Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican candidate in next year’s race for governor, said Arkansas’ private option law regulating the implementation of Obamacare in the state would not have become law if he was Governor.

Hutchinson was in Fort Smith on Thursday (Oct. 10) to speak before the Sebastian County Republican Party.

Speaking to The City Wire prior to the event, Hutchinson addressed a variety of topics, including the contentious private option legislation passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this year. The legislation expands Medicaid benefits to more than 200,000 people below the federal poverty level, currently set at 139%, by subsidizing the cost of private health insurance.

Asked whether he would have signed what is now law or vetoed the legislation passed by a Republican-controlled General Assembly, the first since Reconstruction, Hutchinson said if he had been governor, the legislation would never have been written. Instead, he said he would have called a special session of the legislature.

“If I had been governor, that legislation would not have come forward to me because my position was it should be resolved in a special session – it would still be in the future. And so that’s how I would address it as governor, because the facts have really changed, even since the legislature met. President Obama has delayed the employer mandate portion. There’s a debate as to what other changes need to be made. That’s the kind of information I would have preferred to have as we dealt with this in a special session coming up, as well as what other states are doing. So that’s how I would have addressed it. When it comes to the issue of healthcare, I’m very concerned about Obamacare and its implementation and how it’s going to work. It goes back to the reason why I opposed Obamacare to begin with and we would have never had to deal with this had Congressman Mike Ross not supported Obamacare out of committee and that’s what we’re trying to deal with in the state of Arkansas now.”

Asked again whether he would have signed the legislation or vetoed it, Hutchinson said he would have signed the private option legislation.

“Oh, I did say and that is my position, that you know we have a Republican majority legislature and if there had been a consensus on legislation coming out that was not going to be dealt with in a special session, then I would have signed the legislation rather than vetoing it. But then again, that legislation would not have come forward to me at that point because I would have addressed it in a special session.”

Hutchinson declined to disclose what his campaign would report in fundraising on Tuesday (Oct. 15) when third quarter campaign finance reports are due, but he said his campaign will be financially competitive with former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, who last quarter raised nearly $2 million, a record for one quarter in Arkansas gubernatorial races.

“Oh, we expect to be very competitive with Mike Ross in our fundraising. We’re right on target with our budget. I’m very pleased with where we are. We met our goal for this quarter. It will be shown in the report that will be coming up. So we’re in good shape as we move forward into next year’s campaign and there’s going to be plenty of money in this campaign to get our message out.”

Hutchinson raised only $370,000 during the previous quarter. He blames the low tally on his primary challenge with North Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers. Ross no longer has a primary challenge following the departure of former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who exited the race shortly after confirming his involvement in an extramarital affair.

“Well, what’s happened on the Democratic side is that they have consolidated behind one candidate and have focused really on the governor’s race. So the Democrats have clearly outraised the Republican side and I think it just simply reflects that they’re focusing on that race, they’re consolidating with Gov. Beebe. All the machinery of the Democratic Party is behind it. So that’s the reason for the excess money that they’ve raised, but there’s no question that (a) Republican candidate will be competitive when we have our general election.”

Addressing the government shutdown, which will enter its 10th day at midnight, Hutchinson said he wanted the government to be open.

“Well, I don’t think there should be a government shutdown. I want the government to be open. We’e got hunting season coming up. We want our national forest, we want our parks to be open. We want our veterans to go unimpeded to the memorials and the public restrooms actually be open. And so we want the government back open.”

Part of the blame, he said, lied squarely on President Barack Obama, saying the president should have negotiated with Republicans who fought to defund the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature legislative accomplishment since taking office in 2009.

“I think President Obama should be negotiating. Whenever you look back to President Reagan, he negotiated with the Democrat(ic) Congress. President Obama should be negotiating. So I want the government open. I do also want us to address the debt crisis and I think that’s the right position to take, is we have to deal – if we’re going to extend the debt limit – we need to make sure we deal with the growing debt that we have as a nation. So that’s a very important cause that our Republican leadership’s fighting for in DC.”

He said Republicans could not escape some blame, but came back again to Democrats, such as Obama, and the Democratically-controlled Senate.

“Well sure, it’s the lack of discussion between the two. It should not be running government by shutdown and by crisis. We need to pass a budget. That’s Congress’ responsibility. The Senate hasn’t done that. So there’s fault to go around, but negotiation takes two parties and we have a president that’s not demonstrating a willingness to negotiate.”

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The City Wire Staff