Get to know Asa Hutchinson: A look at the former Arkansas governor vying for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination

Gun Rights

For months, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson faced questions regarding if he would run for president in the 2024 election cycle.

Hutchinson, 70, teased a bid during the final year of his governorship and after leaving office. He journeyed to Iowa and other key places in the presidential primary process to engage with possible supporters and weigh out his future.

The former governor entered the presidential race on April 2, telling ABC News he was “convinced people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts.” Today he officially launches his campaign during an event in Bentonville, where he was born.

“I have experienced many firsts here: my first law practice, launching Bentonville’s first FM radio station, my first home with [wife] Susan, and announcing my first run for public office,” Hutchinson said in a release April 17 announcing today’s event. “I owe so much to Bentonville, it is only right to make my formal announcement among my many friends and supporters from this amazing community.”

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HUTCHINSON’S START

Hutchinson’s public office experience began in 1977 when he became the city attorney for Bentonville. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Hutchinson as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, where Hutchinson successfully investigated and prosecuted white supremacists with the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord. Hutchinson left the U.S. attorney position in January 1985 as Reagan began his second presidential term.

Hutchinson sought one of Arkansas’ U.S. Senate seats in 1986, losing to Democratic incumbent Dale Bumpers. He ran for state attorney general in 1990, only to lose to departing Lt. Gov. Winston Bryant, before serving as co-chairman of the state Republican Party with Sheffield Nelson from 1990 to 1991 and then served as the party’s chairman from 1992 through 1995.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Hutchinson ran for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District in the 1996 election, defeating Democrat Ann Henry. His older brother, Tim Hutchinson, represented the district from 1993 to 1997 but did not run for a third term, opting instead to run for U.S. Senate, a bid that resulted in an upset victory over Bryant.

During his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Asa Hutchinson served on the House Select Intelligence, Judiciary, and Government Reform committees. He played an instrumental role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, including serving as a House manager during the Senate trial.

Hutchinson was re-elected in 1998 and 2000 before leaving the House of Representatives during his third term upon the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his nomination to lead the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION

President George W. Bush nominated Hutchinson as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration director in June 2001, which Hutchinson accepted. The Arkansan resigned from the House in August 2001 after the Senate confirmed the nomination in a 98-1 vote.

Following the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in late 2002, Bush appointed Hutchinson as the agency’s under secretary for border and transportation security. The Senate confirmed Hutchinson in January 2003. Hutchinson’s responsibilities included overseeing the nation’s borders, including its waterways, transportation systems and immigration.

The Bush administration highlighted Hutchinson’s efforts to change border inspection processes by utilizing biometric technology in a biography on the administration’s website.

“When I was asked by President Bush to be part of the Department of Homeland Security — the largest government reorganization in 50 years — I had responsibility for the border security,” Hutchinson told attendees of the National Rifle Association’s convention this year.

“We didn’t get it perfect, but let me tell you, it’s a lot better than it was today and what Joe Biden has done.”

Hutchinson left the agency in March 2005.

AFTER THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

After leaving the Bush administration, Hutchinson accepted a position with the Venable Law Firm in Washington, D.C. and founded the Hutchinson Group consulting firm.

He ran for governor in 2006, losing to Democrat Attorney General Mike Beebe.

The National Rifle Association appointed Hutchinson as director of the organization’s National School Shield Task Force, which was formed after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Hutchinson served on the board of Pinkerton Government Services at the time; the firm provides security services to federal agencies and contractors.

The task force — which consisted of former national security officials and training organization leaders with consultation with education and school safety organizations — issued a list of recommendations, which included having armed school personnel, hiring school resource officers, and the creation of a pilot program for studying threat assessments and mental health.

“We looked at the schools, we looked at what we need to do to better protect our children, and we did a national study. We made recommendations,” he said during this year’s NRA convention. “Those recommendations have made a difference in our society, and we’ve moved in that direction in which we understand fundamentally, in a school, if you’re going to protect children, you need to have armed personnel to protect children.”

Hutchinson launched his second gubernatorial campaign in January 2013. He defeated former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross in the November 2014 general election, with Republicans winning control of the Arkansas General Assembly and the state’s constitutional offices.

HIS TIME AS GOVERNOR

Hutchinson’s accomplishments during his time as governor included expanding computer science education, reducing income taxes from 7% to 4.9%, raising $95 million for a highway improvement plan, and consolidating the state’s 42 agencies into 15 departments.

Hutchinson worked to continue Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion with the Arkansas Works program, which included a work requirement for participants to receive coverage. More than 18,000 Arkansans lost health insurance during the nine months when the work requirement was in place; a federal judge blocked the condition in March 2019.

Lawmakers later approved the Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me program — ARHome — to replace the Arkansas Works program. The current effort involves utilizing Medicaid funds for purchasing private health insurance for participants without a state work requirement.

Hutchinson signed separate measures to raise minimum teacher salaries by $4,000 and to allow the starting salaries for state police troopers to increase by $11,000. He also approved a one-time stipend for local and state law enforcement personnel.

Under Hutchinson’s governorship, Arkansas implemented a ban on transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. Arkansas was the second state to issue such a prohibition. Other states and the U.S. House of Representatives have followed, with proponents arguing the laws are necessary to ensure fairness in sporting events.

Hutchinson applauded U.S. House Republicans after the chamber passed its sports bill on April 20, 2023, stating that he believes “biological men have no place competing in women’s sports.”

