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Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday warned that the agenda of the Fayetteville-based group co-founded by businessman Joe Maynard and attorney Brenda Vassaur- Taylor would limit growth in the state and shut down state government.

But Vassaur-Taylor countered that the group, Commerce in Action, which manages 16 political action committees, simply favors "smaller government, less spending and less corruption in state government."

During the past few election cycles, Vassaur-Taylor and Maynard have backed candidates opposed to Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion, which is now known as Arkansas Works under Hutchinson. The program provides health insurance coverage to about 285,000 low-income Arkansans. The state will pay 6 percent of the cost of the program this year, 7 percent next year and 10 percent in 2020 under existing federal law; the federal government pays the rest.

Speaking before about 150 people attending the Political Animals Club luncheon in Little Rock, Hutchinson said, "I want to assure you that I am trying to stay out of the legislative races because I actually have a primary race and a general election race myself.

"But at the same time as I try to stay out of legislative races, I do have an interest in having legislators elected to office who are principled, who will listen and who are not controlled by a particular interest group," the Republican governor said. "Now, that's a fair desire for the governor to have.

"Right now, our state has a special interest group in Northwest Arkansas that is controlled by one person who is using various conduits, including a media arm, to pump tens of thousands of dollars in order to control legislators," he said. "This is not good for our state or for the body politic.

"Their goal is to push as narrow an agenda of isolating our state, limiting its growth and shutting down government, so you can expect me to be engaged in that political fight as needed because we don't need our legislators controlled by anyone, except for the people of their district," Hutchinson said in remarks that drew applause from some people at the luncheon.

Afterward, Hutchinson campaign spokesman Jamie Barker said Hutchinson was referring to Maynard when he referred to a group controlled by one person.

In response, Vassaur-Taylor said in a written statement: "We try to educate voters with provable facts as to the agendas and votes and outcomes of the Little Rock establishment.

"We hope the voters go to the polls educated, understanding who is involved in these races and what their end game may be, and what they are seeking in return," she said.

"We seek freedom for small business in Arkansas. Our organizations seek freedom from excess government control in all areas. Our only benefit personally is to see Arkansas a better place to live for future generations. We spend money to do this. We are not paid money to do this," Vassaur-Taylor said.

"The political establishment in LR has outspent our candidate in Senate District 16 at least four times," she said, referring to Tuesday's runoff election between Hutchinson-backed Breanne Davis and Bob Bailey, who is backed by Maynard and Vassaur- Taylor. Bailey and Davis are Republicans from Russellville.

Barker provided a copy of a video recording of Maynard and Vassaur-Taylor's comments before a meeting of the Pope County Republican Committee in which they were questioned about campaign contributions.

"As far as money goes, the money that goes into politics always gets a return on it," Maynard said in the video. "We know these people. We know who they give to and we know what they want for giving it. We have watched them for years. It's a public record. This money comes from right here, pal. Right here. I don't want a thing for it."

But Vassaur-Taylor said the video left out part of their remarks.

Asked what prompted his criticism of the group, Hutchinson told reporters, "It is just an observation that they are engaged and it is just not a matter of engage.

"They want to control and they say, 'Well, the Legislature is influenced by the governor.' Well, they are trying to control legislators and they are pumping money, but also media-controlled operations that are simply attempts to direct legislators and what they think and the public," he said.

Hutchinson also told the Political Animals Club that the Republican Party can't afford to take for granted winning legislative seats in what has been the traditional Republican stronghold of Northwest Arkansas. Numerous Democratic candidates filed for these seats, and they face Republicans in November.

"I believe that there is a change in the demographics in Northwest Arkansas, and it is going to require a greater investment of people and get-out-the-vote efforts on the Republican side to make sure that its strength is maintained in Northwest Arkansas," he said.

Metro on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Governor criticizes work of special-interest group

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