by Caleb Talley
It’s primary season. In less than a month, a number of candidates – local, state and U.S. – will square off in a chance to represent their respective parties. Arkansas will feature a couple of big primary fights, but none more interesting (and bizarre) as the race between incumbent Gov. Asa Hutchinson and fiery Jan Morgan.
It’s not often that a sitting officer is challenged by a member of his own party. And when it does happen, it’s usually indicative of an incumbent’s failure to accomplish goals or maintain popularity. Rarely does a popular and accomplished sitting official get challenged by a member of his own party because he isn’t a hyper partisan wing-nut.
But that’s exactly how this primary race between Hutchinson and challenger Jan Morgan got started. In an effort to boost her personal brand, Morgan mounted a campaign against Hutchinson because, as she says, he’s just not conservative enough.
Capitalizing on the popularity of less informed and little experience politicians, Morgan gained a little following among Arkansas Republicans. She’s tried her best to align herself with President Trump. She was Trump before Trump was Trump, having declared four years ago that her Hot Springs gun range was “Muslim-free” – something that was illegal, bigoted and just plain ignorant.
And I guess it’s a good time to be the Trumpian candidate in Arkansas. In a statewide poll released last week, likely-Republican voters voiced overwhelming support for the president. We’re talking 86 percent approval. In a state where a plurality of the voters is said to be Republican, Morgan should be a shoo-in.
Arkansas isn’t for wing-nuts. Not yet, anyways. You can’t deny the partisan shift that’s taken place since Obama became president – let’s call it the white panic. But was that just a reaction to the left or the new norm? Perhaps the state finally, after 150 years, sorted itself out as staunchly conservative?
Numbers suggest it’s not necessarily the latter. In that same statewide poll, just a bit more than a third of the registered voters contacted identified as Republicans. The rest were made of up of independents and Democrats, split nearly down the middle. And those independents could be the key to deciding whose name makes the November ballot – if they decide to partake in the primary.
And while she has a few folks in her camp, the outlook for Morgan doesn’t look so good. That’s because, as I stated before, Arkansas isn’t for wing-nuts. Most of our voters, thankfully, just have little better sense than that.
Morgan launched her campaign just months after raising hell in an Arkansas House Judiciary Committee meeting because lawmakers, at Hutchinson’s behest, had added exemptions to an absurd new gun law that would allow Arkansans to carry practically anywhere they wanted, including college campuses. This (wise) exemption was going to keep guns out of college football stadiums – you know, that place where a bunch of fired up drunk people go to yell at a contact sport.
Morgan put on a big show, yammering on about how her daughter would never attend a state college if she couldn’t tote her piece and shouting down any talk of risks. To most sensible Arkansans, the episode was a joke. So, too, was her attempt to snap back at every single negative comment on social media later that day. But that episode did thrust her once more into the limelight as Arkansas’ “Gun Goddess,” even if the title is only revered in circles where “your” and “you’re” are the same thing and Trump’s popular-vote deficit is the same as a landslide victory.
She’s tried to convert that celebrity amongst the know-littles into a successful campaign against the sitting conservative governor by suggesting Hutchinson’s rational moderation on certain issues make him unfit to serve.
One key issue Morgan takes with the governor is his endorsement of the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion program, Arkansas Works. She promises to end it, claiming it will save the state buckets of cash. Obviously, that’s a line right out the hyper-right blowhard playbook. And it’s also wrong, proving what we already knew: she doesn’t know what she’s talking about most of the time.
As Hutchinson pointed out repeatedly, eliminating the hybrid Medicaid program entirely would tear a hole in the state’s budget. And though Morgan and a handful of state lawmakers are still trying to figure that out (counting toes, too, when necessary) it’s really not that hard to understand.
The federal government, not the state, pays more than 90 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion. You know, Obamacare. Ever heard of it? If that expansion is eliminated, a good number of those people who were on it would again be eligible for standard Medicaid, of which the matching rate from the federal government is much lower. That means the state would have a higher share to pay. Get it?
Then there’s the whole thing about premiums going up for everyone and the shuttering of rural hospitals, etc., etc. But that’s a whole topic in and of itself.
But more importantly, more likely-Republican voters polled last week said they like Arkansas Works. The wing-nuts can jabberjaw all they like, but only 25.5 percent of Republicans polled said they opposed using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans.
Morgan’s issues with go beyond Arkansas Works. Last month, she supplied us with a list of reasons Asa is not up to snuff when it comes to moronic wing-nut ideology. She called him out for not signing a bill to law prohibiting the use of Sharia Law in Arkansas Courts. NEWS FLASH: Sharia Law is already banned in Arkansas courts because it’s not Arkansas law. Dumb.
Then, she attacked him for opposing a bill that would block funding to state colleges for providing illegal sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Just like with the previous bill, this is an imaginary threat; not one single state college in Arkansas is a “sanctuary campus.” Dumb.
Morgan also ripped on Hutchinson for not championing controversial bills that would allow businesses to use religion to discriminate and outlaw the use of certain bathrooms based on gender. Both of these “risks” were, and still are, non-existent in the state of Arkansas. States that enacted similar legislation suffered enormous economic losses in lost business – North Carolina lost an estimated $3.76 billion because of their bathroom bill; Indiana saw companies heavily pull back investments because of their religious freedom bill. Dumb, again.
As any competent, judicious leader would, Hutchinson weighed the risks with the rewards of each of these harebrained bills and found them lacking. Morgan wants to be the leader that doesn’t think, just shoots from the hip to the roaring applause of those who don’t even know any better.
Under Hutchinson, the state’s unemployment level has reached historic lows. Tens of millions of dollars have been cut from middle-class taxes. Nearly 300,000 more Arkansans have insurance. Arkansas is leading the nation’s public schools in computer science. The state’s GDP grew faster than anyone else’s, and we’ve received billions in foreign direct investments. But because he seems more Kasich than Cruz to Morgan, the governor has a target on his back.
It’s a shame so many conservatives fall for that crap. But maybe there aren’t enough to retire him. The poll released last week showed Hutchinson with a sizeable lead over Morgan, 57.5 to 30.5 percent when it came to Republican voters. Unless she can convince all those independents to move to the right of registered Republicans and turn out in May, she’ll be working on her book tour while Asa’s practicing his re-election speech.
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 email@example.com. Read more Cash & Candor here.