Brian Chilson

Brian Chilson

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. introduced Governor Hutchinson at a meeting of the Little Rock Rotary Club last week and praised Hutchinson for his economic development efforts, his “laser focus on efficiency,” “his heart” and sense of compassion for the state’s citizens. He said Hutchinson would go down in the books as one of the greatest governors in the state’s history. Say what?

You can see the intro and Hutchison’s remarks here.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s John Brummett, in response, today wrote one of his vintage, cringeworthy “third way” takes, agreeing with Scott on Hutchinson’s place in history.

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[Hutchinson] has reorganized state government as extensively and admirably as Dale Bumpers’ reorganization in 1971. He has reduced income-tax rates at all levels to the point that, for the moment, Arkansas does not have the highest rates in its region. He has paced the tax reductions in such a cautious way that the state continues to run efficiently and produce surpluses. He has artfully saved Medicaid expansion even if saving it encompassed a raw political ploy to propose a nonsensical work requirement that a federal court has thus far blessedly stopped.

 

He has advanced computer coding in a way that has Arkansas at least trying to keep pace if not gain ground in the digital economy. He has moderated the more fringe-right tendencies of his own party on gay rights versus religious rights, on a holiday solely celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in his as-yet inconsequential agreement that the state flag should no longer commemorate the Confederacy. He toned down an NRA bill for guns everywhere to allow guns nearly everywhere.

Definitely some accomplishments on par with the greatest hits from McMath, Pryor, Bumpers and Rockefeller, huh?

Brummett closes by asking liberals to contemplate how they’ll feel about Hutchinson when Tim Griffin, Leslie Rutledge or Sarah Huckabee Sanders is governor. Sure, by that criterion, let’s elevate George W. Bush among the great presidents for being significantly less terrible than President Trump.

One of Hutchinson’s political gifts is coming across as a pragmatic moderate while pushing through extreme policies. Let’s review a few:

*Hutchinson’s work reporting requirement for Arkansas Works beneficiaries may have been a political ploy to get conservative Republicans in the legislature to reauthorize Medicaid expansion, but it’s nuts to excuse the policy’s devastating real-world consequences. Some 18,000 Arkansans lost their health coverage in 2018 because of the work requirement. For much of last year, even though broadband internet access is limited in wide swaths of Arkansas, the state required beneficiaries to report through a web portal only open for certain hours during the day. A New England Journal of Medicine study recently found that the main reason people lost coverage was because of confusion over the policy. The study also found that, contrary to Hutchinson’s claims, the work requirement didn’t lead to a rise in employment among beneficiaries. And even though a federal judge halted the work requirement in March and those who were kicked off Medicaid last year were eligible to re-enroll this year, few have re-enrolled. The state, under Hutchinson, has done little to no outreach to help lower-income Arkansans navigate the arcane system.

*Hutchinson pushed through a tax cut for the wealthy that could eventually cost the state as much as $157 million in revenue. Analysis by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families found that 70 percent of the cut will go to the top 1 percent of earners in the state. Meanwhile, the legislature has repeatedly alotted less money than legislative staff recommended for public education funding necessary to meet the sufficiency standard in the Lakeview ruling. A new higher education “productivity” formula, imposed under Hutchinson, is a smokescreen aimed at appearing to increase efficiency while keeping state spending on higher education flat. Pre-K remains terribly underfunded. Despite the juvenile justice-related scandals that have happened under Hutchinson’s watch and his administration’s move to shut some of the state lock-ups, far too little state funding has been devoted to repairing the system.

*Hutchinson has kept the Little Rock School District under detrimental state control while his administration and appointees have undercut it by expanding charter schools. Hutchinson balked at a plan to return the district to local control in 2018. The state’s oversight of the district can’t be described as anything other than a failure.

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*The biggest political corruption scandal in Arkansas history has happened largely under Hutchinson’s watch. The governor hasn’t been implicated in any crimes or wrongdoing, but it’s mighty charitable of Brummett to say it’s solely a legislative matter and that Hutchinson has avoided “the stench.” His nephew, former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, recently pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges. If Hutchinson didn’t know that there was anything shady going on with Preferred Family Healthcare, once the largest behavioral health recipient of state Medicaid dollars, or Ecclesia College, he should have.

*Etc.: Hutchinson pushed to execute eight men over 11 days (the state ended up killing four men in 10 days). He supported a disingenuous voter ID law that disproportionately discriminates against elderly, minority and low-income voters. He supported the expansion of guns on campus. He’s been on board with a raft of crippling restrictions on abortions in the state. And I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty.