Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson will give a “health care reform address” Jan. 22, he said Tuesday to a packed Arkansas House of Representatives chamber after taking the oath of office as the state’s 46th governor.
Speaking to members of the House and Senate, Hutchinson avoided using the word “private option” during that part of his 15 minute address. Legislators are divided about whether to retain the program, which was created in 2013 and now serves about 200,000 Arkansans.
The state’s “first order of business” is economic development and job growth, which are the keys to other state priorities such as schools and highways, he said. To encourage that growth, he said the middle class tax cut upon which he campaigned will be presented to legislators later this week.
Hutchinson said he would present a balanced budget to the Legislature by the end of the month that will include areas of savings and inefficiencies but will fully fund education.
Regarding education, he repeated his campaign pledge to ensure that all Arkansas high schools offer computer science. He said it “will give us an opportunity not to lag behind the nation, but to lead the nation.”
Hutchinson was greeted warmly as he and the state’s new first lady, Susan Hutchinson, made their way into the chamber. He recited the oath of office administered by Chief Justice Jim Hannah while she held the Bible – his late father’s – upon which his hand rested. Earlier, the state’s other constitutional officers were sworn into office.
In his speech, Hutchinson called for criminal justice reform that will address a prison population that is 3,500 inmates above capacity. He pointed out that 3,500 is also the size of the increase of parole revocations from 2013 to 2014 after reforms were enacted to make it less likely that prisoners would be paroled.
Hutchinson said a friend in south Arkansas had told him that he should respond to his larger-than-expected victory by being “bold in your leadership.”
He said Arkansas is in the midst of a time of change. Change is often resisted because it is uncertain and because it requires people to wrestle with their convictions, he said.
“But sometimes change is resisted because we are content and comfortable in the status quo, and let me tell you, friends and colleagues, that the status quo for Arkansas is not acceptable,” he said.
Hutchinson warned that if Arkansas does not adapt to new realities, the next generation of Arkansans will call other cities home.
“I challenge myself, the citizens of this state and my colleagues in this room to embrace the energy of change and growth,” he said.
He called for legislators to work together to address the issues that will come before them.
“Governing is not about which political party is in the majority. Governing is about setting aside differences and searching for common ground,” he said. “And as we search for the common ground, we realize quickly that our differences are smaller than we thought, and our hearts are larger than we imagined.”
Later this evening, Hutchinson will participate in the Governor’s Inaugural Ball at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.