LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Governor Asa Hutchinson reflected on the highs and lows of his eight years in office during a sit-down interview with KARK 4 News reporter Andrew Epperson on Wednesday, the final week of his second and final term.
“This is the highest honor of my public life, serving as governor,” Hutchinson said.
When asked to reflect on his administration, Hutchinson acknowledged the difficulties faced by the state during his tenure while praising many responses.
“We’ve been through some tough times, from a pandemic to 500-year record floods to great times in economic development, computer science education and tax cuts,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the pandemic was his most difficult challenge.
“It was, without any doubt,” Hutchinson said. “It came in the second term, and no one runs for governor to manage a pandemic.”
Hutchinson said his administration listened to the best possible information at the time and acted based on that. He said early on, leaders did not have the full breadth of resources and knowledge now available, including how vaccines, therapeutics and public safety measures all work most effectively.
“I wish I’d known those things, but we made the right decision based on the information we had,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said his administration’s tax cut efforts will be a lasting legacy.
“It’s historic,” Hutchinson said. “People said it can’t be done. It’s never been done. We’ve never had that tax reduction. ‘You’re going to be like Kansas.’ Well, we weren’t. We did it the right way.”
Despite Hutchinson experiencing high approval ratings throughout his tenure, neither term was without controversy.
In 2017, Hutchinson spearheaded a push to execute eight death row inmates in 10 days. Four were ultimately executed, as legal problems and one clemency case halted the others.
“Those are the toughest things we have to deal with as governor,” Hutchinson said. “I thought we did it thoughtfully and to the standard that is set by the oath I took.”
In 2021, Hutchinson vetoed a bill that would ban gender-affirming care. He earned backlash from fellow Republicans who later overruled his veto in the legislature. Hutchinson said he would have supported legislation banning transition surgery for minors had it come across his desk.
“I think the state should be concerned about interfering in the parental role,” Hutchinson said. “To me, that’s a Republican, Conservative principle. I drew the line on that.”
Hutchinson was amongst the first prominent Republicans to criticize former President Donald Trump, even calling Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection a “disqualifying” stain on a 2024 presidential run.
“I think we need to have different voices leading our party in the future, and I make honest statements about that,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson has been connected to a possible 2024 bid himself, though he has not yet announced formally whether he will. He said the most important factors would be whether he can raise enough significant funding and if his message resonates in a national platform.
“If that national message leads to a decision down the road to run for president, then that’s where I’ll be,” Hutchinson said.
If the nation’s highest office eludes Hutchinson, he said he plans to return home to set up an office where he will be active in the private sector while leaving his options open for a return to public life.
“I’ll be doing some writing, I’ll be doing some speaking, and we’ll see where that leads,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he hopes Arkansans are excited about the future, and he was thankful in a final message to people living in the state.
“Thanks for your prayers, and thanks for your support over the last eight years,” Hutchinson said.