Michael Cook: What We Learned From The Special Session

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 190 views 

Last week, Governor Asa Hutchinson’s first special session started off well with a photo-friendly press conference and a large gaggle of elected officials supporting the Lockheed Martin bond proposal. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there for Hutchinson.

From a big picture perspective, the special session should have been a slam dunk for Hutchinson. The $87 million bond financing for Lockheed Martin had so much bi-partisan support legislators were just about tripping over each to take selfies in front of the impressive new military vehicle on the Capitol steps after Hutchinson’s press conference.

At the end of this special session, Arkansans should have remembered how Hutchinson brought jobs to Camden.

But instead of basking in the warm glow of job creation, Asa Hutchinson was adrift in the black hole of partisan politics due to his proposal to move all Arkansas primaries to March 1. Hutchinson made the classic political mistake of stepping on his own message.

In my talking with various legislators, it seems Hutchinson didn’t fully poll them to gauge support before calling the special session and the results of Hutchinson’s lack of leadership was telling. Hutchinson’s administration was forced to scramble and compromise in order to protect his proposal to move Arkansas’s primaries to March 1.

The primary proposal received significant and bi-partisan opposition and the legislation went through so many twists and turns it can’t even be recounted here.

Almost a week later, Hutchinson is still dealing with the fallout of the special session. Republican State Representative Nate Bell, a staunch opponent of the “move the primary” proposal, officially left the Republican Party this week and became an Independent.

Though Bell gave no official public reason for leaving the GOP, from reading his Twitter feed you can make a reasonable assumption his departure was due to the ramrodding of the primary date proposal by Republicans and Asa Hutchinson.

The special session gave more insight into Hutchinson’s leadership style, but I can’t tell just yet if his style is reactive leadership or disorganized leadership – maybe a little bit of both.

The regular session earlier this year was relatively easy for the new Governor, owing to his freshman status and his party controlling both legislative chambers by large margins. But the special session was, for the most part, a mess.

How Hutchinson handled his first special session is a case study in contrasts with former Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe was known for having his special sessions thoroughly planned out. In fact, Beebe would not schedule a special session until he had assurances all the votes were there to pass whatever legislation that was to be considered.

In this instance, Hutchinson knew the Lockheed Martin proposal would sail through, but it appears he didn’t properly organize for moving the primary date proposal and didn’t have a plan when it ran into bi-partisan opposition. It looked like he made it up as he went along.

There are significant fights/debates ahead for Gov. Hutchinson, such as the Private Option and highway funding and it will take strong leadership to handle these complex issues.

If this past special session was a true indicator of his leadership style, it could be a tough four years for Asa Hutchinson.