Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is poised to make his state the 21st with a “religious freedom” law on the books as he prepares to sign into law an Indiana-style Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Despite the nationwide backlash against the Indiana law that is prompting Indiana Republicans to come up with a legislative “fix” to their own bill, Hutchinson, a Republican, said Monday he would sign the RFRA bill if it “reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states.”
The Arkansas measure definitely fits the bill.
So who is this governor prepared to flout the still-brewing controversy?
Hutchinson only took over the governorship this year, but he’s been a mainstay in Arkansas and national politics for nearly two decades.
Hutchinson won a seat to the House of Representatives in 1996 after serving more than a decade as a successful U.S. attorney and lawyer in Arkansas.
His background as a federal prosecutor would rocket him into the spotlight just two years later, when he was tapped as one of the 13 managers — effectively, prosecutors — of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Hutchinson has since said he has no regrets, though he was initially reluctant to take the job because it wasn’t good politics in Arkansas, where he took some flack for taking a leading role in prosecuting Clinton, the state’s former governor and the only Arkansan elected President.
Hutchinson even took heat from his opponent last year over his role in the impeachment during his campaign to become governor.
But Bill Clinton isn’t the only Clinton he’s gone after. Hutchinson had more luck, though, with Clinton’s brother, Roger, whom Hutchinson successfully prosecuted and sent to jail on drug charges in 1984. He even led the Drug Enforcement Administration for two years under former President George W. Bush.
Following his unsuccessful run for governor in 2006 and before his successful bid in 2014, Hutchinson was publicly known for his work as a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association’s school safety program.
How does this all fit in with the RFRA bill?
Hutchinson is a proud conservative so the bill definitely fits within his ideological spectrum.
But the Arkansas governor is also known to be more pragmatic than ideological and won praise for his fairness during Clinton’s impeachment trial.
But even if he follows his pragmatism rather than his ideology, it’s not clear which way Hutchinson will go.
Arkansas is a deep-red, conservative state that has only gotten more conservative since Hutchinson won his first election in the state nearly two decades ago. The GOP base in the state definitely wants Hutchinson to O.K. the measure.
But it’s not just gay rights advocates and civil rights groups calling on Hutchinson to veto the bill.
Hutchinson is facing the same reaction from the business community that pushed Pence to reconsider making changes to his RFRA law — and Hutchinson needs to consider one very big business based in his state: Walmart.
The giant multibillion dollar, multinational corporation is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas and the company’s CEO Doug McMillon came out Tuesday against the law, urging Hutchinson to pull out his veto pen.
“[The RFRA bill] threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold,” McMillon said in a statement. “For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”