Incumbent Rep. French Hill is facing Brock Olree of Searcy in the Republican primary for the U.S. Congress District 2 race.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Dianne Curry and Libertarian Chris Hayes.
Q&A: Brock Olree
Brock Olree was raised in Searcy, and has lived there most of his life. He has a B.A. in history from Harding University and master’s degrees in education from Harding and in applied linguistics from Columbia University. Olree taught English at Harding for two years and is currently associate manager of readthescriptures.com, run by Truth for Today World Mission School.
AMP: Tell us why you decided to seek this office.
Olree: Mr. Hill voted for Trade Promotion Authority for this president and the next president, and I’m opposed to giving Trade Promotion Authority to the president at this time. And, specifically, I’m against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
AMP: Why do you object to TPA and TPP?
Olree: The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate trade with foreign nations, and Trade Promotion Authority unnecessarily ties the hands of Congress, limits debate, and I believe trade agreements should be done more on a country-to-country, just bilateral basis than big trade agreements like the TPP. With bilateral trade agreements, it would be easier for Congress to amend the agreements, and then the administration could take the amendments from Congress back to the other country and work it out and so forth, and TPA would not be necessary.
I think TPA unduly restricts Congress’ ability to regulate international trade with other nations. I believe the TPP will increase the trade deficit that the United States has overall. It doesn’t include currency manipulation, which is a big problem for the U.S. economy, and having balanced trade with other countries. I’m in favor of balanced and fair trade, but I believe past trade agreements have not delivered that for us and I expect that if TPP is passed, it will result in a bigger trade deficit for the United States and loss of jobs, or net, for the United States.
AMP: Are there other issues on which you disagree with Congressman Hill?
Olree: He voted for the Omnibus Bill in 2015 in December, and I opposed the Omnibus Bill. I’m opposed to the process that took place. Members of Congress didn’t have enough time to examine the bill before it was passed. I believe that it should not have been passed under those circumstances. It increases the U.S. government’s fiscal deficit, which is bad. I believe we should be decreasing our deficit instead of increasing it, so it’s not fiscally responsible. It gave funding to Planned Parenthood; I opposed that. It funded the Syrian refugee resettlement program; I opposed that. It increased the number of H2B visas that are allowed to be issued to foreign workers to work in the U.S.; I’m opposed to that.
So for those reasons, at least, I was opposed to the Omnibus and Mr. Hill voted for it, and it really went against his campaign message that he gave of being fiscally responsible when he ran in 2014, and he’s giving again now.
AMP: What have you done, and what will you do in the next few weeks, to drum up support for your campaign ahead of the primary?
Olree: We have some ideas about mailings and advertising. I believe we have a good message; it’s a message of representing all of the people. We don’t have as much money raised as Mr. Hill does, but money can’t just buy elections when people are dissatisfied with the representation that they’ve been getting, and a good message that appeals to people can overrule money. In the end, people vote — dollars don’t.
AMP: What do you think your chances are? Do you think you can upset the Congressman?
Olree: I think it is quite possible that he will lose, and that I will win. I really do want the job; I believe I would do a good job at it. I believe I would address more issues, and not be as narrowly focused as he has been. I believe that he has been particularly focused on banking issues, but I have a broad knowledge of history and public policy. I want to take advantage of the opportunity to act on various issues to make America stronger and represent all of the people, and make America work for everyone.
Q&A: French Hill
Rep. French Hill was sworn in on Jan. 6, 2015, and is the 22nd member of Congress to represent Central Arkansas. The 58-year-old Hill is a magna cum laude graduate in Economics from Vanderbilt University. He was a congressional staffer from 1982-84; from 1989-1991, he was Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Treasury for Corporate Finance, and afterwards became Executive Secretary of the Economic Policy Council for President George W. Bush. Hill then entered the private sector and spent two decades as a commercial banker and investment manager, prior to election to his first term in Congress in November 2014.
AMP: Let’s talk about why you’re running for a second term. Why do you think you need to retain your seat?
Hill: I have been proud to represent the Second District for the past year — I’ve just served one year of a two-year term — and I’ve enjoyed representing the people of Arkansas, working primarily on veterans-related issues here in the district. I’ve got three full-time wounded warriors from service in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts working on my staff; I’ve put a lot of focus on veterans’ issues since I’ve been in office the past year. And I’ve enjoyed working on economic policy, as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, and I believe my 35 years in business has really enabled me to be a constructive participant on that committee and offer good ideas about how to get our economy moving, make sure that credit is flowing to consumers and to businesses.
AMP: What would you like to accomplish in your next term?
Hill: In my next term, I really hope that we can work constructively with a new President of the United States that will work with Congress, instead of not working with Congress, on things that will improve our economy such as tax reform, repealing and replacing the costly aspects and burdens of the Affordable Care Act…that will actually support cost-benefit analysis on regulatory proposals throughout the bureaucracy, where we can actually determine whether we need a regulatory burden or not. And, if the costs are exceeding the benefits, that we can roll those back in order to promote faster job growth and promote, as I said earlier, credit flowing to businesses and consumers.
AMP: Do you think your views and policies are a good fit for the voters of the Second District?
Hill: I think when I first ran for Congress in 2014, I talked a lot about the fact that I’ve worked with small businesses. I’ve helped grow small business; I’ve helped form small businesses. I’ve been a community banker that’s helped farmers get their crop financed, start restaurants, help people grow their business, help people do acquisitions to expand their businesses. All that hands-on experience in helping small businesses has given me a window, I think, on how to change federal policy for the benefit of a faster-growing economy. Plus, having been an owner and chief executive of a small community bank in Arkansas, I know first hand from the past two decades the challenges of being a small businessperson personally, and trying to employ people and provide great opportunity for them and their families.
AMP: What sorts of things have you done to reach out to the district’s voters, telling them what you see as the issues and getting their input?
Hill: I do a lot of town hall meetings, and I do a lot of telephone town hall meetings, as a way to reach citizens. I go out to chamber [of commerce] events and church events, and civic events throughout the seven counties of the Second Congressional District, and I listen to people. I also have received about 20,000-plus letters from people throughout the district that have informed me about their views, and responded to those and countless phone calls. What I hear is that the jobs and the economy are the most important issue, and that national security and making sure that the U.S. has leadership in global affairs and is in a position of strength are the most important issues that I’ve heard about in recent weeks.
AMP: We’ve talked about the upcoming changes, including at the White House. What would you say the mood is right now in Washington?
Hill: The mood in Washington reflects the mood of the American people, which is one of frustration that Washington keeps trying to have one-size-fits-all, central control over so much of our lives whether it’s in health care or banking or real estate or floodplains. You just would be amazed at how dominant the federal role is in our society, and I think that’s made a lot of voters, and a lot of citizens, very cynical about their federal government. It’s why I ran for Congress, and why I continue to fight for changes as it relates to moving power from the central command-and-control structure in Washington back to the state and local governments. And also, why I think my voice is one of common sense and my business experience, in how we change federal policy and get it more focused on success, rather than telling people what to do in every aspect of their daily life.
AMP: Do you feel good about your chances in the upcoming primary and, if you win there, in the general?
Hill: I’m blessed by having a lot of support through the district both, I believe, in the primary as well as as we approach the fall campaign. I continue to work hard for the people in the Second District to bring change in federal policy, and to represent their concerns right here at home. Whether it’s a veteran’s issue or a Social Security problem that citizens have, we have offices in Little Rock and Conway that are there to try to help people with their challenges with the federal government.
Photo: Olree (left) and Hill