We got a summons issued by Circuit Judge John Threet that the Northwest Arkansas Political Animals Club was meeting again, and Gov. Hutchinson would be the speaker. So we moseyed on over to Mermaids in Fayetteville, ate some food, and said hello to some of the politicos.
It doesn't matter who's speaking at the event, it's always worth hearing Judge Threet riff for the first 15 minutes, because the man takes no prisoners. Everyone is a target, and you better not take a sip of a beverage at the wrong time, or you'll get some on your shirt.
When it came time to hit the business, the governor opened up with some talk of higher education funding, especially now that the state has shifted things around and transitioned to funding based on productivity, rather than bodies in seats. Under the new funding system, the governor said the University of Arkansas has received a funding increase of $5 million.
Not long ago, our governor was at a joint interview with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. And governors, Mr. Hutchinson said, will brag about lots of different things. That's what Gov. Abbott did when given the chance. He bragged about a good economy, low taxes and how businesses and Californians are moving to Texas in droves.
When it came for Gov. Hutchinson to get a moment with the microphone, the highest ranking official in Arkansas turned to his interview buddy and informed him that 40 percent of the incoming freshmen at the U of A were Texans.
("If he can exaggerate a little, so can I," the governor said.)
In front of his Arkansas audience, Asa Hutchinson gave a mini-SOTU. He discussed increased steel manufacturing in Mississippi County and how it's a leading county in the nation for that industry. He talked about military technology manufacturing down in Camden, a 3.6 percent unemployment rate, teacher pay on the rise, the state government overhaul and how Arkansas went from having no savings to a $90 million surplus. Whew.
It's a pretty solid list. But then the governor moved onto a slightly more controversial topic--specifically, that little debate about allowing refugees to resettle in Arkansas.
The governor discussed how a 2016 rumor began to spread that Syrian refugees would be coming to Arkansas by the thousands, and that set off a panic. Gov. Hutchinson said at the time that he didn't support the number of refugees rumored then, but now things have changed.
The federal government has switched its priorities to those suffering religious persecution in other countries, as well as those who aided our military. And what the governor said makes sense: If a translator risked his life to help American troops and now faces danger as a result, then we as a nation have a responsibility to provide security and a safe life for that individual and his family.
The governor said the Trump administration has also changed its vetting system to make sure we let safe people in. "I am very comfortable with that vetting process," he said. "I said yes, and I'm proud of that decision."
When it comes to 2020 goals, the governor laid out six key areas he wanted to focus on:
• A complete count of the census.
• Expanded trade with China.
• Increased workforce training opportunities.
• The infrastructure highway plan that'll be on the November ballot.
• Rollout of more rural broadband.
• Reforming our mental health, juvenile justice and prison re-entry systems.
We asked the governor if he expected to call a special session of the Legislature this year, and he said there's not really a need at this point.
Not long ago, it looked like a vaping epidemic among teens might have been an issue to address with one, but after the Trump administration took action and raised the age to buy tobacco to 21, that need seems to have decreased, especially with limits on flavors for electronic cigarettes.
The governor was also asked if he wanted to do away with the current partisan redistricting process. Asa Hutchinson said he likes the current way of drawing district maps, and he hasn't yet seen a plan for an independent commission that he likes.
He said it's likely the issue will appear on November's ballot, and Arkansans will probably approve it, but he doesn't like the model being considered.
As is tradition, when it came time for the guest speaker to leave, Judge Threet took the microphone and presented him with some of the best gas station gifts in a plastic bag. The governor noted that he liked the packaging.
Hopefully with this being political season, the Northwest Arkansas Political Animals Club will meet a little more often. Anything to get out and watch the judge perform. One wonders if he wields more power in the courtroom or at Mermaids.
Editorial on 01/14/2020
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