LITTLE ROCK — A landscape architect and an auto refinish technician who performs shows as Elvis Presley are challenging Arkansas’ incumbent land commissioner.

LITTLE ROCK — A landscape architect and an auto refinish technician who performs shows as Elvis Presley are challenging Arkansas’ incumbent land commissioner.


Republican John Thurston, 41, of Little Rock has served as state land commissioner since 2011. He was formerly employed as a staff member at Agape Church in Little Rock and a certified religious assistant in the Arkansas prison system. He and his wife, Joanna, have five children.


Democrat Mark Robertson, 60, of Little Rock is the head of MESA Landscape Architects. A landscape architect and land planner, he previously worked as a surveyor for the U.S. Forest Service and in the construction industry. He and his wife, Le Ann, have one child.


Libertarian Elvis D. Presley, 48, of Star City is an auto refinish technician at Camp’s Custom Paint and an entertainer who performs shows as Elvis Presley. He legally changed his name in 2006. He ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2010. He and his wife, Valerie, have five children.


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


What in your background qualifies you to be land commissioner?


Presley: I will answer your question with a question. Are there any qualifications for the office? I think if a person can balance a checkbook, then he or she could be qualified in a sense. I do believe that honesty is a start.


Robertson: I have over 35 years of experience working with Arkansas lands and land-based issues across Arkansas as well as globally. I have a real understanding of the communities within our state, and how our land can be used as an asset to help communities, and public education, thrive. As a citizen advocate I’ve worked with the state Legislature on issues with significant importance to our local communities, bringing both sides of the aisle together to get things done for Arkansas. This experience will be invaluable in establishing policy to benefit Arkansas.


Thurston: I am the current land commissioner and have served since 2011 with a proven record of honesty, integrity and transparency. I set out four years ago to make this office a leader of ethics and transparency and I have done just that. Aside from my duties in the office I also serve as president of the Western States Land Commissioners Association and have received support from the Arkansas Realtors Political Action Committee.


If you are elected or re-elected, what plans to do you have for the office?


Presley: First I would like to cut back on gas exploration in the natural state. Since Arkansas is part of a fault line, we should have concern about the method of exploration. We should turn our attention more to methane fuel we have above ground and make more use of garbage and sewer. We could actually save the taxpayers money by capping sewer lines and creating methane from solids we throw away. … I also have plans to create a special license to hunt on state and federal lands in Arkansas. This would be a controlled hunt with special permits. I would petition the president for the Keystone pipeline. I have a team ready to blueprint and start working on a one-of-a-kind line with pumping stations that will shut down the lines and revert the fluids at an alarming rate. … I also plan to spearhead the lowering of real estate tax.


Robertson: The land commissioner has several responsibilities which affect the people of Arkansas. I believe helping fund Arkansas public schools is one of the most important. I will work to return proceeds generated by land under the office’s jurisdiction back to counties and our public schools more quickly. I will explore ways to fund expanded pre-k education and as well as a scholarship program for vocational and higher education in land-based professions. We can accomplish these investments by improving the way the office works and reforming the process of managing tax delinquent properties. We can and must make it more efficient so land returns to an active status, producing funds for our communities as quickly as possible. I intend to make "Land" the focus of the office and how this asset can benefit Arkansas for generations to come. My goal is to ensure the land commissioner’s office maximizes its full potential.


Thurston: My future plans include continuing exploring the Waterways divisions to ensure that we are completely fulfilling our statutory obligations and good stewardship role while keeping the best interests of the citizens of this state at the forefront. We will also continue to create efficiency, as more processes and tasks can be done digitally, we will save time and money. Finally, we will continue work with our state’s priceless historic land records by digitizing and making these items more easily accessible to the public.


What makes you the best candidate for the office?


Presley: I am open to measures needed to produce a better way of life for everyone in Arkansas, while maintaining the natural beauty of the state.


Robertson: I’m the only candidate whose education and career has focused on land, land planning, managing our natural resources, and helping communities with land issues and economic progress. Over three decades of experience have provided me with insight to the enormous potential the office holds and an understanding of how we can make it more relevant. I’m the only candidate talking about how we can truly reform the land commissioner’s office, not just tweak it, so that we have a more efficient and productive system investing in our public schools and local communities.


Thurston: I believe I am the best candidate for this office as I have served in this capacity since 2011. I have led the way in making the office more efficient through technological advances and have returned record amounts of tax dollars back to the counties of origin. I have also worked to simplify our processes where the public is involved, creating easier transactions and less waste. I have continued to develop the Natural Resources, Historical and Waterways divisions in the office by providing good stewardship of these resources and fulfilling our statutory responsibility.