Politics Arkansas's conservative governor is quietly bucking the GOP's dive into culture wars
Arkansas passes bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth
Chase Strangio of the ACLU said it's the “single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.” The bill is one of two types of legislation being considered in more than two dozen states: measures that ban or restrict access to gender-affirming care for trans minors, and those that ban trans young people from competing in school sports teams of their gender identity.Governors in three states — Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee — have signed trans athlete bans into law.In addition to Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee are also advancing restrictions on gender-affirming care.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) made headlines this week when he vetoed an anti-transgender health care bill, the latest example of the conservative Republican governor of a red state bucking his party as it wades further into culture wars.
Hutchinson on Monday vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature that blocks doctors from providing transgender youth with medical care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapies and transition-related surgeries. While the legislature overrode the veto on Tuesday, Hutchinson has been clear about his problems with the bill at a time when Republicans in dozens of statehouses are pushing measures that target transgender rights.
Doctor: Arkansas anti-trans law is completely unethical
Doctors devote themselves to putting patients' health above their personal beliefs, says Dr. Jack Turban. He argues a new Arkansas law enabling medical professionals to refuse care for so-called "conscience" is completely antithetical to medical ethics.As physicians, my colleagues and I have the honor and privilege to help people through some of the most difficult times of their lives. Along with this privilege come some challenging situations. Once at three in the morning, I was paged to see a patient going through alcohol withdrawal. The moment I walked into his room, he grabbed my pager from my scrubs and threw it against the wall. He screamed homophobic slurs in my face.
Arkansas political observers and insiders say this has become typical for Hutchinson, who is something of a throwback to a more traditionally conservative GOP lawmaker at a time when large swaths of the party have dived into fighting culture wars and tying themselves closely to the Trump-wing of the party.
Multiple Arkansas strategists described Hutchinson as "pragmatic," and they suggested he is mindful of how his actions might play should he decide to pursue higher office once he leaves the governor's mansion in January 2023.
"He is term limited so he has a little bit more freedom to maybe do what he wants to do," said one official with ties to the Arkansas political scene. "From what I've heard, he just doesn't view this as a conservative governing policy. He views it as the government trying to push policies on people's lives, and it may be a fundamental disagreement between the conservative wing of the party and the more pragmatic wing."
TV Stars Who Left Hit Shows
It’s never easy to say goodbye, even if it’s a television goodbye. While no TV show can last forever – well, Law & Order: SVU is in the running – the cast doesn’t always stay as long. Many actors choose to leave after their contracts end. Some give the networks a lengthy heads-up, while others just seem to up and vanish, leaving the writers to scramble (see below!). Regardless, the show must go on. One of the most talked about exits was in May 2017, when Sophia Bush decided to leave Chicago P.D. after season 4. She played the lead role of Detective Erin Lindsay on the NBC drama and was written out of the show with a cliffhanger – her character was offered a job in New York to join the FBI. Many thought this could mean she would pop up on Law & Order: SVU – another show written by Dick Wolf which has done a crossover with P.D. before – but over the years, it was made apparent that was not happening. In multiple interviews since her exit, Bush explained that she went to her bosses between the third and fourth seasons and told them if things didn’t “drastically” change, she would be leaving at the end of the year. Then, in December 2018, she opened up about the decision while on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast.
Hutchinson has not been shy about signing conservative legislation - and drawing the ire of Democrats - during his stint as governor. Heof a religious freedom bill in 2015 after a similar measure in Indiana caused an uproar. He signed earlier this year, saying he hoped it would lead to a ruling on the issue by the Supreme Court.
But the governor has been open about his problems with the bill passed by the legislature restricting access to medical treatment for young transgender people.
"While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue," he said Monday when vetoing the legislation. "This would be - and is - a vast government overreach."
Hutchinson said Tuesday on Fox News that he would have supported a bill that merely prohibited sex reassignment surgeries.
Arkansas' GOP governor vetoes bill restricting transgender health care
He said the bill was "a product of the cultural war in America""I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas, because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America," Hutchinson told reporters while announcing his veto.
"But this was the first law in the nation that invokes the state between medical decisions, parents who consent to that, and the decision of the patient. And so this goes way too far," he told Tucker Carlson. "And in fact, it doesn't even have a grandfather clause that those young people that are under hormonal treatment."
