare – like gender affirming surgery.
Reflecting on his conversations with members of the transgender community, Chris Jones said that he will aim to protect those medical options.
"Certainly whatever changes are necessary to ensure that people feel safe, and feel like they can be a part of the broader Arkansas community is what I would not only support, but make any necessary changes to ensure that that happens," he said.
Ricky Harrington continued his approach to keep personal decisions away from government regulation, instead sending a statement that said:
At the end of the day the personal choices of individuals that doesn’t affect others in a negative way… is none of my business.
At the moment, it is not known what Sarah Huckabee Sanders' stance on the issue is as she has not shared it publicly.
The final issue we asked about is a divisive one amongst Arkansans – how to handle rising crime?
All parties have shared their support for law enforcement, but have different ideas on how to make our state safer.
Democrat Chris Jones wants to focus on more thorough training of officers.
"Certainly, we want to support police officers by providing them with not only the resources necessary, but also by making sure that they're doing that the job with highest and best use," he said.
Jones also wants to shrink the state’s incarceration rate. It’s one of the highest in the country and something that Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his State of the State Address that he expects to rise.
This rising number is an issue that has Hutchinson looking to spend millions of tax dollars to build more prison space.
This number is one that Jones wants to see go down, and it starts with how the individuals end up behind the cell in the first place.
"When you think about how we lock up individuals because they're late on certain payments, which puts a strain on the system and takes them out of their communities and their families. All it does is it creates a cycle that that's really difficult to get out of," Jones said.
Libertarian candidate Ricky Harrington, citing his past work in the Department of Corrections, said that he wants to change habits within departments, especially for those with authority.
"We want to make sure that people with the right authority are behaving in a manner that they should," he said.
And while Harrington is putting pressure on those in charge, he also wants more of the direction for improvement to come from citizens themselves.
"I would like to set up a civilian advisory board. Just like the 350 other boards and commissions in our state. That's what I would like to establish, to make sure and let it be fair as well," he said.
Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders has not shared a plan to address the rising crime, but has tweeted her continued support for law enforcement.
If you would like to know more about our three frontrunners, you can find last week's coverage of the candidates' positions on the economy here.
Next week we will continue, by sharing their stances on healthcare concerns such as vaccination mandates and support for hospitals.