Former Arkansas Governor officially launches bid for president in hometown
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson smiles at a cheering crowd during his formal presidential campaign launch on April 26, 2023 in Bentonville. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)
Describing himself as a “consistent conservative,” Asa Hutchinson officially launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday on the downtown Bentonville square.
Standing in front of the flag-draped Benton County Courthouse, the former Arkansas governor told a hometown crowd of a couple hundred that he’s ready to use his experience as governor to lead the nation.
“As a nation we have proven resilient in our democracy and we have endured through times of war and hardship, and I am confident we will even survive the destructive policies of the Biden administration, but the time for change is now,” he said. “It is time to bring out the best of America.”
Hutchinson first declared his intention to run during an ABC interview on April 2. He joins 14 other candidates with ties to Arkansas who’ve sought the presidency including George Edwin Taylor, the first African American standard-bearer of a national political party; former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and former Arkansas governors Mike Huckabee, Winthrop Rockefeller, Orval Faubus and Bill Clinton, the only Arkansan to win the presidency.
Hutchinson told the crowd Wednesday that he’s been a “consistent conservative” as governor and Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District congressman. If elected, he said he will bring that same vigor to the battle “for the future of our country and the soul of our party.”
As president, Hutchinson said he’d work to get the U.S. economy “back on track,” secure the southern border, support pro-growth energy policy and not yield to China in global leadership. Hutchinson also vowed to lower the federal deficit and reduce the federal civilian workforce by 10%.
Growing up on a farm in rural Benton County, Hutchinson said he learned the importance of family, faith and community. He said his parents, who married during the Great Depression and served in World War II, also taught him about hard work and empathy.
“They taught me that we are all equal, and yet we all struggle in life and because we struggle, we need grace and compassion toward others,” he said. “It is my hope that those farmland values will once again guide our nation and bring us closer together.”
Pandemic leadership cited
Mike Preston, Arkansas’ commerce secretary under Hutchinson, acted as master of ceremonies. He praised Hutchinson’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic and his efforts to keep businesses open during the public health crisis.
“He was the right person, at the right time and that right job, and we know for America going forward he is the right person, at the right time for that job,” Preston said.
Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas, agreed that Hutchinson navigated the pandemic well and supported the state’s businesses.
The Arkansas native has a powerful message, Zook said, but the path to the White House will not be an easy one.
“It’s a tough road, but he’s got a lane,” he said. “People are looking for a sensible conservative and he fits the bill.”
Springdale Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cleveland said Hutchinson, a Springdale High School alum, was a great partner who helped keep kids in school during the pandemic. Cleveland attended the campaign kickoff with his predecessor and current president of Northwest Technical Institute, Jim Rollins, in support of Hutchinson and the SHS band who performed during the ceremony.
Rollins has known Hutchinson for about three decades and said he’s excited to see the encouraging “visionary” take this next step.
“I think he represents the common man extremely well, and he will speak to a broad section of our country today, certainly those in the middle,” Rollins said. “And we all respect his thoughtfulness, his genuineness and his commitment to lead what has been our state and I’m sure our country forward. He’s a great candidate.”
South Carolinian Sarah Terry met Hutchinson at church when she moved to Northwest Arkansas five years ago. As the mother of two children in public school, Terry said she appreciated his leadership through the pandemic, which included providing daily COVID-19 updates and keeping businesses open.
Terry said she likes what Hutchinson stands for politically and agrees with his stances on a variety of issues.
“I am conservative, I always have been conservative, but I like that he leans a little more moderate,” she said.
The Saline County Republican Committee voted to give Hutchinson a status of “not recommended” at its April 6 meeting. The vote stemmed from Hutchinson’s “poor leadership” during the pandemic when he “appointed liberals to positions of authority and masked children unnecessarily,” according to a statement from the committee’s chair.
The committee also expressed displeasure with Hutchison’s failure to support the “heartbeat bill” and his veto of Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which banned hormones, puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgeries for transgender youth.
