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Asa Hutchinson's biggest event Monday morning was a ribbon-cutting in North Little Rock for a new medical facility.

But he stopped on the way to explain fact-based reasoning and human decency to a legislative committee. He pointedly challenged its members to seek to resolve constituents' fears rather than foment them.

If the man ever had a better morning as governor, then I don't know when. Or maybe he seemed in rarest positive form only in contrast to the legislators with whom he was interacting.

He breezed in a few minutes before 9 a.m., an hour ahead of the ribbon-cutting, to meet outside the legislative committee room with a representative of Canopy NWA, a Lutheran-affiliated refugee settlement group in Northwest Arkansas, and five refugees. Four of the refugees were from African counties and one was from Afghanistan. All had stories of persecution and tragedy in their homelands and success in, and appreciation for, the United States and the lives they've enjoyed in Northwest Arkansas.

Hutchinson struggled to learn how to pronounce their names, then asked about each story. Then, as the committee inquest into his compassion got underway, he introduced each refugee briefly and explained the experience of each.

The audience in the committee room applauded them, and him.

He reminded legislators that he'd once declined an unknown number of Syrian refugees because of security concerns. But he explained that, in this case, the Trump administration had imposed strict security vetting that he understands well from his days as deputy director of the Homeland Security Department.

He said these weren't illegal immigrants or asylum seekers breaking over any wall. He said these were people fleeing war and persecution. He said new State Department policies give preference to Christians fleeing persecution and persons jailed for helping American military interests.

Resettlement costs are paid by the federal government and charities. All Arkansas gets, the governor said, is tax revenue from the refugees' jobs and economic activities.

He left time for a few questions before getting hauled to the ribbon-cutting, and the choice inquiries came quickly as the right wing put its worst face forward.

Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch in Franklin County lamented what's become of the America he once knew and loved, considering that we have dozens of different languages spoken in the Springdale schools.

Hutchinson answered that he was a native Arkansan proud of the state's culture but that this issue concerned fewer than 50 carefully vetted refugees needing new lives.

Stubblefield told the governor he'd heard him say on talk radio (right-wing talk radio, to be redundant) that "experience indicates" the new refugees would come mostly from Africa and occasionally Afghanistan. Stubblefield wondered if the governor owed everyone more assurance than what "experience" showed.

Hutchinson replied that past experience was the best indicator but that refugees would be strictly screened regardless of where they came from.

If one of these new dozens coming to Northwest Arkansas this year turns out to be a terrorist, then the blame goes not on the compassionate governor but the inept president whose administration did the security screening.

It's odd that these arch-conservative legislators profess to love Trump even as they fret about the competence of his administration.

Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado wanted to know what happened if some of these refugees decided to move from Northwest Arkansas, either within 100 miles of Fayetteville initially--as the resettlement program allows--or eventually anywhere upon becoming citizens. Would those new destinations get right of refusal?

The real answer is that this is a free country and you'd be safer with an African refugee living next door than walking through the Arkansas deer woods. But the governor, more circumspect, said there is freedom of movement in the country, but that, yes, a community could pass a resolution opposing such relocations.

One could, but it would be morally abhorrent and legally suspect to tell people they couldn't come in because their name sounded funny and they had fled persecution.

Sen. Terry Rice of Waldron wondered if the governor's old law firm now headed by his son did any international legal work for refugees. Hutchinson said he was no longer affiliated with the firm and that he knew of no refugee-related work done there but that the question could best be answered by his son.

Rice complained that he had received no heads-up on the governor's decision before press reports caused concerned constituents to call him. He said the stories the governor presented were compelling but that there should be communication on such things.

Hutchinson didn't answer that one, perhaps on the basis that there aren't enough hours in the day for a governor to apprise all state legislators of all status-quo continuations.

Then the governor had to scurry off to get to the ribbon-cutting, which irked Sen. Bob Ballinger, who felt the governor was cutting accountability short.

Mostly the governor was cutting short demagoguery, fearmongering, grandstanding and general nonsense.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Web only on 01/15/2020

Print Headline: BRUMMETT ONLINE: A good day for the governor

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