It seems we have evolved into a society where any action taken by one political party is always twisted into a negative by the other major party, no matter what the action is. It hasn’t always been this way. Today bi-partisanship is a thing of the past, and our country is suffering from the lack of it. However, I think, as elections pass and people look back on the minor things we used to squabble about, Americans will turn a page back to a more civilized time where any positive action by either political party will be viewed, by the vast majority of the citizens of our great country, by what it accomplishes and not from what party it came from. In this column, I am going to give my current assessment of our governor’s term in office, and I am going to try and be as non-political as possible. I think, considering the complex problems he has faced, and the actions he has taken, he deserves his record to be examined in the light of whether or not those actions were positive enhancement to the lives of the citizens of our State: These are my thoughts.
Naturally, the first thing that crosses my mind is the Buffalo National River, the hog farm on its watershed, and the involvement by Governor Hutchinson. Governor Beebe should have stopped the hog farm before he left office, but for whatever reason, Governor Hutchinson inherited it. Yes, it took longer to get it closed than I would have liked it to have taken, but the Governor did get the hog farm closed, and since the legislature has fumbled the ball on getting the Buffalo Watershed Moratorium made permanent, hopefully, the Governor will finish the job, and permanently make sure the river is protected. Governor, thank you for actually closing the hog farm down. The Buffalo National River is a priceless asset to our state, protecting it should always be a bi-partisan effort.
The next item has to do with gender discrimination. Yes, Arkansas is deep into gender discrimination, which, very is simply, the absence of women on the commissions and boards in our state. We’re not there yet, because with no discrimination, every board or commission shouldlook like the make-up of our state. Now, just tell me how many of our boards and commissions look like our state? Yes, we have work to do. However, the Governor’s appointees have moved in the right direction by appointing more women and minorities to the states boards and commissions. Of course, changing the makeup of the boards and commissions has to be gradual, but it must be a priority over the years in order to have equal representation on every board and commission. We now have a woman on the Game and Fish Commission, which has been a glaring omission for decades, and I feel sure even the Highway Commission will one day be an Arkansas look-alike Commission.
The next item is the pandemic; the spread of the coronavirus. I would venture a guess that trying to devise a plan to both suppress the spread of the virus without killing the economy is one of the toughest decisions that an elected governor would have to make. Since it is obvious that not controlling the coronavirus spread is not an option, then a governor must make the tough decisions as how to balance the economy’s disruption with such factors as religion, and personal safety and come up with a plan that will slow or stop the virus and not completely cripple the economy and the freedom to worship, eat at a restaurant and go to a movie. Of course, since the virus has now become politicized it makes those decisions a lot harder. However, I believe the Governor has done a remarkable job in balancing those tough decisions, and his mandating a mask in public place is putting the health of Arkansawyers above his political interest. The Governor is showing, by acting responsible, that he really cares about the health of the citizens of Arkansas. In contrast, the Governor of Georgia is bowing to political pressure by overriding towns in Georgia that have mandated masks.
The next item may be a surprise to you, but one of Governor Hutchinson programs in public schools has made Arkansas a national leader in computer science. Today, every public school in our state must offer a course in computer science, and to implement the program $1,500,000 startup money for schools and teacher training is making the program a reality. Instead of being behind the curve as we are in so many things, we are leading the nation in computer science training. That, along with broadband access improvements, will equip the next generation of young adults to enter the workforce prepared to do highly skilled jobs with excellent salaries.
Speaking of money, I can’t help but enjoy the 150 million dollars in tax cuts, which was spread out over a broad range of taxed items to give everyone a piece of the pie.
As one of the Governor’s priorities, he mandated the consolidation of state departments and commissions, which was long overdue. Actually, our state, over the past 50 years, has had an almost continuous increase in committees, commissions, and members of each. Just the list of active committees would take up several pages. The governor has made a much needed reductions and consolations in almost all of them and in doing so, reduced the members and saved money. This reduction in commissions, committees, and their members was sorely needed.
The Governor’s involvement in prison returnees was a needed step of reform. Since returnees make up a large number of prisoners who are re-incarcerated, the Governor’s re-entry program attacks the problem by educating and helping them to secure things such as a Driver’s Licenses. The program, working with Restore Hope, a great prisoner re-entry program, has shown great success with 57% of the returnees being fully employed.
Of course, the Governor did fall off the wagon of progress occasionally, and he couldn’t resist posturing on 2nd Amendment Rights, opposing Washington’s Bathroom guidance, supporting religious freedom, abortion bills, open carry, and opposing Planned Parenthood. Almost all of those noted items, some of which were just statements, others which became actual bills, didn’t have any noticeable effect on most Arkansawyers. Most of them were or probably will be found unconstitutional by the first Federal Court that hears them. But let’s be fair and not judge the Governor by meaningless legislation that does nothing but waste paper and money. The real issues are the ones that make a positive difference in the lives of Arkansawyers, and on the whole the Governor has made a positive difference in the lives of all of us.
So Governor, I’m going to give you a B+; and if you will place a women on the Highway Commission before your term is out, I’ll move you up to an A-.
Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]