by Caleb Talley
Midterm elections, especially midterm primaries, don’t garner a whole lot of attention. But there was a lot on the line in Arkansas on Tuesday. As predicted, Gov. Asa Hutchinson fended off a challenge from his far right, defeating Jan Morgan in a landslide.
Hutchinson’s victory over a more conservative firebrand, in a state that’s growing redder every year, was an affirmation by Arkansas voters of several things – their support of the sitting governor as a leader being just one of them.
As governor, Hutchinson has put a whole lot of Arkansans to work. And he continues to do so. By selecting him over Morgan, Natural State Republicans expressed their support for the work Hutchinson’s done to bring more jobs to Arkansas.
When running in 2014, Hutchinson promised to be the jobs governor. And since taking office in 2015, he’s done just that. When he was sworn into office in January 2015, the state’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. Since then, more than 60,000 new jobs have been added, bringing the state’s employment to more than 1.3 million jobs. Last year saw the lowest unemployment rate in state history.
Those jobs were secured on the back of $7 billion in new capital investments from more than 300 new and expanding companies. Nearly $1.5 billion of that came straight from China, with the injection of hundreds of new jobs into the state, especially in rural Arkansas.
National media outlets tried to paint Hutchinson and Morgan as two candidates warring over Medicaid expansion. And for those outside the state, that may be all there was to this primary race. But I believe voters here in Arkansas were more interested in drawing the line at how they define good sense. They nominated the candidate that had more of it.
In anecdotal polling of Morgan supporters, I found that a good number of them aligned with the political novice because of her devotion to firearms. Hutchinson, they said, wasn’t doing enough to protect their Second Amendment right because he urged lawmakers to add sound, rational exemptions to an absurd gun law that allowed Arkansans to pack their piece practically anywhere they wanted, specifically college campuses. Morgan and Co. argued that the exemptions infringed on their rights. Arkansas voters affirmed that they didn’t.
Hutchinson also stood in the way of foolish legislation to prohibit Sharia Law in Arkansas courtrooms, defund “sanctuary campuses” and govern bathroom usage. Each were unnecessary solutions in search of a nonexistent problem, but the governor was accused of being a Democrat in disguise for not championing bad policy. His good sense there, too, was rewarded.
Though the firebrands were talkin’ guns and taxes, Hutchinson and Morgan’s differences on Medicaid expansion weresubstantial. And if they hadn’t already in multiple scientific polls, Arkansas voters affirmed their support of the hybrid expansion program on Tuesday.
Morgan promised to toss out the state’s hybrid, public-private Medicaid expansion program if she were elected. It’s Obamacare, and promising to eliminate it has been a Republican talking point since the legislation was passed. But as it turns out, Arkansans likeMedicaid expansion, regardless of all the talk.
Medicaid expansion has kept rural hospitals open and thriving. Southern neighbors like Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma have seen dozens of hospitals shuttered in just the last four or five years because their state leaders chose not to embrace expansion. Georgia, another nonexpansion state, has entire regions of the state where a hospital isn’t within an hour’s drive. Arkansas voters don’t want that. And, why would they?
Arkansas hasn’t had a rural hospital close because of poor financial performance since 2009. Instead, Arkansas hospitals are growing; they’re expanding. Morgan would have cut the cord, and Arkansas voters knew better.
It’s also worth nothing, that when the re-authorization of the Arkansas Works budget came before the state Senate in March, only two senators voted against it in protest of Medicaid expansion – Sens. Bryan King and Linda Collins-Smith. Both lawmakers were also vocal critics of the governor. Both lost on Tuesday to more moderate Republicans.
On to November
Hutchinson coasted to victory on Tuesday, but he’ll face a formidable opponent in November with Democratic nominee Jared Henderson, the owner of two Harvard degrees. Democratic primary voter turnout was much lower than that of the conservative turnout. But I expect a number of Morgan supporters to sit out the November election.
Hutchinson is clearly the favorite to win this fall. But if Henderson is able to mobilize moderate voters (and there are plenty of them), Hutchinson will need to convince the Morganites to give him another shot. As the campaign switches gears, it might be time to start preaching party loyalty.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Cash & Candor here.