Arkansas Supreme Court Race To Be "Studied" By Future Candidates, Says Gov. Hutchinson

Mar 4, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson addresses the Political Animals Club during a meeting Wednesday
Credit Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Arkansans chose Joe Biden and President Donald Trump on Tuesday as their nominees for the presidential election in November.

However, Gov. Asa Hutchinson believes the race that will be most studied in Arkansas is Barbara Womack Webb’s victory over Judge Morgan "Chip" Welch for an Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice position. 

Speaking Wednesday during a meeting of the Political Animals Club, Hutchinson said her victory will cause future judicial candidates to rethink their strategies during elections.

"Judicial candidates continue to get more creative to define the differences between themselves and the other candidates, which is the obligation of any candidate for office, but the judicial candidates are bound by the judicial ethics rules, and so it’s very constrained," Hutchinson said.

Though judicial races in Arkansas are technically non-partisan, Webb, whose husband Doyle Webb is the chairman of the state Republican Party, had the backing of both U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. Additionally the Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative, an independent expenditure, promoted Webb’s candidacy with ads.

Speaking after the meeting, Hutchinson said judges need to identify themselves not by party but by their judicial beliefs and the independent expenditures could help with that. 

"The independent expenditures obviously have to be independent from the candidate, but here they were colorful but not negative. They weren’t attack ads. I think that that’s a pattern that says 'Let’s concentrate on the distinguishing of [the] candidate,' as to who they are, their philosophy versus just bashing somebody else. That doesn’t go over well," Hutchinson said.  However, he does believe judicial elections should remain non-partisan.

Webb herself was at the club meeting. Speaking to reporters afterwards, she said the rules of ethics allowed her to speak on her judicial philosophy as a conservative.
"As far as any other partisanship, again it was on day one when my opponent, because of who I’m married to, said that this was going to be a partisan race, which I responded that no, this was going to be a race about experience and qualifications," Webb said.

According to unofficial results, Webb received over 53% of the vote in the statewide election.

Hutchinson also talked about the state results of the presidential primaries. Former Vice President Joe Biden won all but one county in Arkansas, earning just over 40% of the vote. Hutchinson says a Biden nomination would be a relief for some of the conservative Democratic candidates in Arkansas.

"Democrats that have been loyal to the Democratic Party were looking at being on the ballot perhaps this November with Bernie Sanders on the ticket. That can’t make them very comfortable. Now, it still could happen, but I think it was good news to them that Joseph Biden won and did so well in Arkansas," Hutchinson said. 

Hutchinson also noted that while the Democratic party had “pretty exciting” race, more Republican primary ballots were cast in the state and he believes President Trump "stacks up very well" against any Democratic opponent. 

Meanwhile, Hutchinson also addressed concerns about the potential for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. He said the Trump Administration knows how damaging the virus could be to the public, and how damaging a mishandled response could be to President Donald Trump. 

"For two days I've spoken with the Vice President... he wants to make clear that whatever the state needs, they want to be with us on this fight," Hutchinson said. 

Vice President Mike Pence is heading up the administration’s response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19. The administration has faced criticism over its response, including slashing public health budgets and for appointing Pence to oversee it.

Hutchinson says the state still doesn’t have a confirmed case of the disease

"There's one person still under testing and thank goodness we can do those tests now here at our Department of Health to get a quicker turnaround on it."

So far two people have tested negative for COVID-19 in Arkansas while results for one person are pending.

Hutchinson also spoke out against a petition currently circulating that would expand electronic gambling in Arkansas. He said allowing coin-operated arcade-style amusement machines would dilute one source of state revenue. 

"We have a lottery. We now have expanded gaming in four different venues in Arkansas through a constitutional amendment. We're not ready to expand it further.”

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery would regulate and license the coin-operated machines, and would receive 20% of machines’ net revenue.

Arkansans voted to allow two new casinos in the state, as well as expanded gaming at two racetracks in a constitutional amendment in 2018. The director of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery has also come out against the proposed amendment.