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Keet says he’s in to win

By: 23 June 2010 No Comment

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is supposed to be a shoe-in for governor according to what some political pundits here in Arkansas say.

Arkansas  News‘ John Brummet, in a June 19 column, described Keet as “the former state legislator and reasonably successful businessman who answered the Republicans’ kamikaze call to wage the noble battle against the uncommonly popular Beebe.”

In other words, Keet hasn’t much of a chance in the upcoming election. Keet said he’s seen that notion raised a time or two in the press and he doesn’t agree with it one whit.

“I have heard that,” he said during a phone interview with First Arkansas News. “The other day, after hearing that, I told the reporter that we still have elections in this country and that’s why we don’t just appoint people by polls. This is not just a popularity contest. This is a contest of ideas. We’re not running for senior vice president – we’re running for governor.”

Still, Keet did acknowledge that he’s got a tough battle ahead against a popular incumbent seeking a second term in office.

“I didn’t enter this race with any false illusions that it would be easy,” he said. “The issues are too important and the future trajectory of the state is too important to sit on the sidelines. That’s why I got in. … I’m out to win.”

Keet said polls have shown that Beebe is popular in Arkansas, but that popularity won’t necessarily translate into votes. Keet said he’s given speeches in 37 of Arkansas’ 75 counties – he’s visited with voters in more counties than that. When it comes to the issues, Keet said he’s learned that a lot of voters agree with him and hopes a discussion of the issues will lead to his election in November.

“In their gut, (the voters) sense that our country is off track and we need to take the appropriate steps at both the state and federal levels to address the spending – and the appetite to control spending – at every level,” he said. “This is starting to show up in the polls.”

Keet said “there is a line in the sand” and voters, this year, will decide if they’re going to stand with Democrats like President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi or not. Does that mean that even the gubernatorial race in Arkansas is part of the national tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans?

Keet said it certainly does.

“This is about Arkansas issues, but I don’t think we can separate national issues from local issues when they affect our state,” he said, explaining that Democrats and Republicans disagree on a fundamental level about the role of government, economic development and other issues Keet said must be addressed here in Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Keet said he will focus on economic development in the Natural State.

“My whole approach is this – I want to create jobs in the state of Arkansas,” he said. “The way you do that is by gradually changing the state income tax and capital gains tax laws, by creating the most business-friendly environment in the U.S., by reducing the number of regulations people have to cope with every day and just by getting out of the way of the business folks so they can grow, prosper and hire more Arkansans in the private sector.”

Keet said he does have some knowledge of what small businesses need to grow and thrive. He is one of the people who brought the Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers franchise to Arkansas and helped grow that business to a point where it employed 1,300 people in Arkansas. Keet said he also helped grow Pensacola, Fla.-based Barnhill’s Buffet to a chain of restaurants that employed 2,600 people in Arkansas and seven other states.

Keet said he views the governor as being the chief executive officer (CEO) of the state. He’s been a CEO in the corporate world and, as such, believes he has the know how to perform in that capacity as Arkansas’ governor. Furthermore, Keet has 14 years experience as a state representative and senator and ran former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson’s offices in Arkansas.

That combined corporate and government experience, Keet said, makes him uniquely qualified to deal with economic development issues in Arkansas.

“I am a free market advocate,” he said. “I’ve always had a very pro-business attitude. I just bring that perspective to the table. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

That pro-business attitude means Keet will aggressively promote Arkansas as a place desirable for businesses looking to relocate while encouraging Arkansas-based businesses to grow and remain here. He predicted that economic necessity will compel other states to ramp up their attempts to attract businesses so Arkansas had better be ahead of the curve rather than behind it.

“If we don’t do it, other states will,” he said. “We’re not going to be alone in being more aggressive in reducing barriers to success for small businesses.”

Those small businesses, he said, are critical to the future of Arkansas. While it’s important to attract large, out-of-state corporations, Keet pointed out that companies such as Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart Stores started out as small businesses that grew. Helping small businesses grow and stay in Arkansas, then, could well result in more major employers in the future.

Keet said a major problem in Arkansas has to do with a tax structure in Arkansas that he says punishes companies and individuals who do well – a barrier that, along with extensive regulation, drives companies to other states.

“We have so many good attributes to our state that would attract people here if we just lowered those barriers and welcomed them with open arms,” he said. “When we as a state have one of the highest overall income tax and tax rates in the country, it dissuades businesses of all sizes from coming here and staying here.”

As for the state government, Keet said Arkansans can’t afford to pay for its continued expansion. The number of government employees is growing while private employment is shrinking – a situation Keet said he would like to help reverse.

One of the steps necessary toward reducing taxes, regulation and interference from the state government is to reduce the size of that government, Keet said, adding that he doesn’t believe Arkansas tax payers can afford continued expansion. To that end, he said he would take a hard look at every state board, agency and commission and cut down on “waste and abuse.”

“I intend, on day one, to take a census of the total number of employees in state government and, four years later, not have an single, additional state employee,” Keet said.

To find out more about Keet, visit his campaign site on the Internet at JimKeet4Governor.com.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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