The governor’s bragging rights

by John Burris ([email protected]) 182 views 

Editor’s note: John Burris is a former member of the Arkansas Legislature.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson might be the quietest man in Arkansas today, if he follows advice once shared with me: when you lose say little, and if you win say less. But there’s no reason others can’t do his bragging for him.

The March 1 Republican primaries gave the governor some clarity he was hoping for. His three preferred candidates for the state senate won. A majority of his preferred candidates for the state house won. His healthcare policies now stand a substantially greater chance of becoming law. That means Arkansas Works – the replacement of the Private Option – has a chance and also his goal of reducing our state’s traditional Medicaid spend by close to a billion dollars over five years. Both are hugely significant, even if the debate surrounding them has been sometimes shallow and political.

Regardless, electoral victories happen for more than one reason, and their consequences are always more than one thing.

The simplest effect of the governor’s win is the added votes to support his policies. Senator English, Senator Williams, and soon-to-be Senator Eads are aligned with his proposed reforms. Or, a better and more accurate way to say it: they’re not willing to vote against an entire agency’s appropriation, which requires a three-fourths vote, in an effort to force the governor to not get his way. The candidates opposing these three were willing to vote against the Department of Human Services (DHS) appropriation to stop the governor’s plans, vowing to join a small minority of other senators trying to overturn the will of the majority. Now they won’t get the chance.

Conduit for Action, the multi-armed super-PAC invested heavily in opposition to the governor, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to elect candidates who would block general appropriation bills to stop specific policies enacted by the majority. Their failure affects the perception they have worked so hard to build, which is to be a kingmaker in Republican Party primaries. Gov. Hutchinson now holds the title.

In past cycles, Conduit’s record has been mixed. In this cycle, they saw virtually no successes. That’s important, since it’s really all they do. Other activist organizations engage in general elections, policies decided on by voters, and other conservative advancements. Conduit exists to win primaries, and they’ll have to wait two years to prove they can win again. Much will happen before then.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t be surprising to see fractures among legislators who have in the past been associated with the group and its leadership. That’s already happened to a degree. Some of the most conservative members of the legislature have been hesitant to align with Conduit.

Now, after drastic losses, it’s doubtful they’ll follow the advice to say little after defeat. They’ll likely get more desperate to try and prove their relevance. If their strategy means more hateful criticisms and snarkier commentary, it’s likely to produce the same results as it did on March 1.

So as special and fiscal sessions approach, there’s reason to be hopeful for something different than the past.

Hutchinson deserves credit and can give thanks. In a primary election that saw record turnout, tens of thousands of new voters, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to defeat his agenda, he prevailed. It was the win he needed to set the stage for others. He might be quiet in victory, but that’s only because he’s won before and wants to win again.

March 1 was a good start.