Governor wants Trump administration to end, but not through impeachment; discusses hate crime, abortion legislation

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,417 views 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday (Jan. 8) criticized President Donald Trump, saying, “Yes, I want this administration to end.” But he said impeachment is not a “workable remedy.”

Speaking to reporters at an Associated Press/Arkansas Press Association Legislative Forum, Hutchinson said, “This was a terrible exercise of judgment and an exercise in misleading his supporters over the last, what, 30 days since the election took place. And the result of it is the riots in the nation’s Capitol, destruction of property and loss of life and a black mark on our democracy. Those are serious actions on his part, serious repercussions for our nation.”

Hutchinson said Trump will not resign and impeachment is not an option because there is not enough time for the Senate to deliberate the case. He said if he were Biden, he would ask congressional leaders not to engage in that divisive process.

Hutchinson said he is “not in a position to judge” whether Trump should face charges for his actions. Instead, those decisions would have to be made by U.S. attorneys. He did say those who stormed the U.S. Capitol should be prosecuted, including an Arkansan photographed in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. He praised members of the administration who have remained at their jobs during the transition.

The governor said he was at the State Capitol when Trump supporters were protesting the election outside, but those were peaceful. He said he doesn’t expect problems, but the state will be prepared to prevent violence when Biden is sworn in Jan. 20.

The governor’s press availability came three days before state legislators gather for their biennial legislative session. He said he expects legislators to affirm the state of emergency he has declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, legislators declined to meet in a committee of a whole at his request to affirm the emergency. He said he had expected them to do so because they had asked for an increased role.

He said he had met with two legislators earlier in the day regarding creating parameters for emergency powers and a more specific role for the General Assembly. He said it would be workable for emergency declarations to require approval after 30 or 60 days by the Legislative Council, a smaller group of legislators that meets between sessions. He also indicated a receptiveness to changes in how emergencies are defined. However, any changes must maintain the governor’s flexibility to act during an emergency and could not require the calling of a legislative session, which would be unconstitutional, he said.

Hutchinson defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, noting that all other states have seen increased cases the past two months.

“I believe we are where Arkansas is in reference to handling the balance of the economy and public health together, and if I didn’t think we were where Arkansas is, we would change,” he said.

He said the state is not going to “shut everything down,” which Arkansans don’t support.

“We have to understand that unless you want to regulate and invade our homes, which I don’t want to do and we will not do in Arkansas, then you’ve got to manage your way through the social gatherings,” he said. “You’ve got to manage your way through the reality that people got together over Christmas, and people got together over Thanksgiving, and that’s not something government can stop.”

Hutchinson said he believes cases will decrease as time passes between New Year’s and now. He praised Biden for announcing Jan. 8 that his administration will release nearly all available vaccine doses to the states. The Trump administration has held back the second dose.

The governor said he enters the legislative session in a good position. Priorities include addressing the pandemic, income tax cuts, adding $100 million to the state’s reserve fund, expanding rural broadband access, raising median teacher pay by $2,000 over time, sentencing reform, law enforcement reform, and passing hate crimes legislation.

“If we don’t accomplish all of that, please judge me on a curve,” he said.

He acknowledged the hate crimes bill will be difficult to pass with opponents stacking the Senate Judiciary Committee. He expects fewer bills to be filed because of the pandemic. He declined to reveal a position on two pieces of legislation. A “stand your ground” bill would allow Arkansans to use deadly force if they feel threatened rather than having a “duty to retreat.” A similar effort failed in the 2019 session. He said the language is important, and he wants to hear more from prosecutors and those who are concerned about the bill.

“As a lawyer, I have some questions about it. I’m not convinced it’s necessary yet, but I’ll continue to study it,” he said.

He also had not made up his mind on a bill by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, and Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, that would make all abortions a crime except those occurring when the mother’s life is endangered or to remove an ectopic pregnancy. Hutchinson said he is pro-life and has signed every pro-life bill that has reached his desk. However, he believes abortion also should be legal in cases of rape and incest. Also, he said the right case must go before the U.S. Supreme Court before it will consider reversing Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortions. He said he would talk to national pro-life leaders about what would constitute a good case.

The governor said it’s not yet known what Biden’s policies will be toward China, although he is not optimistic that large projects in Arkansas that were halted because of Trump’s trade war with that country will be restarted. Hutchinson acknowledged China is a repressive regime. However, he said, “They were helpful in North Korea, and they can be again. So let’s don’t just simply by our rhetoric create an enemy and a new Cold War when we can have some constructive relationships.”

Hutchinson also declined to endorse a candidate in the 2022 governor’s race. Announced GOP candidates are Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.