LITTLE ROCK — A businessman and former state highway commissioner, a congressman and a mental health paraprofessional are competing for the office of lieutenant governor.

LITTLE ROCK — A businessman and former state highway commissioner, a congressman and a mental health paraprofessional are competing for the office of lieutenant governor.

The office has been vacant since Republican Mark Darr resigned Feb. 1 after the state Ethics Commission fined him $11,000 for misuse of campaign contributions and public funds.

Democrat John Burkhalter, 58, of Little Rock is is an engineer and the president of Burkhalter Technologies. He formerly served as a state highway commissioner and chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. He and his wife, Penny, have two children.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, 46, of Little Rock is in his second two-year term in Congress. He is a former research director and deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee, special assistant to President George W. Bush and U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. He founded Griffin Public Affairs and the Griffin Law Firm and is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have two children.

Libertarian Christopher Olson, 37, of Stone County is a former substitute teacher for the Shirley School District, head of the Education Department at Christmas Group Inc. in Harriet and mental health paraprofessional at Birch Tree Communities in Mountain View. He is a mental health paraprofessional at Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home. He and his wife, Letitia, have three children.

Each candidate was asked three questions and allowed up to 150 words for each answer. Each responded via email.

What would your top goals be as lieutenant governor?

Burkhalter: My plan will grow our economy, protect our middle class, and ensure that we have a trained, skilled workforce. I will work to make it easier to start a business, recruit new companies, and grow existing businesses. I support cutting taxes and making the tax code fairer for middle-class families. Arkansas must have an "Education to Jobs" pipeline that starts at childhood and flows throughout one’s career. Every 4-year-old should have access to pre-K. Students in junior and senior high school need counselors and coaches to encourage and expose them to many different careers before they go to college, vocational school, or into technical training programs. Arkansans are the hardest workers in the country; we should offer them the opportunities to also be the most skilled. My plan also increases college scholarships and strengthens skilled-job training programs to make more Arkansans ready to work.

Griffin: My top priority is to work for policies that will help us grow jobs and compete. A recent study ranked Arkansas 47th in job creation; that is unacceptable. Arkansans understand that we can and must do better in order to grow jobs and compete. I believe I have the specific ideas that will help move us forward: We must enact bold tax reform to lower the tax burden on Arkansas families and job creators; we must demand a top-to-bottom review of every state government agency, including regulations; and, we need to develop a path of excellence that educates and trains highly skilled workers, starting in junior high school and continuing with technical training or education. I want to reform our policies and laws, so we can lead the United States in job creation.

Olson: While my view of the lieutenant governor’s office is more minimalist than my opponents, I do have a few goals that I would wish to accomplish should I be elected. First and foremost, I will immediately work to cut the budget of the office — by not spending the money allocated, and then by lobbying the Legislature to reduce the office’s appropriation. I will also decline half the salary of the office: it is my position that a part-time job only deserves a part-time salary. I have made no grand promises to the voters concerning creating jobs or solving our educational problems; I would prefer not to gain election to office by lying or misleading the voters concerning the power and role of the office. I will, though, fulfill the constitutional duties of the office, while being a voice and advocate for protecting, maintaining and expanding personal liberty in this state.

What makes you the best candidate for the office?

Burkhalter: I am the only person in this race who has created jobs, built and grown businesses, and recruited companies to Arkansas. As a registered professional engineer, small businessman and a former commissioner on the Arkansas Economic Development and Highway commissions, I have firsthand experience as a job creator. Arkansas needs good-paying jobs and we need to expand existing businesses while bringing more companies into our great state. I have real-world experience in job creation and understand how to make it happen from both the business and government perspectives. I am uniquely qualified to be Arkansas’ next lieutenant governor.

Griffin: I have a proven record as a common-sense conservative who has stood up to President Obama and his harmful policies. I have a diverse background including 18 years of service in the Army, service as an Army officer in Iraq, service on the House Ways and Means Committee crafting pro-growth, pro-job policies, as a small-business owner and as a federal prosecutor. My experience uniquely qualifies me to serve as lieutenant governor. I want to use my experience, knowledge and relationships to help Arkansas compete and grow jobs. I have a 100 percent NFIB small-business voting record and have been endorsed by the NRA. Also, service on the House Ways and Means Committee has given me unique and valuable insight into tax and trade policy that will help us develop pro-growth policies here in Arkansas.

Olson: It is a supreme act of ego to run for political office; I am humble enough to realize that I might not be the best candidate for this office. However, I am convinced that I am the best choice of the three who are running now. I am the only candidate that is truly not a politician and does not represent the same tired politics. Both of my opponents appear to want to treat this office the same way past officeholders have — as a stepping stone; a comfortable perch with a good salary and little responsibility — while making promises that would be impossible for them to fulfill. I am convinced this state needs a fresh perspective, a different approach to this office and to state government in general. I am mindful that every dollar consumed in taxes is a dollar that won’t be saved or invested in growing the economy.

Some say the lieutenant governor’s office should be abolished. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Burkhalter: The question is not whether we need the position, but rather what kind of lieutenant governor we need. I want to be the person to call when someone wants to start, grow, or recruit a business in Arkansas. I should be a tireless advocate for job creation. I’m the only candidate in the race who has actually created jobs in Arkansas and recruited businesses to our state. Arkansas needs a job creator, not another politician.

Griffin: I strongly disagree. Twice in the last 22 years the lieutenant governor has become governor, including Lt. Gov. Huckabee in 1996. After watching two lieutenant governors have to step in and become governor on short notice, it’s important to most people I meet that they have a lieutenant governor of their own choosing, for that purpose. When Arkansans vote for lieutenant governors, I believe they should ask whether the candidate has the temperament and experience to be governor, if necessary. Also, the lieutenant governor can play a critical role working for policies that will help grow jobs and compete — policies like tax reform, regulatory reform and improving workforce training for a highly skilled workforce so we can attract jobs. I believe Arkansans want a lieutenant governor who will advocate for common sense, conservative policies in the Legislature. My proven record shows I am the only conservative in this race.

Olson: … we should carefully consider whether we truly need a lieutenant governor in Arkansas. Many states get by without it; Arkansas has done without one since February and the world hasn’t ended. If elected I will encourage and lobby the General Assembly to do one of two things. The first option I would suggest would be to abolish the office of lieutenant governor. The Senate can elect their own presiding officer, and another constitutional officer — my suggestion would be the secretary of state — could act as successor to the governor. The second option would be to keep the lieutenant governor, but cut the office’s budget to the bare bones, make it part-time, and remove the clause that removes the governor’s powers when he crosses the state lines. The lieutenant governor would then be available to act if we truly needed him/her, but his opportunity for mischief would be largely eliminated.