Arkansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson spoke about his commitment to the economic prosperity of all Arkansas residents — including the people of Jefferson County and the city of Pine Bluff — at a campaign event Tuesday in Pine Bluff.
“I’m here in Pine Bluff today because I care about the people who live here,” Hutchinson said to a group of supporters gathered at the offices of Jerry Riley on South Main Street. “I’m not here because of politics. I am here because Pine Bluff and Jefferson County are critical to the state’s future. I believe that the contributions of the people of this area are crucial to the future of this state.”
Hutchinson said the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is important to the state.
“The perception of UAPB in the state needs to be elevated,” Hutchinson said. “When I heard that the nursing program at UAPB had been de-certified, I determined that I would work with the leadership of the university to get the program re-certified.”
Hutchinson said that, as governor, he would primarily be guided by a commitment to lifting up the standard of living of the state’s residents.
“To grow jobs, we need to lower the income tax rate in the state,” Hutchinson said. “The current rate is very uncompetitive when compared to surrounding states and that makes it harder to attract industry. For middle-income residents making between $24,000 and $75,000 per year, a reduction of the income tax rate by 1 percent would be a real job creator.”
Hutchinson said young people need to have an educational background conducive to employment.
“Education is so important,” Hutchinson said. “The right education produces better job skills. Not everyone goes to college, and there is a vital need for people who are good at laying concrete and for electricians and plumbers. Employers need people with specific skill sets. There is a big need for computer programmers at several companies in the state, but almost no high schools in Arkansas teach this skill.”
Hutchinson said that, at present, computer programming is taught as an elective course and students do not receive academic credit.
“I want computer science courses in every high school in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “Right now there are only 10 in the state that do teach it. I’m not talking about basic knowledge like how to use a keyboard or how to log on; I mean learning how to actually write computer code. People with this skill can earn between $25 and $50 an hour.”
Hutchinson said that teachers will need to be taught how to teach the topic to their students.
“It will cost less than $500,000 and can be done within two years,” Hutchinson said. “I’m just a great believer in Arkansas and in our future. Once someone knows how to write code, as long as they have access to broadband Internet, they can become an online entrepreneur.”
Hutchinson said that his campaign’s polling shows that he is currently ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross.
“If the election were held today, I would be the next governor of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “Today we show that I am leading him by seven percentage points.
Hutchinson said he has a track record as a supporter of causes of interest to the black community.
“While I was a U. S. Congressman, I was able to get the Death in Custody Act passed,” Hutchinson said. “I was joined by Jesse Jackson Jr. for the signing of the act into law. This measure required prison authorities to account for the deaths of inmates serving time and to state the cause of death.”
Hutchinson said that he was also a key player in the push to end the disparity in sentencing defendants for possession of crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine.
“It took 10 years to pass, but it created fairness in the justice system by treating everyone equally,” Hutchinson said. “We also need to increase minority representation in the state legislature. Every child in Arkansas should know the history of African-Americans in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson said that when he was being considered for the post of administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, he earned the support of Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.
“Congressman Conyers went to the Senate Judiciary Committee and endorsed me for the position,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson was asked whether he supported the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
“My position is that every person who needs medicine should get it,” Hutchinson said. “Doctors have not said that marijuana is good medicine and the Food and Drug Administration has not endorsed it as such. If they ever decide that it is, then I would be the first one to advocate its use.
Hutchinson said that he is opposed to gay marriage.
“I want to have an initiative for employers to consider not automatically disqualifying someone from consideration for a job opening simply because they have answered yes to the question of whether they are a convicted felon,” Hutchinson said. “We would, of course, not require employers to do this, but in situations, say, where a person had a drug conviction five or 10 years ago but otherwise meets all of the qualifications for a job, it would be nice for them to be considered for it.”
Hutchinson said that his father was a farmer who never went to college.
“My father was a chicken farmer, but he encouraged me to go to college,” Hutchinson said. “Susan, my wife of 40 years, is originally from Atlanta, Ga. When I was practicing law in Bentonville, we lived with our three children in a double-wide mobile home on 15 acres of land. Those were some of the best times of our lives.
“I stand for the values of community, faith, church, family and loving each other,” Hutchinson said. “That’s me.”
Mayor Arnell Willis of Helena-West Helena traveled to Pine Bluff to show his support for Hutchinson.
“I’ve known this gentleman for 30 years and consider him a personal friend,” Willis said. “Eastern and southeastern Arkansas have basically been forgotten, but this gentleman has not forgotten us. I believe that as governor he will help to spark the economy of the Delta heartland of this state. I believe that this gentleman will work for all of Arkansas.”