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Rivals for Ark. congressional seat debate

Four candidates are running for the 1st Congressional District Seat in East Arkansas. All of them traveled to Conway on Tuesday for a debate - except one.
CONWAY, AR - The three candidates who shared the stage at the AETN debate in Conway all want to go to Washington.

But Democratic challenger Scott Ellington pointed out that Congressman Rick Crawford is the first candidate to ever decline an invitation to participate in an AETN debate.

After the press conference, Ellington addressed why he believes the congressman didn’t show up today.

“I believe it means he thinks this race is locked up and he doesn’t have competition or he doesn’t want to stand and answer for his dismal record of voting 94% with the Republican party and not be held accountable for decisions he made in Congress,” Ellington said.

Candidates fielded questions ranging from the farm bill, food stamps and the federal government’s role in health care.

Libertarian candidate Jessica Paxton said she’s just an average Arkansan from Marion that’s wants Washington to change.

“I drive a seven-year old car, my family lives in a modest house, I’m likely to buy my children’s clothes at Wal-Mart,” Paxton said. “So I really feel like I understand your struggles and frustration with government intrusions.”

And Green Party candidate Jacob Holloway, a 24-year old Arkansas State student, told reporters he’s just happy to be here.

“I think this really stresses why you want third party candidates to get involved and why you want people debating these two party politicians,” Holloway said. “Otherwise, they’re not going to hold each other accountable, so you have to have everyday citizens running in these elections to hold democrats and republicans accountable.”

Tim Griffin (file)
Tim Griffin (file)
CONWAY, Ark. (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin accused Democratic rival Herb Rule of disrespecting police during an arrest on drunken driving charges earlier this year, while Rule branded the incumbent lawmaker a "captive" of Karl Rove and other national GOP interests during a televised debate Tuesday.

The exchanges between the two highlighted the 90-minute debate among the four candidates running for Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District. Griffin, a former interim U.S. attorney who worked in the White House with Rove, is seeking a second term. The taped debate was to be shown on AETN Tuesday night.

Rule, a Little Rock attorney and former state legislator, was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after he was pulled over by Fayetteville Police in August. Rule has pleaded not guilty and has a November court date.

When asked about the arrest, Griffin said he didn't want to raise it as a campaign issue said he found some of Rule's comments to police troubling. He cited a dashboard camera video that shows Rule asking an officer, "Is this the best thing you all have got to do tonight?"

"I mean, come on, you don't talk to law enforcement that way," Griffin said. "It's inappropriate. It's disrespectful. If you take that attitude to Washington, you're not going to get anything done."

Rule vowed to continue fighting the charges and urged voters to look at video of the stop that his campaign says shows it was unjustified and unwarranted.

"I am not guilty," Rule said. "I respect the law, but I also respect the courts as the place to work out and decide what happened at the time of that arrest and whether that arrest was done with probable cause and reasonable cause."

Rule, who has struggled in fundraising against Griffin, repeatedly tried to tie the freshman lawmaker to Rove and national Republican interests more than the seven-county district.

"Our congressman in Washington is a captive of Karl Rove and the Republican Party, of the banks and oil companies, and of Stephens Inc.," Rule said, referring to the Little Rock-based financial services company whose executives and political action committee have contributed to Griffin's campaign. "He does what they tell him to, not what Arkansans need and want."

Rule also invoked Griffin's short tenure as interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Griffin was appointed after as then-President George W. Bush's administration fired a number of federal prosecutors and installed political appointees. A two-year investigation into the firings concluded in 2010 that the Justice Department under Bush took actions that were politically inappropriate but not criminal.

Griffin worked in the White House Office of Political Affairs under Bush adviser Karl Rove, who supported Griffin for the U.S. attorney post. Griffin resigned the prosecutor post after six months.

Griffin defended his time as interim U.S. attorney and accused Rule of using the same attacks he faced in his 2010 bid.

"We heard this same sort of nonsense two years ago," Griffin said.

The debate also featured Green Party candidate Barbara Ward and Libertarian Chris Hayes.

Griffin was the only one of the four who said he would oppose a measure on the November ballot would legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas. The proposal would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy the drug from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation.

"It's a dangerous path we're going down with this and I oppose it," Griffin said

Rule said during the debate that he generally supports medical marijuana, but later told reporters he wasn't sure if he would support the ballot measure. If approved, the measure would make Arkansas the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana.

"I believe that under a doctor's prescription with careful monitoring, marijuana is a legitimate pain reliever for many people who otherwise would live wracked with pain and unable to work and unable to do anything," Rule said.

The central Arkansas district is one of two longtime Democratic seats that Republicans won two years ago as part of widespread gains in the state. Republicans now hold three of the state's four congressional seats and believe they're poised to sweep all four in next month's election.

The two men split on the federal health care law, an issue that helped fuel the GOP's rise in the state two years ago. Rule, who has said he probably would have voted for the law, repeated his support for it.

"I think it does some things that have been needed for many, many years and some things that have been lost in the shuffle of providing health care for our seniors and health care for people who are poor and for people who are on Medicaid," Rule said.

Griffin said he'll continue pushing for the law's repeal, and said he wants to replace it with new health reforms.

"What we got in Obamacare is not the kind of health care reform we needed or that we need," Griffin said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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