Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke to the Political Animals Club at the governor’s mansion and said that “Arkansas Works,” his plan to continue the private option with conservative tweaks, was one of the big winners last night.
You can watch a video of the governor’s speech here.
Hutchinson said that while he was not on the ballot yesterday, he was “figuratively” on the ballot — referring to the various races in which he offered endorsements or financial support via his political action committee, ASA PAC. The governor was especially involved in races impacting the private option, the state’s unique version of Medicaid expansion. The governor backed eight candidates who support his plan and six won, including five of the six incumbents facing challenges. The wins help protect the political future of the private option and could give the governor some momentum as he seeks legislative supermajorities to re-authorize the policy in April.
“Arkansas Works was on the ballot,” Hutchinson said, referring to those races. It was a referendum, he said, for “those who believe in providing common-sense, practical solutions for Arkansas. For making good judgments and judgments that are good for their constituents and standing up to those who are single-issue and misrepresent [the issue].”
“Legislators who work for those practical solutions can win in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “Common sense can prevail. And Arkansas Works got a boost of momentum because of those victories yesterday.”
The governor pointed in particular to three senate seats that he said “were in jeopardy,” referring to two incumbents and one open seat in races where the private option loomed large. These candidates had backed “a common-sense solution…which is what I asked them to do,” Hutchinson said. “But they were all paying a heavy political price, and they were being attacked,” he said. “Groups were going after them…heavy out-of-district money was coming in to defeat them.” (The governor’s reference here is to the Conduit for Action network, as well as Americans for Prosperity.)
“The attacks were wrong, the attacks were misleading,” Hutchinson said. “[These lawmakers] did what was right for the state, they’re the kind of legislators we need in this state.” He said that he had taken some political risk to fight for them. “If those three senators had lost that race, it would not be a pleasant day for me,” he said. “It would have been considered a referendum on me and my leadership.” Instead, he said, “in the three key races, they all won. …. I’m delighted with that victory. I think those are victories not just for me but for the state of Arkansas, and for those people who try to do the right thing.”
“The victory is for common sense,” the governor added. “It’s about doing the right thing for your constituents and not being punished because of it.” Hutchinson also noted that three House members who backed his plan handily defeated challengers in the House: Jana Della Rosa, James Sturch, and Rebecca Petty.
A little context: none of these races actually impact the vote in April, when the legislature will convene with its current membership. And while Team Hutchinson had a dominant night, one pro-PO incumbent, Rep. Sue Scott, did lose to a challenger, so on net the aginners picked up a seat in the House. But the governor’s argument is political: Back his plan, and he’ll have your back. Incumbents can beat primary challenges from Conduit for Action, the governor will assure lawmakers. Keep in mind that legislators tend to overread individual races and campaign narratives. While nothing changed in terms of April’s vote count, I’d wager that the “momentum” the governor referenced will be real and he’ll have an easier time securing wobbly GOP votes.
All of that said, the governor said “there is no guarantee that Arkansas Works will pass. It will continue to be a close vote because of the high margin that is required. But our chances increased because of the victory of those candidates who voted for those common-sense solutions that are good for Arkansas.”
Other highlights from the governor’s speech:
* The governor bragged about the decision to move up the primary, saying that it helped bring presidential candidates to the state and drive up civic engagement and record voter turnout. “That is good for the body politic,” he said.
* “Regrettably, a winner in yesterday’s campaign was dark money,” Hutchinson said. “Dark money impacted two Supreme Court races.” Hutchinson said that the “debate on how we should reform the election of our Supreme Court justices in Arkansas.” He should the legislature should look at the issue next year.
* I hope people have learned something about my leadership. I’m not hesitant to take a stand when I believe it’s the right thing to do for our state or our nation. I’ll stand by those who need defending, particularly when they’ve stood with me.
* Hutchinson’s endorsement was less helpful at the top of the ticket, where the governor’s horse, Marco Rubio, finished third, but the governor was conciliatory in his remarks on Donald Trump.
Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.