Four Takeaways from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Meeting with Meridian Ambassadors
WASHINGTON — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the special guest this week at the Meridian International Center, a non-partisan center for diplomacy and global leadership. While sharing his perspective on the upcoming election and U.S. leadership in 2021, Hutchinson also devoted some time to how COVID has affected his state, the importance of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, and his prediction for the future of the electoral college.
“There’s nothing worse than a pandemic, other than a pandemic during an election year,” Hutchinson quipped as ambassadors from around the world questioned him on American current events and pandemic response. Yet the pandemic’s silver lining for the Arkansas governor was that “it’s a unique time [when] we rely on each other again.”
For Hutchinson, the pandemic has been a humbling experience.
“This virus will take any cockiness out of any leader,” he said. “It humbles us to know there are some things we can’t know for sure.”
When the first case of COVID-19 was detected on March 11, 2020, Arkansas immediately declared a state of emergency. Hutchinson was proud that measures such as mobilizing public health facilities, enhancing hospital cooperation, and developing contact tracing and testing capabilities helped to flatten Arkansas’s cases early, so as not to overrun its hospital system.
Arkansas did not shut down its economy, as did so many other states. “It didn’t make sense,” Hutchinson reflected. “We were hit mildly, in retrospect, when [governments] started to shut economies down.”
Yet Hutchinson did issue a mask mandate. “It was not a popular decision,” he said, “but was necessary… to make sure we’re doing everything we can to stop the spread of disease.”
Hutchinson says mask freedoms aren’t quite the same as gun freedoms.
Hutchinson, himself a duck hunter, appreciates the Second Amendment.
“There are unique things about every culture and every country,” he reminded ambassadors listening in from around the world. “Our Second Amendment is very unique in global democracies… Whenever you have the freedom to own and possess a firearm, it is about protection… it is about hunting. It is also just about an inherent right and liberty to possess a legal firearm without undue restrictions.”
The politicization of mask-wearing has been linked to similar discussions of rights and freedoms, but Hutchinson says it’s also an issue of health and safety.
“It has been very disappointing to see the scientific basis for wearing a face-covering politicized,” he said, adding, “There is a natural resistance to it. We’re independent souls here in the United State… and [we] don’t like following government restrictions necessarily. There’s a history of independence is what I’m saying.”
“[Both mask-wearing and social distancing] are so against our culture… so we’re asking from a health standpoint, Americans to do something that is not in our DNA. Some people take that into Constitutional rights, but whenever it comes to public health concerns in a pandemic, we all have to be very practical about that.”
Safe, secure, unintimidated voter turnout is important for Arkansas’s leadership.
“In a democracy, we want people to vote,” insisted Hutchinson. “We want to make it as secure and as healthy as possible, and we want to encourage people to vote.”
The governor used his emergency powers to allow COVID as an absentee voting excuse for the 2020 election. As Arkansas election rules don’t allow for ballots to be mailed to every registered voter without request, Hutchinson felt this additional excuse made it much easier for voters who needed, or simply wanted, to vote by mail. As a result, he says Arkansas’s absentee voting has “skyrocketed.”
Hutchinson also wanted to make the upcoming election as safe as possible for the states’ election workers. To this end, Arkansas has provided state-funded PPE, instituted a “take-home stylus” for poll sanitation, and allocated antigen tests specifically for election workers to give greater “confidence for safety.” As a result, Hutchinson says Arkansas has an abundance of volunteers and no shortage of poll workers.
“We are working hard to make [voting] both as easy as possible and eliminate the potential for fraud,” said Hutchinson. Signature verification is one of the security measures in place. Poll watchers are another.
“Every candidate has the right and responsibility to have a poll watcher; that is part of the fundamental process of checks and balances,” Hutchinson said. “We’re trying to educate everybody that [poll watching] is not intimidation. That is simply how we have honest and fair elections.”
Hutchinson still says the Electoral College should decide.
Despite calls for changes to the nation’s Electoral College system perhaps toward national popular voting, Hutchinson holds that the Electoral College should stay in place.
“It was designed by our founding fathers to give balance across the country. And it has worked effectively through our years,” he said. “It cannot change. It should not change. It works.”
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