The recently-transformed Arkansas cabinet welcomed a new member, discussed ground rules and talked finances during the beginning of its first cabinet meeting on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Kendall Penn is the new eventual head of the Department of the Military. Penn replaces Maj. Gen. Mark Berry, who is set to retire on Aug. 10 of this year. Penn will also replace Berry as the next Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, which was announced this past week. Gov. Asa Hutchinson introduced Penn in his opening remarks before discussing the expectations of the cabinet itself. Hutchinson says he believes this cabinet will be studied not only by those in Arkansas, but on a national scale as well.
"It is uniquely tailored to fit our state. This is not something that we borrowed from another state and said 'Let’s make it work in Arkansas.' This is something that was generated from the unique structure of Arkansas, our unique culture," Hutchinson said. "We studied different models from across the country, but this is different." Hutchinson also praised the amount of preparation that went into this level of department downsizing.
"Two years in preparation. Broad legislative support. We had public hearings across the state of Arkansas that generated public support for this and that’s the reason that it had such bipartisan support as it went through the Arkansas General Assembly," Hutchinson said. The cabinet transformation was one of Hutchinson’s priorities heading into the 2019 session, along with teacher pay raises, the third phase of his tax cut plan and state highway funding. Hutchinson spoke on the importance of the communication of the cabinet itself to the public and to legislators.
"There’s always those that are hoping that this will not work so we can go back to the old way of doing things...We have to effectively communicate our successes and our challenges," Hutchinson said. The longevity of this new cabinet, according to Hutchinson, depends on how well it works and communicates now.
"Another governor’s going to come along, another legislature’s going to come along and that’s when the temptation will be to tinker with this transformation effort," Hutchinson said. "We’ve got to make sure that we’re successful and we’re communicating it well as to what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, the challenges and our successes."
The meetings will typically run an hour. It was not established at the beginning of the meeting how often the cabinet will meet, but Hutchinson did say he hoped the meetings would be "somewhat frequent." He mentioned the implementation of "discussion points" that could either be brought to the cabinet members ahead of time or during a meeting.
Larry Walther, head of the Department of Finance and Administration, presented a finance report to the committee, but also commended Hutchinson on the newly structured cabinet.
"I’m going to say we, instead of I, certainly feel the historic significance of this moment and the extraordinarily bold leadership that you have taken to move our state into the future for decades to come," Walther said. He also praised Hutchinson on the number of women who serve on the cabinet. Of the 15 departments, seven are headed by women.