Arkansas Republicans United In Rejecting President's Transgender Directive, Democrats Stay Low

May 15, 2016

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to reporters at the Capitol about his budget proposal.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas Republicans wasted no time in letting voters know they do not accept President Obama’s directive on transgender access to public school bathrooms and locker rooms while some Arkansas Democrats are keeping a low profile.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson led the charge on Friday, calling on local school districts and the state Department of Education to “disregard the latest attempt at social engineering by the federal government.”

The governor’s example was followed by the state’s top Republicans such as U.S. Senator John Boozman, U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman (4th District), Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the House and Senate caucuses.

Sen. Boozman released a statement calling it a “shameful overreach” and asked schools to “ignore the blatant abuse of power by the President.” The Republican Party of Arkansas called on Boozman’s Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate, Conner Eldridge, to respond.

But Arkansas Democrats were largely silent on Friday, the Democratic Party of Arkansas said at the time it wouldn’t be issuing a statement on the federal guidance intended to explain rights for transgender students. U.S. Senate challenger Conner Eldridge, formerly appointed as a U.S. Attorney by President Obama, did not issue a press release like his Republican counterpart but responding to an inquiry said the federal guidance is “unnecessary.”

"In Arkansas we can protect the rights of all children while we also take every precaution necessary to keep every child safe.  I trust local educators to do this.  We don't need a federal directive and the one issued last week was unnecessary and misplaced,” said Eldridge.

KUAR has asked for clarification on whether or not that means Mr. Eldridge believes transgender youth should be able to use bathrooms/locker rooms/facilities corresponding to their identified gender.

In a press release the ACLU of Arkansas said there wasn’t any ambiguity about it.

“The call for schools to ignore the federal law is dangerous and irresponsible,” said ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson. “Violation of Title IX can lead to lawsuits and possible lost funding as well as violations of students’ rights.”

Gov. Hutchinson’s statement said he doesn’t believe the federal government will cut funding.

“While the letter implies federal money could be withheld, the letter is nothing more than guidance and is not legally binding."  

2nd District U.S. House candidate Dianne Curry is a rare example of an Arkansas Democrat voicing support for the guidance issued by the federal government. In a statement, Curry said she backed the Obama administration's effort to clarify the law for school districts around the country.

"I have always spoken up for and fought to guarantee that every child, no matter who they are, is afforded an equal right to a quality education in an environment free from discrimination on any basis. I will continue to do so as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress," said Curry.

The Democratic challenger faces Republican incumbent U.S. Representative French Hill. The first-term congressman rejects the president's guidance.

"The decision of the federal government to deliver guidelines to Arkansas schools on gender identification is outside the scope of its power and should remain in the hands of our local school officials and administrators. Our local school officials should exercise common sense and do what they believe is best to continue to ensure a school environment for Arkansas's students that promotes safety and health above all else."

The Arkansas Democratic Senate and Arkansas Democratic House caucuses have not issued any statement on the issue.

Full Statement from Gov. Hutchinson:

"The recent letter from the federal government providing guidance to Arkansas schools on gender identification is offensive, intrusive and totally lacking in common sense.  There is no recognizable problem in Arkansas on this issue. The federal government is stirring the pot and meddling in the local control and administration of our schools.

"As Governor, I recommend that local school districts disregard the latest attempt at social engineering by the federal government and continue to use common sense to ensure a safe and healthy environment in Arkansas schools. While the letter implies federal money could be withheld, the letter is nothing more than guidance and is not legally binding."

Full Statement from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:

“The President is taking his abuse of power to a new level today by forcing a liberal social agenda on school-age children,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “This radical and outrageous policy drastically expands the federal government’s role in our local schools and raises serious safety concerns for students and parents. Threatening local districts with a loss of funding unless they comply with this non-binding ‘guidance’ is potentially disruptive to the entire education process and lacks all common sense. These bullying and blackmail tactics are unlawful and unconscionable.

“I stand with Governor Hutchinson in urging local districts to disregard this latest attempt from the administration to force a social agenda on the states. I will also work with my colleagues across the country to determine if legal action against this directive is necessary in order to keep our students safe.”

Full Statement from U.S. Senator John Boozman:

“This is a shameful overreach by President Obama to push his beliefs on Arkansans and all Americans. Threatening our schools with lawsuits or the loss of federal funding for failing to comply with this directive is the latest power grab by this Administration. I reject this attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to control our schools from Washington, and support Governor Hutchinson’s call for Arkansas school districts to ignore the blatant abuse of power by the President.”

Full statement from U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman:

“Last night, the Obama administration made our children political pawns in a move that promotes perversion,” Westerman said. “Threatening our local schools over who uses which restrooms is an attempt to bully local schools into accepting an offensive, radical social agenda. I will not stand for this attack on children, nor will the American people. I condemn in the strongest terms the actions of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice and will work with my House colleagues on an answer that ensures local schools continue to have local control without interference and intimidation from Washington.”

Full Statement From Arkansas Republican Senate Caucus:

The Senate Republican Caucus unanimously supports Governor Hutchinson's position regarding the Federal government's unwarranted intrusion into our local schools.

We stand with the Governor urging Arkansas schools districts to continue exercising common sense without regard to continued federal overreach.

We will continue to resist efforts by the Federal government to use our own tax dollars to force Arkansas to implement its radical agenda in our schools, colleges and universities.

Full Statement from Arkansas Republican House Caucus:

The Arkansas Republican House Caucus stands in total agreement with Governor Hutchinson’s statement issued in response to today’s letter by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. The letter from ED and DOJ is yet another example of an intrusive federal government that is totally out of touch with common sense and traditional American values. Local school boards and administrators in Arkansas are well capable of providing a safe and healthy environment for Arkansas students.

Full statement from ACLU of Arkansas:

The U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice have issued guidance to public schools on laws protecting transgender students. The guidelines are a user friendly guide for schools to make it easier for them to comply with the pre-existing laws and regulations that apply.

In response, Governor Hutchinson recommended that Arkansas school officials disregard the federal laws summarized for them in the guidance. If schools in Arkansas do not abide by Title IX and equal protection guarantees of the Constitution, students’ rights will be violated and Arkansas schools’ federal funding can be jeopardized.

“The call for schools to ignore the federal law is dangerous and irresponsible,” said ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson. “Violation of Title IX can lead to lawsuits and possible lost funding as well as violations of students’ rights.”

Full Statement from U.S. House candidate Dianne Curry:

"As a mother, a grandmother, and a former member of the Little Rock School Board, I have always spoken up for and fought to guarantee that every child, no matter who they are, is afforded an equal right to a quality education in an environment free from discrimination on any basis. I will continue to do so as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in the 2nd District, and if so fortunate, as a member of the House of Representatives."