The state legislature voted on Tuesday to override Hutchinson's veto, and experts say Arkansas has long trailed the rest of the nation in embracing policies that afford the same rights to the LGBTQ community and other minority groups, including ones as basic as same-sex marriage or the right to adopt.
GOP efforts at the state level to restrict access to sports or medical care for transgender people have picked up momentum this year. As of early March,to ban transgender students from playing sports in leagues that conform to their gender identity. Another 25 bills had been introduced like the one in Arkansas that would prohibit access to gender-affirming medical care, in some cases with criminal punishments for parents who approve the care or doctors who perform it.
What scares me most about Arkansas' new anti-trans law — and what comes next
The only thing protecting trans children right now is our anger. But that anger is likely to run out. © Staton Breidenthal Image: Asa Hutchinson (Staton Breidenthal / The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP file) On Tuesday, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming health care for minors. Yet there are more than a dozen proposed bills in state legislatures intended to effect the same changes, and the next bill may not generate the same uproar. For one thing, it won’t be quite as new. With each bill, and each cycle of outrage, the thought of children being hurt won’t shock us quite so much.
Hutchinson has a well-established track record of pushing back against certain laws he feels overstep the government's role and he has generally avoided wading into the cultural fights that have come to consume the GOP.
He was among the earliest governors in the south to adopt a mask mandate during the coronavirus pandemic even as then-President Trump scoffed at their usefulness, and he was a regular if under the radar critic of the former president's rhetoric and pandemic response throughout 2020.
Hutchinson in 2017 successfully pushed a bill ending the state's practice of celebrating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. after a similar measure had failed previously.
And in 2019, Hutchinson told The Associated Press he was in favor of changing the meaning of a star on the state flag that highlights the Confederacy, though the flag remains unchanged.
"He's not interested in the culture wars. He's interested in governing, and he's demonstrated that again and again," said Janine Parry, a professor at the University of Arkansas and the long-time director of the Arkansas Poll.
Parry said it's unlikely Hutchinson will face any real political consequences for vetoing the anti-transgender rights bill, noting his approval rating has consistently hovered around 70 percent among likely voters.
Trump blasts 'lightweight' Arkansas governor over transgender surgery bill veto: 'That's the end of him'
Former President Donald Trump excoriated Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson over his veto of a bill banning transgender procedures and drugs from being administered to minors. © Provided by Washington Examiner “Asa Hutchinson, the lightweight RINO Governor of Arkansas, just vetoed a Bill that banned the CHEMICAL CASTRATION OF CHILDREN,” Trump said in a press release on Thursday.
Hutchinson will be forced out of office due to term limits next year. A GOP primary race is already taking shape, with candidates emphasizing their ties to Trump. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is widely considered the front-runner, despite having never held elected office.
Arkansas strategists and observers said Hutchinson has had aspirations for higher office beyond being governor. He is unlikely to run for the House, and Sen. John Boozman (R) has already said he plans to run for reelection in 2022.
A bid for a spot on a presidential ticket or some role in the next Republican administration is not out of the question, officials said. Hutchinson has said he would not support Trump in 2024. Strategists suggested Hutchinson's efforts to project himself as a more traditional conservative capable of governing could position him to make a national play in the coming years.
"His M.O. has always been to be part of the conversation," said Michael Cook, a strategist who has worked on multiple Arkansas campaigns, who noted Hutchinson has inserted himself into the national conversation with his veto this week.
"I think second of all, he is a conservative but I think he is trying to stake out a national profile," Cook added. "What he's staking himself out as is to be part of the conversation, and be a conservative with a little part of moderation that sets you apart from people who are all Trump all the time."
'Children will die': Transgender advocates warn about risks as more states consider banning gender-affirming care for kids .
More states want to copy Arkansas' ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. Experts say such laws endanger lives and ignore science.Now 18 and living in Little Rock, the transgender activist recently testified before lawmakers as part of an effort to try to stop the passage of a proposed state law that, among other things, bans doctors from providing gender-affirming care such as including puberty blockers and hormone therapy to youth under 18. She and others protesting the measure were unsuccessful.