Arkansas Times Staff

If you want to see just how bitter the feelings are among anti-immigration Republicans toward Gov. Hutchinson‘s decision to allow a handful of refugees fleeing desperate situations to resettle in Northwest Arkansas, look no further than Sen. Terry Rice.

While his colleagues descended into predictable fear-mongering at today’s legislative committee hearing on the issue, Rice went straight into an attack directly on Hutchinson. His jab, irrelevant to today’s hearing, regarded a story that will be familiar to readers of this blog.

“Since your latest trip to China, your staff released a response to troublesome [allegations] that multiple Chinese companies who receive substantial grants from the state, state tax dollars, were also clients of Hutchinson Law Group,” Rice said. “While illegalities have not been alleged, ethical optics have been concerning to many people.”

The backstory here: Hutchinson, co-founded the Hutchinson Law Group with his son Asa Hutchinson III in 2008, but has not worked for the firm or had any financial association with it since he was elected governor. Hutchinson III is now the managing partner. The firm’s website indicates that Hutchinson III does business with Chinese enterprises that have benefitted from taxpayer subsidies provided by his father’s administration. The governor’s son tagged along for at least some of the governor’s recent trade junket to China; according to the governor’s office, his son travelled “at his own expense and separately” and was not part of the state’s official delegation.

Advertisement

The situation raises legitimate questions about appearances and influence peddling (the governor may not currently have any official association with the law firm, but he is featured prominently as the founder on the firm’s website).

What does all of this have to do with refugee resettlement? Well…nothing at all. But Rice was apparently hot enough over the refugee issue that he was ready to reach for whatever lines of attack were available.

Advertisement

The China story, Rice said, “has led to some skepticism of your administration regarding foreign interests.”

“And some of that,” Rice claimed, “has bled in to this today.”

Rice asked whether the Hutchinson Law Group had any associations with Canopy Northwest Arkansas or other refugee resettlement groups.

Not as far as he knows, Hutchinson replied, but added that he had no association with the Hutchinson Law Group and the question should be directed to them.

Advertisement

I went ahead and asked Asa Hutchinson III, and he responded:

The Asa Hutchinson Law Group, PLC (“AHLG”) has no connection to Canopy Northwest Arkansas or to any other entity or group associated with refugee settlement.  AHLG has never had any such connection and does not anticipate having one in the future.

So there you go. A bizarre reach by Rice, but this much is notable: You don’t often see this level of intra-party fire at a legislative hearing. Some in Hutchinson’s party aren’t pleased with this compassion business, and they’ve got the knives out for the governor.