WASHINGTON — Three candidates are competing to represent Arkansas’ 4th District, which includes Pine Bluff and most of the state’s southern counties.

WASHINGTON — Three candidates are competing to represent Arkansas’ 4th District, which includes Pine Bluff and most of the state’s southern counties.


The candidates — Bruce Westerman, 46, a Republican from Hot Springs; James Lee Witt, 70, a Democrat from Dardanelle; and Ken Hamilton, 58, a Libertarian from El Dorado — are seeking to win the seat held by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is running for U.S. Senate.


Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms. They are paid $174,000 annually.


In 2013, Westerman was named majority leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives — a position that no Republican had held in 138 years, and a clear sign of the conservative shift that has occurred in the state in recent years. He was first elected in 2010.


A Hot Springs native, Westerman is a 1990 graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he was a walk-on member of the Razorback football team. In 2001, he earned a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University and has worked as an engineer and forester at Mid-South Engineering in Hot Springs for more than two decades.


Westerman and his wife, Sharon, have four children.


Now retired, Witt is best known as director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration — a position he held for eight years during the Clinton administration. Witt later established a consulting business but left that in 2011 after his wife, Lea Ellen, was diagnosed with cancer. The couple were married for 51 years and have two sons, Jimmy and Michael, and three grandchildren, Carter, Parker and Jesse. She died in September.


Witt was born in Yell County and founded a construction company at age 21. A dozen years later he was elected as county judge and served in that role for a decade. In 1988, then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed him director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services, and he moved to FEMA after Clinton was elected president.


Hamilton, a native of Sinton, Texas, has worked as an accountant for Murphy Oil since graduating from Harding University in 1978.


He lives in El Dorado with his wife, Jo Lynn, and their dogs. Hamilton has not held elected office but has been a member of the Libertarian Party since 1980.


Aside from his interest in politics, Hamilton enjoys bluegrass music.


Here is a brief summary of the candidates’ stands on public infrastructure projects, the United States response to Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq and the farm bill compiled from their responses in a recent debate. Early voting for the Nov. 4 election began Monday.


​Highway Fund


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 Interstate 49. The remaining highway work in Arkansas is estimated at $2.6 billion.


Hamilton: The United States should complete the projects it has started but otherwise should not be involved in funding new projects. States should be responsible for them and should look to form public-private partnerships to make them happen.


Westerman: Large interstate projects like I-49 and the deepening of the McClellan-Kerr channel need federal funds. Congress should balance its budget but has to do so by putting a priority on infrastructure projects that will grow the economy and create jobs.


Witt: It is absolutely critical for Congress to find a long-term revenue source for highway construction. One idea would be to provide corporations that have billions of dollars in overseas accounts to bring earnings home without facing massive tax penalties. Instead, we could require some of the earnings to be invested in an "infrastructure bank" that would be used to bankroll road and bridge projects.


ISIS


On Sept. 22, the U.S. launched its first airstrikes in Syria as part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to "degrade and destroy" fighters who call themselves the Islamic State. The ongoing military operation was launched after the al-Qaida offshoot beheaded two American journalists and carried out brutal attacks inside Syria and Iraq as they seek to establish a conservative Islamic nation. Congress has also granted Obama temporary authority to arm and train about 5,000 "moderate" rebels already fighting against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to take the fight to the Islamic State. The authority expires on Dec. 11.


Hamilton: We need to have the people in that part of the world, who are most directly threatened by ISIS, get together. They have way more troops than ISIS and have the ability to destroy ISIS with our help. The crisis, however, is one that began with the Bush administration’s decision in 2003 to invade Iraq and continued with the Obama administration’s efforts to replace dictators in Libya and Syria.


Westerman: The world is a dangerous place and U.S. leadership has been weak. We shouldn’t announce to the enemy that we won’t put boots on the ground, or continually draw lines in the sand and then back away. ISIS want to bring the war here to us and I believe they are actively doing that.


Witt: ISIS is a serious problem, but the United States can’t be the policeman for the world. We have to build coalitions with countries around Syria and Iraq that can put boots on the ground and make sure this enemy is wiped out.


Farm Bill


Congress this year approved a long-stalled farm bill that authorizes $956 billion over the next 10 years on nutrition aid to the poor, and crop subsidies and insurance for agribusiness. It is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation for Arkansas where one in six jobs is related to agriculture.


Over the next decade, the bill is expected to save $16.6 billion through reforms with about half coming from farm programs and half from cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more popularly known as the food stamp program that feeds 47.5 million people.


The food stamp savings would result from a change affecting benefits in 15 states that used a formula to increase payments. Arkansas would not be impacted. Opposition to the bill generally came from liberals unhappy with the food stamp cuts and conservatives who believed it did not cut enough.


Hamilton: The farm bill is a form of crony capitalism. The assistance provided to farmers goes mainly to large agribusinesses while small family farmers receive little. Moreover, the U.S. Constitution did not include assistance to farmers as a responsibility for the federal government.


Westerman: I would work hard to reform the food stamp program and pass a farm bill. A country that cannot feed its people is not a strong country. We need to open up more markets for farmers and work hard so our farmers can work hard.


Witt: I support the farm bill and food stamp program 100 percent. Every dollar spent on food stamps has a return on value. More can still be done to benefit small family farms. Big farmers are taking control of little family farms and we have to protect them.