Improving relationships with Cuba will help that country and Arkansas, Sen. John Boozman said Tuesday, while Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that merging the Arkansas Department of Rural Services into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission will help it better serve rural communities.
The two men were part of a lineup of speakers Tuesday addressing the Delta Grassroots Caucus, a seven-state coalition of advocates and legislators meeting this week in Little Rock. Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to address the group Wednesday.
Boozman said that Tom Osborne, who served with him in the U.S. House of Representatives and earlier coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football team, had told him that when he ran the same play repeatedly without success, it was time to try something different.
“I’m a guy that really feels like the way that you change people is through personal relationships,” Boozman said. “What we’ve been doing … hasn’t worked.”
He said better relations with Cuba would open an important market for Arkansas and would improve the lives of Cubans. He said the United States has trade relations with countries with worse human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Vietnam.
Boozman last week along with the rest of the Senate voted to give the president trade promotion authority, a six-year ability to negotiate trade deals that are subject to an up-or-down vote by Congress. If the House approves the authority, the focus will shift to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would involve the United States and 11 other Pacific ountries. Boozman said he did not know if he supported that deal because it hasn’t been completed.
“We want a deal that’s not free trade but fair trade. We want a deal that’s good for both sides,” he said.
In his speech, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said his proposal to merge the Department of Rural Services into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission would end the department’s isolation.
“I think it elevates them and sends a signal that economic development is important not just in urban Arkansas, but it is important in every area of the state, and Rural Services will be a part of that,” he said.
He said the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, for which Arkansas legislators are meeting to approve an incentive package for potential manufacturer Lockheed Martin, will lead to jobs and provide money to Southern Arkansas University Technical College for equipment and job training.
Former Gov. Mike Beebe spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, while Alice Stewart, former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s communications director, spoke on behalf of his candidacy.