William Asa Hutchinson II
Years in office: 2015-2023
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas;
U.S. Representative for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District;
Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
Border and Transportation Security Directorate
Preceded by: Former Gov. Mike Beebe
Succeeded by: Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders
The Arkansas Legislature overrode the veto, but U.S. District Judge James Moody blocked enforcement of the law in July 2021. Moody oversaw the trial challenging the law in 2022 and has yet to make a final decision.
“As a bright red county in a deeply conservative state in the union, it is imperative that we demand from our leaders the highest levels of accountability, and not hesitate to hold leaders like Hutchinson responsible when they fail to adhere to our party’s platform,” the committee wrote.
Former Democratic candidate for Arkansas governor Chris Jones issued a statement offering his congratulations to Hutchinson for entering the race. Jones said he looked forward to “a productive exchange of ideas throughout the election season,” but endorsed the re-election of President Joe Biden.
The Democratic Party of Benton County also issued a statement endorsing the incumbent. While the committee members respect the former governor, they said they’re concerned about his history of signing strict abortion bans and advocating for the removal of protections for those with preexisting conditions under the Affordable Care Act.
“While we are heartened by Hutchinson’s rejection of certain elements of the MAGA agenda, his endorsement of a national abortion ban only further solidifies his inability to distance himself from the extreme anti-freedom elements of the Republican party,” they wrote. “Furthermore, Hutchinson’s inability to stand up against gun violence and protect our kids, as evidenced by his past as a former NRA spokesman, is deeply concerning and unacceptable.”
Hutchinson will vie for the Republican presidential nomination against former president Donald Trump, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, businessman Perry Johnson and talk radio host Larry Elder.
While he has not formally announced, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to enter the race. Sunshine State lawmakers on Tuesday filed legislation that would allow him to run for president without having to leave office.
On the Democratic side, Biden formally announced his reelection campaign on Tuesday. The incumbent is being challenged by author Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
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Rule of law
Hutchinson said he’s the only candidate with a breadth of experience in law enforcement. As president, Hutchinson promised to enforce the law and demand local prosecutors do the same.
The U.S. is a land of immigrants, he said, and to respect those who follow a legal path to entering the county, it’s necessary to reform asylum laws, devote more resources to support border patrol, quickly remove people who enter the country illegally and “go after the cartels who are killing Americans with a deadly drug, fentanyl.”
The Arkansas native said while there are a few “misguided leaders” who say law enforcement and the FBI should be defunded, he supports “law enforcement heroes.”
“The argument to defund police is designed to undermine our rule of law,” he said. “We should not defund the police. We should not defund the FBI, but we do need serious reform to refocus the core functions of our federal law enforcement.”
As Arkansas governor, Hutchinson formed a Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas that submitted a final report in 2020 with 27 recommendations for best policing practices and improving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
During his eight years as governor, Hutchinson focused on recruiting businesses to the state and said the private sector grew by more than 100,000 jobs. If elected, he vowed to focus on economic development by putting more Americans to work.
“As president I will open doors to more worker training and better pay and we will require work for able-bodied welfare recipients,” he said. “This will grow our manufacturing workforce and we will prove that we can still make things and manufacture things in the United States of America.”
Currently, people who collect Social Security are penalized if they continue to work. Hutchinson said Americans should be able to do both, so he would lift penalties for people who want to remain in the workforce past the age of 62. With nearly 10 million job openings, Hutchinson said this would add millions of people to the labor pool and generate more money for retirees.
For those who depend on Social Security and Medicaid, Hutchinson pledged to immediately convene an independent commission that would help assure the longevity of those programs because he said “Americans need to have confidence in their future.”
To create more opportunities for younger generations, Hutchinson promised to expand computer science education. As governor, he launched an initiative that helped Arkansas become a national leader in computer science education and said that model could be followed on a national level to help the U.S. compete with other countries that are excelling in math and science like China.
During Hutchinson’s administration, lawmakers approved a requirement for students to complete a computer science course to graduate high school. The requirement, which took effect this year, was amended by lawmakers earlier this month.
Under Senate Bill 470, students can now choose to take a computer science course or a computer science-related career-and-technical education (CTE) course to graduate.
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