Gov. Asa Hutchinson let me down Wednesday afternoon only hours after I'd spoken admirably of him to 300 or so mostly progressive-minded people.
My point that morning, which is still my point, had been as follows: The just-ended legislative session was a festival of conservatism, no doubt, with Republicans doing what Republicans do. They cut taxes and kept women down. But the session sounded worse than it was.
Several of the more egregious measures, while winning headlines, never made it to law. For that I largely credited the adult supervision and responsible moderating influences of the governor.
For example: Hutchinson said we shouldn't defy the people's will by undoing their recent approval of an initiated act raising the minimum age. He said the time wasn't right to change the regulation of hog farms and imperil our compliance with federal environmental standards. He joined law enforcement groups in not seeing the need for a "stand your ground" law when the state's self-defense protections were working.
For that matter, he distinguished himself by coming out in favor of redefining the Confederacy-honoring star on the state flag. He said it didn't seem to him that the state should honor "rebellion" and impose a hurtful symbol on a large segment of the population.
I told the progressive-minded audience that it would appreciate Asa when he was gone from office in a couple of years and replaced with the less-adult and less-moderating influence of a dreaded Gov. Tim Griffin or Gov. Leslie Rutledge. There was groaning.
I also expressed appreciation to the governor for some measure of resistance to that bill to authorize one of the woefully aforementioned--Attorney General Leslie Rutledge--to field citizen complaints against cities supposedly protecting illegal immigrants from deportation, either by written or merely implied policy.
Those situations were loosely referred to as "sanctuary cities," which is not a precise legal term.
The bill would further authorize the attorney general, acting singularly, to deny those cities receipt of state discretionary or grant money until they mended their ways.
It's probably an unconstitutional authority to bestow on the attorney general (especially this one, one would think, though the state Constitution is no respecter of persons).
I'd explained that morning that the bill was still pending on the last day and that it was possible it would be passed without any provision for prohibiting racial profiling by local police, which was the governor's stated concern.
The bill indeed passed unamended that afternoon. At an ensuing ceremony to sign a compassionate bill allowing nursing licensure for so-called "dreamers," meaning innocent children of illegally entering parents, Hutchinson said he'd sign the so-called sanctuary city bill because it didn't seem to do anything. He also said that the sponsor, Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch, had assured him that, in a future session, he'd try to pass a bill to address the governor's concern about due process and racial profiling.
Let me restate: Because he didn't think the bill would do anything, and because the sponsor had promised to fix the bill in some future session, the governor went ahead and made law of a moot measure needing fixing.
In a brief spat on social media the next day, the governor's nephew, Sen. Jim Hendren, wondered why I was so angry as to focus contemptuously on Stubblefield's bill that would do nothing when another measure the governor signed Wednesday would help "dreamers" become nurses.
I replied to wonder why the Republican Senate leader would focus on a good bill sponsored by a progressive Democrat, state Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale, and defend his party mate's measure only on the basis that no city in Arkansas is currently believed to be providing sanctuary for undocumented persons.
Hendren did not respond, choosing to quit while behind.
This "sanctuary city" business is a rural bill directed mainly at Little Rock, which is not--let me repeat, not--a sanctuary city.
The position of the city is that its police force has plenty to do fighting locally generated crime and will not go around enforcing federal immigration laws that federal ICE officers are fully welcomed to enforce within the city. The city's further position is that, if its police work produces an arrest of any person subject to an ICE warrant, the city will turn that individual over to immigration officers.
That's no sanctuary city, which Mayor Frank Scott once told me was a "freaking buzzword."
It's simple, compelling logic.
Let me say in Hutchinson's defense that an Arkansas governor is constitutionally anemic on a veto. One can be overridden by the same simple majority vote by which the bill passed.
But the governor could have vetoed the bill anyway and invited the Legislature to come back for that cleanup day in two weeks and override him on something pointless that needed fixing.
Maybe he just didn't see the point to the charade, other than futile rightness, I mean.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 04/14/2019
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Adult in the room gives in