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Gov. Hutchinson Talks Cuba Trade, Arkansas Tourism And His Chief of Staff

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Thursday spoke to The City Wire/Talk Business and Politics about trade with Cuba, the future of the state’s tourism agency, and a recent published report about Michael Lamoureux, his chief of staff.

Following remarks at the annual banquet of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Hutchinson said he does not see an “ethical violation” in a recent published report about Lamoureux, his chief of staff.

A story first published by the Associated Press reports that Lamoureux, a former Arkansas Senator, collected during his time in the Senate $120,000 in consulting fees through a nonprofit that was supported by some of the state’s top lobbyists. The report, written by AP reporter Claudia Lauer, noted that rules of conduct approved by the Arkansas Senate in 2013 prevent members from participating in issues that “will specifically relate to a business which employs the senator or in which he or she receives compensation as an attorney or consultant.”

While the transactions may raise questions, they do not on the surface point to any obvious legal violations. That was a point Hutchinson raised when asked about the report. Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor with experience investigating financial misconduct, said he “would like for someone to express” to him what Lamoureux did wrong, adding that there are “no ethical complaints or violations that I see” during Lamoureux’s time in the Senate.

Hutchinson, who was the first U.S. governor to visit Cuba after President Obama re-established diplomatic relations earlier this year with the island nation, said he is preparing a letter that will ask Congress to consider specific legislation making trade easier with Cuba’s more than 11 million inhabitants.

While the governor says Cuba must still prove it will be a honest partner, he said the U.S. could take some actions – like loosening travel restrictions and changing credit terms for large trade deals – to help U.S. businesses enter the market. Hutchinson has said Arkansas’ agri industry could greatly benefit from improved trade with Cuba.

J.R. Davis, spokesman for Hutchinson, said the letter will be sent to majority and minority leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, and to the six members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation. However, Davis said the letter will not be sent until after the scheduled Oct. 28 election in the U.S. House for a new Speaker.

The governor also said he picked Kane Webb to be the new executive director of the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department because Webb has the passion, and management and marketing skills to run the agency. Hutchinson made the announcement Thursday morning before traveling to Fort Smith.

Webb replaces Richard Davies, who is retiring after being with the department more than 42 years and serving under eight governors.

Webb, 51, who was born in Hot Springs and raised in Little Rock, has made a career outside the tourism industry as a journalist. Hutchinson acknowledged that Webb has worked in the tourism industry, but said he has written about and studied the industry during his many years as a journalist.

Hutchinson praised Davies’ years of service in the department, and said he has asked Webb to evaluate and report back to him on the status of the tourism agency and any suggested changes for agency marketing, strategy and management.

“It is important to go in and take a fresh look,” Hutchinson said of the planned evaluation.

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