Republican Asa Hutchinson has been sworn in as Arkansas' 46th governor. The ex-congressman and former federal Homeland Security official took the oath of office at the state Capitol Tuesday, succeeding Democrat Mike Beebe.
Hutchinson took office a day after lawmakers convened for the start of the 2015 session. He has said he wants lawmakers to move quickly on his campaign promise to cut taxes for the middle class by $100 million a year. He's also expected to announce later this month whether he'll supporting continuing the state's compromise Medicaid expansion.
After being sworn in, the governor called for Arkansas to adapt in a changing world, saying the state risks losing its children to Texas, North Carolina and New York if opportunities aren't developed here. He said that now is a time of consistent change - in politics, in demographics and technology.
He said that, at times, people resist change because they are comfortable with the "status quo." He said the status quo is not acceptable for Arkansas. The governor said if the state doesn't adapt to new technology and changes in the world marketplace, the next generation of Arkansans will move away - and that that is unacceptable.
Hutchinson also said that while it is apparent the state needs a new prison, he'd also like to see changes in the parole system so exiting prisoners aren't on a path back to jail. He said that, to accomplish that, the state will need more prison space, but also a new parole system. Hutchinson said Arkansas needs to a "re-entry" program for inmates who are leaving prison and hoping to land a job.
Later, in a speech on the Capitol steps, Hutchinson called Arkansas a state with natural beauty, a rich history and "unbounded promise." He noted that while he is from the Ozark hills, he knows the beauty of a Delta sunrise and the southern woodlands.
Arkansas' new governor called it a "new day" in the state. Hutchinson said new Republican majorities in statewide offices and GOP strength at the Legislature require a new look at how government works. He said, however, that governing is not just about politics.
He said it is important that people of different political parties set aside differences and find a common ground. By working together, Hutchinson said politicians can enhance freedom and a spirit that is uniquely American and uniquely Arkansan.
Hutchinson wants lawmakers to lower tax rates in an effort to compete in the "global marketplace." The governor said that, in addition to lowering taxes, particularly on the middle-class, the state needed to improve job training in high schools and two-year colleges, offer computer science in every high school and eliminate unreasonable regulations on businesses. He said that when people work, they should be better off, and that when they work hard enough they should climb the economic ladder.
Hutchinson succeeds Gov. Mike Beebe, who was first elected in 2006 and re-elected four years later, and was barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
In attendance for Tuesday's speech were former Governors Mike Huckabee and Jim Guy Tucker, as well as former governor and senator David Pryor.
Huckabee said Hutchinson hit "the right tone and the right notes." He received the loudest ovation of any of the former officials introduced to the crowd outside the state Capitol. Huckabee predicted Hutchinson would make a "terrific governor," with creating new jobs his primary focus.
With buzz growing that Huckabee will run for president a second time, he declined to say what he thought of reports that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is considering a third run. Huckabee said of Romney, "This is America. Everybody has the right to run if they want to."