It turns out I’m not the best person to attest to someone’s conservative bona fides.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has probably enjoyed about all the help from me he can stand.
Whenever I have written that Hutchinson has been a solid right-winger from the time I first started covering him three decades ago, but that he has carefully and craftily practiced pragmatism and competence as governor to keep state services met and avoid needless folderol on issues like bathrooms and guns at Razorback games, his ultra-right critics apparently have seen instead something along this line: “Liberal creep at newspaper, defender of Democrats for decades, loves Asa because Asa is no different from Democrats.”
It’s almost as if these people would sooner take Russian infiltrators’ word for Donald Trump’s American patriotism than mine for Asa’s conservatism.
What am I saying? Of course, they’d sooner take Russian infiltrators’ word than mine. They did, in the last presidential election. And they will again in 2020, assuming Trump lasts that long.
A wealth-endowed outfit based in Northwest Arkansas called Conduit for Action, which is to the right of the Koch brothers, has been assailing Hutchinson for months for not cutting taxes enough, not cutting spending enough, not throwing enough people off health insurance, and generally paying entirely too much attention to arithmetic, thus leaving the conservative revolution the state’s voters began ordering up in 2010 altogether un-imposed.
One of the group’s mailers scoffed at the very idea that Hutchinson would be so hard up for conservative credentials that he’d order up a defense from me.
He didn’t order up diddly. Believe me. I wouldn’t oblige diddly. Believe that, too.
The guy threw thousands off Medicaid expansion by having his Human Services Department send snail-mail letters to those poor folks at addresses where they very likely no longer lived. The letters instructed these people to prove their continued poverty with bank records produced within 10 days of the letter’s mailing, not receipt, or be dumped from the rolls.
At the time, Hutchinson complained about my characterization and called it unfair. Now I suspect he’s already photocopied that preceding paragraph and ordered an aide to get it to his ad agency for a campaign ad: “Liberal creep at newspaper says Asa threw poor people off government rolls. The liberal creep finally got something right. Now watch him squeal. Asa has thousands more poor people in his crosshairs. Re-elect Hutchinson.”
The problem for this normally responsible conservative governor is that Jan Morgan may not be someone to be trifled with.
She’s the shooting-range owner calling herself the Gun Goddess who has announced she’s taking on Asa in the Republican primary this year.
She put on social media the other day that you know people by the company they keep, and that Hutchinson has been a guest on Morning Joe, where, as you may know, the two hosts are in a feud with Morgan’s hero and political ideal — the Russian-backed Trump.
Morgan would go upside Asa’s head for getting a good word from me except that I’m not sure she knows anything about me. She agreed months ago to give me an interview the next day — promised by email to do it, in fact. But somebody familiar with me must have intervened with sanity overnight. A guy texted me in her behalf the next day that she was just too darned busy and would circle back to me later.
She’s trained in television communication and is of that demagogic ilk that thinks — or professes to think — that compromise is capitulation, weakness, wussiness.
So, Asa has been burnishing his right-wing bona fides lately. Last month, he hauled off and said in a letter, issued without warning or context, that he believed state law allowed open-carry of firearms. Last week, he called in reporters to boast of the thousands he’d thrown off Medicaid, saving money that he’ll use for income-tax cuts.
And this is only January, prior even to the opening of the filing period. There’s a little more room for sidling to his right and plenty of time to offend me further into harsher criticism.
Just remember: Whenever I endorse a Republican in a primary, the Republican loses.
I endorsed state Rep. John Burris for state senator, and now he’s a lobbyist. I endorsed state Rep. Duncan Baird for state treasurer, and now he’s a leading fiscal bureaucrat in state government.
Will I endorse Hutchinson in this gubernatorial primary, exercising my death-kiss power to make a full-time out-to-pasture grandpa of him?
I can hear him now: “Please, no, not that. Anything but that.”
For now, I’m thinking he’s done too good a job to deserve that.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.