The five appointed Task Forces created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson may indeed change Arkansas governance. This Task Force governance procedure is also a bold political and policy venture. It is seen as an indication of a new day in Arkansas governance.
Can this new day of developing working solutions to our state’s problems outside traditional routes of boring agency rules, tedious over regulation, or that unknown factor of legislative innovation finally be here? If there is to be credible, useful and innovative solutions to government problems hopefully it can be found by these citizen/legislative Task Forces. Arkansas, no doubt, often needs well thought out solutions to some complex problems facing our state.
Gov. Hutchinson has appointed five such “Task Forces.” They are:
• Governor's Advisory Council on Medicaid Reform;
• Governor's Council on Common Core Review;
• Computer Science Task Force;
• Working Group for Highway Funding; and
• Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force.
So what’s the harm in all the Task Forces?
Could it be some state politicians are skeptical on this new approach rather than relying on the old ways of waiting for the majority party to craft its solutions to address issues in Arkansas? Could some legislators be jealous that a Task Force is going to develop future direction of the state instead of waiting on elected officials to take the lead?
The proliferation of these Task Forces to tackle complex state issues should not be new to anyone who has watched Hutchinson’s political career. His first, and only previous elective office, was that of a U.S. Congressman. In the Congress, committees work, caucus’ often huddle, and mostly bi-partisan give-and-take sessions are held in meeting rooms. Those are the ways Congress once worked.
And during the almost six years spent in the U.S. Congress, Hutchinson excelled at committee work. He worked the committees he was on to his and Arkansas’ benefit. To those committees where Arkansas needed help, former Congressman Hutchinson knew how to play the game to get others to include projects and set policy that served folks back home. It comes as no big surprise that Hutchinson intends to govern Arkansas much the same way he worked the halls of Congress.
Gov. Hutchinson making some new direction in policy, often made a major speech on that subject. How many other recent Governor’s made three major policy speeches during a Legislative Session? The answer is: Few, if any.
Hutchinson empowered these Task Forces to dig down deep into the weeds of the state’s problems. These Task Forces will make a lot of recommendations. They will do so in long boring meetings, causally attended by the press. Some new ideas on how the state can do this or not do that may all be filtered through the working of state agencies, budget constraints and political leanings of the chief executive or his party or even, perhaps on a bi-partisan level.
From the Task Force meetings will come some important and hopefully futuristic road-maps for Arkansas’ 91st General Assembly and beyond.
There will be very little Legislative chest thumping, high-fiving, or grand standing on these issues as they are being discussed. It might indeed be refreshing to see a broad spectrum of men and women working on these problems, rather than preening around for re-election photos and votes.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
When asked about the number of Governor-appointed Task Forces and their general operations, Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis, said: "Task forces and advisory councils are useful when you are looking for a consensus on important, but complicated, subjects. Governor Hutchinson's approach is to look at all sides of an issue in order to find the best possible solution, and by providing several points of view within a knowledgeable group of individuals, the best possible solution can be ascertained.”
Several weeks ago at a Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce political forum, a right-wing Conservative in the Governor’s own Party bemoaned out loud about all these “Task Forces.”
“My constituents elected me to go down to Little Rock and work these issues out – not some appointed Task Force,” snapped the GOP member.
After a sideways look of warning from a fellow GOP member and chuckles from the trio of Democrats on the panel, the frustrated Republican said: “I guess I’ll get called into the Governor’s office when that hits the newspapers.”
Some have hinted on both sides of the aisle that the “grab-bag” of Task Forces points out the growing list of unfinished business lawmakers didn’t fix in the session. Others say there will possibly be bloody policy fights that loom for future sessions.
But can a good Task Force assessment of what needs to be done, how much it will cost and streamlining all the potential questions and fears that often come with quickly concocted legislation, be a good thing? Sure it can. So let the Task Force work begin.
Who says you can’t govern by committee? Not Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The future of these five Task Forces may give him a brighter future than we’ve seen from our Legislature and their antics. What a welcome breath of air that would be.