The word I get is that Asa Hutchinson got up around 5 a.m. Monday to prepare remarks for the state Republican Party fund-raiser that evening at which Gov. Mike Huckabee would be formally appreciated and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would give the main address.
The next word I get is that Hutchinson got a call about 20 minutes before leaving to attend the dinner informing him with an apology that he wouldn’t be speaking after all.
Lt. Gov. Win Paul Rockefeller, who seeks with Hutchinson the Republican gubernatorial nomination to succeed Huckabee next year, spoke prominently at the dinner, which was attended by 1,700.
Hutchinson was initially peeved, and entitled, having given $25,000 to the party to help it rise from the mismanagement of a few years ago.
This call to Hutchinson apparently came from state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, the chairman of the state Republican Party.
I must say “apparently” because of the conversation I had a few minutes ago with Baker. He’s my favorite social conservative at the moment and an energetic fellow on whose Conway cable access television show I have been an honored guest thrice.
When I made telephone inquiries about this matter to the state Republican headquarters, Gilbert decided to brave the heat and walk over so that he could answer me in person.
Me: “Do you deny that Asa Hutchinson was disinvited to speak at the dinner last night?”
Baker: Funny look. Faraway gaze. Scratched skin. Finally: “That’s a hard question to answer the way you’ve phrased it. There were a multitude of things talked about for the program. And it was truly a wonderful event.”
Me: “I’m sure it was. But let’s try it this way: Did somebody in the state party direct you to disinvite Asa to speak?”
Baker: “I’m just not going to get into that.”
We are left to collect what little we know and to hypothesize and deduce therefrom.
While the state Republican Party benefited from the gate receipts, the event was by design in honor of Huckabee, who secured Jeb Bush’s services and presumably had say over the program. Rockefeller, I am told reliably, did not participate in the event planning or make any requests or demands of Baker about speaking arrangements. His basis for speaking was that he is the party’s second-ranking state office-holder.
So, might it have been that Huckabee himself, never particularly friendly with Asa or any of the Hutchinsons, and who was, after all, the night’s honoree, directed the retrieval of Asa’s invitation to speak?
I asked the governor’s spokesman, Rex Nelson, to run that inquiry by the man.
Nelson got back to impart this: “The governor says he didn’t realize Asa was ever scheduled to speak. He certainly played no role in keeping him off the program. The program was set by the party leadership. Gilbert Baker could provide the background.”
No, he couldn’t. I’d already gone down that dead end.
Oh, well. Asa was basically placated by evening’s end. He was formally introduced to the crowd. I’m told that both Baker and Huckabee — and Jeb Bush, for that matter — lavished praise on his service in Congress and as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and deputy secretary in the Homeland Security Department.
You have to wonder if people went out of their way to extol him to atone.
Party primaries can be tricky, as Arkansas Republicans ought to have learned in the Tommy Robinson-Sheffield Nelson brouhaha 15 years ago.