Beebe and Hutchinson: More lawyers needed in politics

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 74 views 

Former Arkansas governors Asa Hutchinson and Mike Beebe came from opposite parties and ran against each other for governor in 2006. One thing they agree about: More lawyers are needed in politics.

The two shared the stage at an event at the Hot Springs Convention Center Thursday (June 13) celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the University of Arkansas School of Law at the Arkansas Bar Association annual meeting. The event was titled, “From Waterman Hall to the Governor’s Mansion.”

Asked by moderator David Matthews, an attorney and former state representative, if more lawyers are needed in politics, Beebe said there are not enough. He noted that when he was in the Senate, 18 of the 35 senators were attorneys, and there was also a dentist and a physician.

“The electorate had sent an educated class of folks, at least to the Senate,” he said. “I think it was a better cross-section in the House.”

Two attorneys now serve in the Senate: Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, and Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff.

Hutchinson agreed that more attorneys are needed in politics.

“It’s really critically important,” he said. “The lawyers bring something unique, and I think we’ll have a lot better quality of laws that perhaps fewer are constitutionally challenged. No guarantee about that, but I do hope we have more lawyers.”

He said public service can be a hardship on practicing lawyers. He encouraged legal firm leaders to ensure attorneys have the option of serving.

(from left) David Matthews, former Gov. Mike Beebe, and former Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The two former governors both came from modest circumstances. Beebe was literally born in a tar paper shack. They eventually ran against each other for governor in 2006, a race Beebe won. Beebe said he had an editorial cartoon on his wall where the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s John Deering said they were “out-pooring each other.”

They both decided while in college that they would go to law school. Beebe, who graduated from the UA law school in 1972, made his decision his junior year of college as a path to working for the FBI. Hutchinson, who graduated in 1975, made his decision his senior year when he started participating in debate.

They said that law school helped prepare them for leadership. Beebe said the education taught him to think analytically and consider multiple sides of an issue. It made him more empathetic.

Hutchinson agreed, saying that taking care of clients leads to public service. However, he said it also can be a disadvantage in today’s political environment.

“In today’s politics, you’re supposed to be passionate, you’re supposed to be obnoxiously pure about your point of view, and that the other is diametrically evil to you,” he said. “And as a lawyer, whenever the media asked me a question or a constituent, what happens? You hear both sides. You think both sides. And that’s really a disadvantage in politics, but it is a great advantage in public service and public policy to understand those points of view.”

The two said living in the Governor’s Mansion was a privilege. Beebe said it was an opportunity to bring people together and create a dialogue and collegiality that doesn’t exist in Washington, D.C. He recalled there being 280 night events and many noon events his first year in office. His wife Ginger wanted one or both of them to greet guests even when the two weren’t staying for the event.

“It was a magical, magnificent place,” he said. “It is still a magical, magnificent place. Asa and Susan did the same thing that Ginger and I did. It’s a place that all Arkansans own and should own. We were renting for eight years.”

Asked about how they appointed judges and prosecutors, Hutchinson said he would interview them in his office and make sure they could make decisions and move cases along. He wanted to check their motives. Beebe said he would use the same tactic he would use as governor with legislators: contact people that knew them.

“If you had a problem with a legislator, in his district there were always 20 to 30 to 40 people, prominent folks, that were your supporters in that area,” he said. “And you could call them and say, ‘Could you call ole’ Senator So-and-so? He’s being kind of obnoxious, and straighten him out.’ And it was an effective tool. Used it on me when I was in the Senate.”

Hutchinson recalled an early political memory volunteering at a phone bank for his brother Tim’s run for Congress. One man he called told him, “I guarantee you one thing. I’m not going to vote for Tim because of his lawyer brother, Asa.” Hutchinson said he told the man that Tim was nothing like his brother.

Hutchinson said he was the first governor to visit Cuba after diplomatic relations were restored. His staff set up a basketball game while he was there. He grabbed some raggedy clothes and caught his ride, but then he was surprised to be let off at the Cuban national sports arena. The Cuban national team was warming up on both sides of the court. He and Arkansas Economic Development Commissioner Director Mike Preston were placed on one of the teams. As soon as Hutchinson got the ball, all five Cuban defenders backed up. He called time out and told them they could play hard enough to foul him.

Asked which of their achievements made them the proudest, Hutchinson recalled negotiating the surrender of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord extremist group while wearing a flak jacket as a young U.S. Attorney.

Beebe said it was many things. He said he granted only eight commutations but 800 pardons as governor, often for young people convicted on drug offenses.

He recalled speaking at an event announcing the creation of the Arkadelphia Promise providing college scholarships for local students. It was a cold day, and he had the flu.

As he was preparing to board his Suburban, a young lady was waiting for him. She was wearing a parka, and she had been there an hour. She told him she had driven 80 miles to thank him for granting her husband a pardon. He couldn’t be there because he was working the night shift at a good job.

“It’s not one thing,” Beebe said. “It’s a compilation of a jillion things that make it all worthwhile.”