WASHINGTON — Three candidates are looking to represent Arkansas’ 1st District in Congress, which includes Jonesboro and the farming communities that make up the state’s eastern Delta region.

WASHINGTON — Three candidates are looking to represent Arkansas’ 1st District in Congress, which includes Jonesboro and the farming communities that make up the state’s eastern Delta region.


Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, was first elected in 2010 and is seeking a third term. He is being challenged by Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, a Democrat, and Libertarian nominee Brian Willhite, a school teacher from Cabot.


Members of Congress are elected every two years and are paid $174,000 annually.


Born on Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, Crawford, 48, grew up in a military family that moved frequently. After graduating high school in New Hampshire, Crawford enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for four years as an explosive ordnance disposal technician.


He earned an undergraduate degree from Arkansas State University in 1996 and worked mostly as a reporter and broadcaster focusing on agriculture.


In his second term in Congress, Crawford was a key negotiator of the recently enacted farm bill and serves on the House Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He and his wife, Stacy, have two children.


As mayor of Heber Springs, McPherson says he has grown frustrated with the gridlock and party politics in Congress and hopes to bring people together there. The 55-year-old was elected as an alderman in 1994 and has been mayor since 2007.


A 1978 graduate of Heber Springs High School, McPherson took a job on an assembly line at age 18 making refrigeration couplings and hoses. He worked his way up to a production supervisor before the plant closed. Since 1990, he and his wife, Vicki, have owned and operated a family restaurant in town. The couple have three children.


A native Arkansan, Willhite grew up in Monroe and attended school in Clarendon. As a Libertarian, he favors replacing federal income taxes with a single "fair" tax on consumption equivalent to a 30 percent sales tax.


Willhite, 44, served four years in the U.S. Air Force at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. He returned to Arkansas in 2001, and earned an undergraduate degree at Harding University and master’s degree at Arkansas State University. Willhite is a teacher at Des Arc Public Schools. He and his wife, Sarah, have four children.


Here is a brief summary of the candidates’ stands on highway funding, the minimum wage, and federal regulation of farmland compiled from their responses in a recent debate. Early voting for the Nov. 4 election began Monday.


Highway Funding


The Highway Trust Fund, the traditional source of funding for roads and transit projects, relies on the 18.4-cent per gallon federal gas tax, which was last raised in 1993. The tax has not been adjusted for inflation, and the fund has eroded steadily as vehicles have become more energy efficient.


Congress has been unable to agree on a long-term fix, which has raised concerns about how states will complete major road and bridge projects like I-49. The remaining highway work in Arkansas is estimated at $2.6 billion.


Crawford: Federal motor fuels tax revenues have not kept pace with demand for bridge and road construction. But, there is no appetite in Congress for raising the gas tax and no clear alternative has emerged. One possible suggestion is to draw back corporate earnings that have been parked in overseas accounts through tax incentives. Another would be to consider public private partnerships.


McPherson: Infrastructure is critical. We need to be efficient and invest in those projects that will produce a return on investment. A major hurdle has been Congress itself, which has put partisan bickering ahead of wise investments. We need to put people back to work in good paying jobs.


Willhite: Infrastructure is very important but raising taxes to pay for it is not the solution. We really need to privatize roads and allow corporations to pay for their construction and upkeep. We could have toll roads, where the cost would be paid for by those who directly use the road.


Minimum Wage


In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. So far, supporters — mostly Democrats — have been unable to move legislation forward. Meanwhile, there is a ballot initiative in Arkansas aimed at raising the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Larger businesses typically must follow the federal law but many of those with annual revenue of less than $500,000 are allowed to pay the lower state minimum.


Supporters of raising the minimum wage say it would lift low-level workers out of poverty. Opponents say a wage hike would lead business owners to reduce their workforce.


Crawford: The minimum wage should be set at the state level rather than the federal level. There are different economic factors between the states that should be considered. The federal government shouldn’t set standards when states are fully capable of doing it themselves.


McPherson: It is a shame that men and women are working at full-time jobs and are still living in poverty. I went out and canvassed for signatures to get the Arkansas minimum wage increase on the ballot. As a restaurant owner, I found that an increase in the state minimum wage led to an uptick in business so I didn’t have to lay off any workers.


Wilhite: Raising the minimum wage is a job killer. In speaking to small-business owners, I found they expect to have to cut employees to make up for the increase. We should go back to a pay system based on merit.


Farmland Regulation


Farmers across the country have expressed concerns over a new set of regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to issue that would potentially expand which bodies of water fall under the federal Clean Water Act. The EPA says that recent court rulings have compelled them to write the new rules. Farmers, however, are concerned it will require them to seek permits to simply work their land near gullies and ditches where water sometimes pools.


Crawford: In a state like Arkansas where one in six jobs is related to farming, it is important that we get agriculture policy right. Beyond the laws that Congress enacts, agency regulations can infringe on the ability of farmers to produce. If they deem every waterway is under their regulatory authority, it will probably cost billions and cost many farmers their livelihood.


McPherson: It is just wrong to have very vague policy descriptions. All the stakeholders should be included at the table so that we can protect the environment, save our natural resources and at the same time consider the economic impact. We need to make sure that good decisions are being made moving forward.


Willhite: If big government is making it harder for agriculture, then all of Arkansas suffers. The best way to handle disputes about pollution is to bring them to court and allow the law to settle those situations.