Outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson stared at his portrait during its unveiling Tuesday afternoon at the State Capitol and smiled, telling an audience filled with Cabinet members as well as current and former staff members that he was pleased.
"I like it. I am OK with it," Hutchinson said, noting later that among his favorite features portrayed in the portrait was the wry smile upon his face.
"It reflects hope," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "It reflects my personality."
The portrait ceremony was held in the Governor's Conference Room with Hutchinson's daughter, Sarah Wengel, unveiling the painting of Arkansas' 46th governor.
Wengel said she hopes that when future generations of Arkansans look upon the portrait they will feel the same sense of pride her family felt Tuesday.
"History will remember my father for courageously leading our state through the COVID pandemic and creating record budget surpluses, which has allowed for record tax cuts," Wengel said. "Most importantly, he is leaving our state well-positioned for the future."
The portrait of the Republican governor will replace the portrait of former Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe that has hung in the Governor's Conference Room for the past eight years.
Hutchinson joked that for eight years he has had to explain to schoolchildren and tour groups where his portrait was located.
"I would say, 'Well, mine doesn't go up until I leave, and I am in no hurry,'" Hutchinson said. "It always brought a chuckle for eight years but, well, I am still not in a hurry, but it's time.
"As the Scripture says there is time for everything and a season for everything. I am grateful that we had eight years, but at the same time, eight years is good. I am ready to move on, and we've got an incredible successor who is coming along in Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So it's a good time for this."
Artist Michael Deas of New Orleans painted the portrait, which portrays Hutchinson standing and leaning over a chair. Deas also is responsible for portraits of President George H.W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan.
Hutchinson noted several details in his portrait.
"I intentionally wanted to stand because I wanted to reflect certain characteristics of me, and as you know we hit the ground running," he said. "Our eight years in this administration were busy. They were active. It was a time of action."
The portrait also features the governor staring ahead with a contemplative look.
"I also wanted to portray my steadiness, because a governor needs to be steady," Hutchinson said. "We actually had people comment that I appreciate your steady leadership during the pandemic."
Hutchinson said he was proud of several decisions made during the pandemic, including keeping schools open during the fall of 2020.
"We both had to gather all the stamina we had and the determination that we had to keep the schools open during the fall of 2020, when the pressure was enormous to close our schools down and go virtual," Hutchinson said, pointing to Johnny Key, outgoing secretary for the Arkansas Department of Education.
Hutchinson said statistics that indicate virtual education led to a downward trend in learning show Arkansas made the right decision.
"That was a good decision, and now that the fact that we rank second in the nation in terms of days of in-classroom instruction during the pandemic shows that we did the right thing keeping schools open," he said to a round of applause.
The outgoing governor also mentioned the importance of keeping businesses open during the pandemic and thanked the Arkansas Department of Health for its work during the trying time.
"[Secretary of Health] Renee Mallory, we wore out between us two secretaries," Hutchinson said to laughter. "That is how tough it was on health care professionals, particularly our health department team.
"For that, I say thank you."
For more than a year Hutchinson has been weighing making a run for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2024, and he said Tuesday his plans remain unchanged.
"I want to make a very measured decision," he said. "I want to listen to a lot of people. I want to be able to test the level of financial support for one of the biggest challenges that our country faces, and that I would face if I did that."
Hutchinson said much of his decision will depend on the level of support he finds in places such as Iowa and even here in Arkansas.
"We will make that decision at the right time," he said.