As governor, Hutchinson vetoed legislation in April 2021 banning gender-affirming care for transgender children, arguing the proposal went too far by impacting children already receiving care. Republican lawmakers overrode Hutchinson, triggering a legal challenge in federal court.

Hutchinson signed multiple bills during his tenure targeting abortion, including legislation in 2019 allowing the state attorney general to ban services statewide except in cases involving the mother’s life in a medical emergency. Then-Attorney General Leslie Rutledge implemented the law last year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 decision granting a nationwide right to abortion services.

Hutchinson would express concern regarding the lack of language on exceptions for rape and incest in the state law.

Hutchinson’s final years in the governor’s office involved leading Arkansas through the coronavirus pandemic. He ordered the closure of some businesses and virtual school instruction at the start of the pandemic before loosening restrictions. In August 2020, Hutchinson announced school districts would have to provide in-class instruction, and by February 2021 many pandemic-related restrictions were loosened.

Hutchinson approved a statewide ban on face mask mandates in April 2021, albeit Hutchinson later said in a news conference he wished it had not become law. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the law in August 2021 before completely blocking the law four months later. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned this decision in January 2023.

Hutchinson publicly received the coronavirus vaccine in January 2021 as a sign of confidence in its effectiveness. The governor later went on a statewide tour to encourage Arkansans to get vaccinated as the state recorded the highest rate of new covid-19 cases in the country. The gestures contrasted with other Republicans who challenged getting vaccinated.

Hutchinson left office in January as Sarah Huckabee Sanders took office. He remained a popular governor during his eight years in office, with his lowest approval rating in the Arkansas Poll coming in 2021 when 57% of Arkansans approved of his job performance.

HUTCHINSON ON ISSUES

— ABORTION: “I think it’s important that we restrict abortions to save the lives of the unborn. I do think there has to be reasonable exceptions, such as the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest. I think there’s broad agreement in America on that. And we also have to make sure that we provide for the maternal care. We have to do better in our childbirth care and adoption services. …

“I think there’ll be continued debate about whether we need a national standard, and that will depend, really, upon whether you have a divided government, whether you have the Democrats take control or Republicans take control. And then, you’re going to have two choices: Are you going to lift all the restrictions on abortion, [or] are you going to place reasonable restrictions that will save the lives of the unborn? And that’s the Republican [position] and that’s my position.” (“Fox News Sunday” interview April 23, 2023)

— BORDER SECURITY: “We have a dysfunctional southern border, and we need to put more border resources there, we need to make sure to support the Border Patrol that’s doing the job, and we need to go after the cartels in Mexico that are controlling the border and sending fentanyl into the United States of America that is killing 100,000 of our young people every year. These are truly foreign terrorist organizations and should be designated as such.” (National Rifle Association convention speech, April 14, 2023)

— ENERGY: “We need to have a pro-growth energy policy here in the United States. We shouldn’t have our leaders going to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and saying, ‘Can you please produce more oil?’ Let’s produce energy in the United States of America so we can be independent and dominant.” (National Rifle Association convention speech, April 14, 2023)

— FOREIGN POLICY: “If I’m president and I look at foreign policy, the most important thing is don’t show weakness, show strength. Show strength, and that deters aggression by our enemies and our adversaries. President Biden showed weakness in Afghanistan. That led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that led to China being more aggressive toward Taiwan.

“Strength is what you have to show. We’ve got to rebuild the strength of America, and that’s both in how we invest in our military, but also how we conduct ourselves. We’re not an isolationist nation. We have to lead the world, and that’s part of investing in our strength.” (Fox Business appearance, April 3, 2023)

— GOVERNMENT SPENDING AND INFLATION: “We need to slow it down. We need to get a reign on it. We need to balance our budget. We need to get back to spending normalcy, so you don’t get hit with inflation and high-interest rates.” (National Rifle Association convention speech, April 14, 2023)

— GUNS: “I will continue to stand for the Second Amendment and the fight that we have in front of us.” (National Rifle Association convention speech, April 14, 2023)

— SCHOOL AND PUBLIC SAFETY: “In Arkansas, we made sure that our school counselors can devote their time to actually counseling with students and not doing administrative work. And so, putting more money into the school resources and the mental health services across the board are important. …

“If it reaches the point of paranoia, sociopathic behavior, or that you’re a risk to yourself of suicide, or you’re a risk to others in terms of homicide, then we as a society — if we can identify that, which we can — we have to act on it. And it’s not adjudicated by a police officer; it is by a court where evidence is received. But we have failed in our society to utilize and to act upon that.” (“Face the Nation” appearance, April 16, 2023)

OTHER CANDIDATES

Hutchinson has been a critic of former President Donald Trump, with criticisms stemming from the former president’s false claims regarding election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Hutchinson also has said the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “disqualifies” Trump from winning the presidency in the next election cycle.

“I do not believe that Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States,” Hutchinson told ABC News in January 2023. “I think he’s had his opportunity there. I think Jan. 6 really disqualifies him for the future.”

After Trump launched his third presidential campaign last November, Hutchinson tweeted that the former president’s “self-indulging message promoting anger has not changed. It didn’t work in 2022 and won’t work in 2024. There are better choices.”

Following Trump’s indictment on charges related to allegedly falsified business records, Hutchinson called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race, describing the matter as “a distraction.”

Former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and conservative radio host Larry Elder also have announced their presidential campaigns.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., launched a presidential exploratory committee April 12 ahead of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Other Republicans considering a presidential bid include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

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