Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson talks energy, bridging the political divide

By: - June 20, 2023 3:12 pm

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined U.S. Joni Ernst at her annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines June 3, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is working to distinguish himself in the 2024 Republican presidential race by highlighting his focus on reaching “real” solutions on polarizing issues.

“You’ve got the majority of American people (who) say that they don’t want to have a repeat of the Biden-Trump contest, and that we don’t want to go back to 2020,” Hutchinson said at a Harlan event Tuesday. “I’m in this race because I believe we need new leadership and that’s why I think we have 12 in the race because obviously a lot of other people think we need new leadership, and think they’re the best. So I want to go a different direction.”

Hutchinson answered questions from a group of 25 gathered at Nishnabotna Valley REC, an electric utility company. Following an energy roundtable, Hutchinson called for the U.S. energy independence from Saudi Arabia and Russia, as well as opposing President Joe Biden’s executive order to end the U.S. government’s purchase of gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

“We got to get (electric vehicles’) costs down, and you got to improve the technology, so that looks like not a good timeframe to me,” he said. “We have to let consumers have a larger voice, which means that they’re going to set the pace moving to alternative vehicles.”

He also answered questions from the audience on issues from the national debt to international conflicts involving China and Russia.

The Arkansas Republican also brought up the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision upholding the injunction on the 2018 “fetal heartbeat” law. Hutchinson said he was anti-abortion and praised the abortion ban he signed into law in 2019 that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

He said he prefers states having control over abortion, noting that for Democrats to pass a law legalizing abortion would require them to have a supermajority in Congress while maintaining the presidency.

He said it’s “doubtful” either party will hold that level of power after the upcoming elections, and said Republicans need to work across the aisle to establish “reasonable” restrictions. Doing so, he said, will require an agreement on exceptions for such restrictions so that Republicans can build a coalition, with some support from Democrats, on a bill that can pass through Congress. He told Fox News Sunday that he would sign a 15-week national abortion ban if it had “appropriate exceptions” — but that Republicans need to be careful because abortion access played a crucial role in Democrats’ success in the 2022 midterm elections.

“We got to really talk about it in rational and compassionate ways,” Hutchinson said. “And we got to talk about improving adoption services, we got to talk about improving maternal health care — we’ve improved in Arkansas. We’ve got to have good ‘life’ options that we talk about — versus just simply restrictions — that are important, too.”

Hutchinson also asked the group to support him in reaching the Republican debate stage in Milwaukee on Aug. 23. The Republican National Committee requires all candidates to show they are above 1% in three polls and have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors.

Hutchinson said polls show independents dislike both Biden and former President Donald Trump, and asked Iowans to think of him while vetting GOP alternatives to the former president.

“I hope that you will ask the questions as to who’s got the experience,” Hutchinson said. “Secondly, who’s got the temperament to lead our country? Who identifies with our values to lead our country? Who would set an example for your teenager?”

Other Republicans seeking the party’s nomination include former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, each of whom has held events in Iowa contrasting themselves with Trump.

LaDonna Havick, a Harlan resident and member of a rural cooperative, said she is interested in learning more about Hutchinson. While she is not committed to him as a caucus candidate, Havick said she believes he and other candidates trying to show they can bridge America’s growing political divide will be popular in Iowa.

“Common sense isn’t really a heard word anymore,” Havick said. “A ‘common-sense approach,’ I don’t know if a lot of people understand common sense. But I do believe the Midwest stands for common sense, and if you have a common-sense approach to politics in Iowa, you can be in some demand.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.