Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge defended her record in support of job creators in an address to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce at the group’s First Friday Breakfast on Jan. 5.
The hourlong presentation highlighted Rutledge’s efforts to combat what she called federal overreach — particularly rules affecting small, medium, and large businesses — while dinging former President Barack Obama’s administration at multiple points and offering a more optimistic view of President Donald Trump.
While building her campaign for attorney general in 2013 and 2014, Rutledge said Arkansans voiced frustrations from overregulation as one of their number one concerns.
“It just seemed like every day the last federal administration (Obama) was coming up with a new regulation that was just stifling business.” Rutledge said her experience with small and large businesses was largely the same. “Just a big stack of papers, and they’d say, ‘Leslie, we have no idea why the government needs to have this information.’ Bank presidents would tell me, ‘We really wish we could hire more loan officers instead of hiring a bunch of compliance officers.’ Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to put a bunch of lawyers out of work being one myself, but I also believe our entrepreneurs need more access to credit than having compliance officers, based on federal regulations, hurting them.”
Rutledge said the Obama administration ran an “out-of-control federal government that was ignoring Congressional authority in Washington, D.C.,” and that the problem was, “quite frankly, at the state level as well.”
“When you have people that don’t necessarily understand the business that they’re regulating, that’s extraordinarily problematic,” Rutledge said, adding that community leaders “gave it to me loud and clear that they wanted government to start making decisions based on science and data and not on politics, and I couldn’t agree more.”
Before being elected as the first woman to hold the Arkansas AG position, Rutledge said the role was more passive than active and while it did a fine job going after bad businesses and protecting consumers, its previous occupants would say with regard to federal regulation, “Well that’s what the federal government has decided. Here’s what we need to do to implement it.”
That’s why she hired a solicitor general as one of her first acts after winning the 2014 election.
“A solicitor general acts as a chief legal strategist for not just handling our major cases which often involve multi-state lawsuits and some of our criminal cases as you witnessed earlier this year” — the death penalty cases that resulted in wins at the U.S. Supreme Court — “but also they are looking to see if Arkansas should be engaged in lawsuits against the federal government and looking to see if we can have a leading role. A lot of times we either sat on the sidelines and weren’t engaged at all or we were just joining these lawsuits. We need to be at the front of the table and not the back.”
The approach did not ingratiate her to the previous administration, she indicated, adding that it should “come as no surprise that I was not invited to the Oval Office or White House during the previous administration,” but pointed out that changed shortly into the administration of President Trump, who invited her and other attorneys general for a meeting in February 2017 shortly after his inauguration.
Rutledge said she was “out front early and often on behalf of our President (Trump) because I knew that we needed change in Washington, D.C., and when we start looking at the Dow’s record numbers, the jobs reports — it’s made a real difference.”
As for 2018 — aside from her reelection bid — Rutledge said lawsuits like WOTUS and Critical Habitat are ongoing, “so it’s not a matter of, ‘Okay, we’ve done that. Now we move on.’ We’re going to continue and carry out those lawsuits, finish the litigation, and should this federal government overreach in any form or fashion that impacts Arkansas job creators, then we’ll be going after those as well because we want to protect Arkansans and states’ rights.”