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Hutchinson reflects on his two terms as Arkansas’ governor

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to the Political Animals Club Friday at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.
Ronak Patel
Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to the Political Animals Club on Friday at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.

In what might be the term-limited governor’s final address to the Political Animals Club of Little Rock, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson reflected Friday on his tenure, the recent fiscal session and his vision for the future of education.

During his two terms as governor, Hutchinson said he is proud that he stayed true to the political philosophy he first adopted, while serving as a U.S Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas under former President Ronald Reagan, a fellow Republican.

“As I started my political career, I developed a governing philosophy that I believed in and it was based upon a limited government, equal opportunity for everyone and growth of the private sector more than the growth of the government sector. It also included the principles of compassion and the problem-solving ability of government,” he said.

In the final months of his term, which ends in January, the governor said he is using his platform as the chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA) to show the rest of the nation the success Arkansas is having in computer education.

Last Wednesday, Hutchinson hosted a meeting in Bentonville with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Republican, state education leaders and national experts on computer science from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri and South Carolina , according to a press release from the NGA. Hutchinson is scheduled to have a similar meeting in Boston in May and is expected to include the topic at the NGA’s summer meeting. Hutchinson explained these meetings are a way to make sure the nation is moving in the right direction in education.

“There are growing needs in programming, robotics, data science, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and we must make sure our schools are preparing students for these in-demand jobs,” he said at the meeting in Bentonville .

Hutchinson praised the Arkansas Legislature for approving the $6-billion budget for 2022-2023 that was passed during the fiscal session that formally adjourned last Tuesday. The budget will increase state spending by nearly 3%, which is slightly less than the 3.3% Hutchinson initially requested, according to the Associated Press.

“This fiscal session was outstanding, and I will say as my time as governor, the spirit of the General Assembly has never been better,” Hutchinson said during his speech.

He credited leadership for making sure that the Legislature was only in session to make sure it “did the people’s business and to go home.”

Hutchinson seemed most pleased with the budget’s increase to address the staffing shortage at the Department of Health and Human Services and salary increases for law enforcement.

“We increased our child welfare workforce, it was a great need the department had. We weren’t having sufficient workers watching our child welfare system. We increased the investment in our child welfare workforce,” Hutchinson said. “It’s so significant we increased our state trooper pay from $42,000 for entry level troopers to $54,000.”

The governor said the pay increase for troopers moves Arkansas from seventh to second in the South for state trooper salary. He also praised the Legislature’s approval of a one-time bonus of $5,000 to officers at the county and city level. Hutchinson added that local governments need to look at their own budgets and see what they can do to increase salaries for their officers, and he hopes this bonus sends that message.

When asked by a member of the crowd about his political future, Hutchinson replied that he was focused on the final months of his term and would think about his future when his term is over.

After his speech, Hutchinson met with Anna Yates, this year’s recipient for the Political Animal Club’s annual scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a high school student in Pulaski County who served as a student-body president.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, scholarship recipient Anna Yates and Political Animals Club Chairman Shane Broadway pose for a photo after Friday's meeting.
Ronak Patel
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, scholarship recipient Anna Yates and Political Animals Club Chairman Shane Broadway pose for a photo after Friday's meeting.

Yates is a graduate of Little Rock Central High School and is currently a freshman at Rhodes College in Memphis, where she plans on majoring in political economy.

“The Political Animal scholarship required an essay asking if I were to run for office in Arkansas which office I would run for and why. I chose the state Legislature because policy really interests me, and I felt that I would be able to make a difference and make an impact in the lives of Arkansans,” she said. “The scholarship was awarded to me during the summer and I have been able to use it toward my tuition and other costs like textbooks during the school year.”

Her father, John Yates, said he is proud of his daughter and praised the scholarship for engaging young people in public service.

Shane Broadway, chairman of the Political Animals Club and former speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, said the organization takes donations for the scholarship during the first meeting of each year, a tradition that has been going for the past 10 years. In the past two years, the pandemic halted the annual meetings and lowered the amount raised for the scholarship.

“All of our members came and we had a great crowd of 175 out here today, so I am sure that they have given, and we will be able to either this year or next year be able to get back to normal,” Broadway said in an interview with KUAR News.

Despite lower amounts of donations in the past two years, Broadway said the organization was able to give out scholarships both years, each at the full amount of $3,000.

“We're trying to convince people to go into public service and give back to their community. We will continue to provide the scholarship,” he said.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the Political Animals Club was founded in 1983 by Skip Rutherford, former dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, as a way to bring the community together to discuss political issues in Arkansas.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.