Arkansas lawmakers had plenty of positive comments after Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s speech to the 90th General Assembly. Hutchinson, who was sworn in as Arkansas’ 46th Governor on Tuesday, delivered a direct speech to a joint session of the legislature, touching on key issues that will be debated at the state Capitol for the next three months.
Those issues include tax cuts, education, health care, prisons, and much more.
Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock caught up with a number of lawmakers after Hutchinson’s speech to gauge their reactions. Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, who will be a central figure in the debate over restructuring workforce education in Arkansas, said the speech “gives us a future path to go down.”
Hutchinson disclosed that he will give a major policy speech on health care reform on Jan. 22. When asked what her expectations were for that speech, English replied, “I have no expectations, none.”
Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, described the new Governor’s speech as “positive,” but he said the proposed $100 million tax cut plan needs to be viewed through a larger perspective before he would agree to the plan.
“It was a positive speech,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t sure what Gov. Hutchinson meant when he talked about his tax reform proposal and the state budget. I hope we can see both of those together and consider them together.”
Johnson said he was adopting a wait-and-see approach to the Jan. 22 health care speech.
Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said he was impressed with Hutchinson’s speech and felt it expressed a sense of urgency for lawmakers to take action.
“I think the most important thing I heard is that he wants to hit the ground running,” said Shepherd. “In this environment with the issues that we face and with the limited amount of time during the session, we really don’t have time to take a step back.”
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who could be a pivotal vote on the private option, said she’s known Asa Hutchinson since she was a kid and he was running for Attorney General. Irvin, whose district covers a large swath of north central Arkansas, said Hutchinson was on-point on Tuesday.
“He hit the exact marks as to where we are currently, and I thought his comments about change always being a constant that you can rely on – absolutely true,” she said. “Our legislative body reflects the best of Arkansas. Asa recognizes that and he recognizes the diversity that’s amongst us and all the qualities that people come here with.”
Rep. Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, is the House Minority Leader for the Democrats.
“Overall, a sufficient speech about the prosperity and progress of our state. That gives me hope – and hopefully gives our caucus hope – that he will be a fair-handed governor in trying to work towards quite naturally what he wants to succeed and what we would like to see as responsible government,” Armstrong said.
“I think we’ve got to continue to pivot back to the fact that it’s all right to come into this environment with high hopes and high expectations, but until you really get down into the sausage-making end of how to produce sound policy, it’s still very early to call,” Armstrong added. “I think you’ll continue to see out of our caucus, not a sense of apprehension, but a sense of responsible governing.”
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, is Gov. Hutchinson’s nephew and will be a key ally in the State Senate. He also said he’s trying to recruit Asa to play on the Senate basketball team in an upcoming charity game between the two chambers.
“He may be the leading scorer,” Hutchinson said of his uncle.
Sen. Hutchinson said Gov. Hutchinson’s message to legislators had bipartisan appeal.
“I was just extraordinarily proud. I thought he did great and set the right tone. There were Democrats sitting around me who were saying, ‘That’s somebody we can work with,’ and they appreciated the tone,” he said. “I don’t think it could have gone any better and it set a great foundation for what I think will be a very successful and shockingly quick session. This may be the most cohesive session we’ve ever encountered, even on the private option, I think he’s doing a great job so far.”
When pressed for more insight on the potential details of Hutchinson’s health care policy speech, Sen. Hutchinson said it is still a work in progress, but one he thought would find common ground.
“I think you’ll see a framework for a compromise. I don’t think that framework is in place quite yet, but I know it’s being worked on and I think you’ll see something that most people can live with,” said Sen. Hutchinson.
Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Flippin, who will chair the House Public Health Committee, said he is looking forward to working closely with Hutchinson on health care ideas. With the session just starting and the new Governor just settling into his office, Linck said collaborative conversations are just poised to begin.
“I think Asa will have a conservative plan. It will help move forward – if it’s the private option or whatever it is – it will be reform. I don’t expect the private option to be just like it is this coming year. But we’ll have some sort of health care reform. I hope the Governor will consider that we’ve got to have healthier Arkansans or we cannot afford any program.”
Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, said his takeaway on the speech is that Hutchinson will be a unifier in rhetoric and actions.
“I thought it was good. He said exactly what he needed to say. He spoke to all Arkansans and he’s going to try to unite us which is going to be a monumental task in itself,” Branscum said.