WAIT TIL JANUARY: Money talk comes later, Asa Hutchinson said today. Brian Chilson

Asa Hutchinson
announced a steering committee today for his gubernatorial transition planning:

Mike Carroll, a Fort Smith accountant; Little Rock City Director Stacy Hurst, who lost a Republican race for the House this week; Alec Farmer, a Jonesboro farmer; Philip Taldo, a Springdale realtor; Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis, and retired Central Moloney exec Steve Lux of Hot Springs Village.


(Stacy Hurst was the only woman Hutchinson could find? She didn’t manage her own campaign very well, both politically and internally with campaign reports that failed to properly itemize expenditures.)



Hutchinson spoke with press in the Capitol for about ten minutes. He said he’d met with Governor Mike Beebe and praised the outgoing governor for being gracious. “He’s been really extraordinarily helpful in terms of his comments, his guidance, whatever is needed during the transition,” said Hutchinson.

A more unexpected source of post-electoral courtesy: Barack Obama. Hutchinson said he received an unexpected call from the president on election night congratulating him on his victory. “He recognized the key role that governors play in directing national policy …he wants to have a good partnership with the governors …I certainly expressed my support for that, willingness to work with him on key issues that impact our state. It was a very good call, very gracious of him to make that call.”


Hutchinson said he’s also met with legislative leaders of both parties, including the Republicans’ Speaker-designate, Jeremy Gillam. That bears mention because rumors are flying that Gillam, a moderate Republican in the mold of outgoing speaker Davy Carter, might be challenged for leadership in the House by the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Gillam supports the private option, and the hard right in the legislature has been emboldened by their huge win on Tuesday. If the Tea Partiers join ranks behind an alternative candidate, Gillam’s speakership could be in trouble.

Hutchinson fielded several questions from reporters about the private option, but he wasn’t forthcoming on his own position on the endangered policy. He won’t have a firm answer until at least the end of January, he said. “You can ask me every day, it’ll be the same position I took through the campaign, because I want to continue to study that, listen to everybody, make my own decisions on it, and then it’ll take at least that long to develop my approach to it.”

He also seemed to indicate that he’ll keep an eye on developments in the legislature throughout his upcoming months of cloistered study on the private option: “Obviously, we’ve got to gain legislative support for anything we do,” he said. “Whether it’s extended and whatever the options are — it cannot be done without the legislature.”

What about the budget more broadly, I asked the governor-elect? Last month, Beebe submitted two separate budget possibilities to the legislature — one of which incorporates the major tax cuts scheduled to go into effect this coming fiscal year and another which delays those cuts. Given flat natural revenue growth and a chorus of needs from prisons and from public schools, said Beebe at the time, the more responsible thing to do would be to delay the cuts.


But Hutchinson campaigned on making additional cuts to taxes, on top of the ones that are already planned to go into effect this year. “I know Gov. Beebe has a constitutional responsibility to … present his budget, and he’s outlined that, which is fine. I’m going to take a second look at it. Obviously, tax cuts are important to me. My highest priority is the middle class tax cut, reducing the tax rate that I talked about during the campaign.”

The siren song of tax cuts and the wedge created by the private option: those are two tough questions for an incoming Republican governor to have to handle. Hutchinson perked up, though, when a reporter asked him an open-ended question about his immediate priorities. “My priorities are going to be a legislative agenda of career education, computer science in the classroom, tax cuts,” he said. And, jobs. “On the first day of office, I’ll be calling at least half a dozen industrial and business recruits that have the potential to come to Arkansas.”