Gov. Asa Hutchinson (file photo)
Gov. Asa Hutchinson
explained his reasons today for supporting the legislature to singularly celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.
with a state holiday and to separate Robert E. Lee
for the observance.
He said the dual observance sends the "wrong signal" and divides the state. It's an important statement for Arkansas that all should celebrate the life of King. "This holiday is for all Americans and it should be set apart from remembrance of that great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King," Hutchinson said.
He emphasized the educational component of the bill, encouraging teaching about the civil rights movement.
He said he expected an uphill battle in the legislature. "All I can do is express my support," he said. But he said he detected a growing understanding of the need for the bill. He also said some he'd asked had declined to be sponsors. "It's just a difficult issue. That's the way it is."
He said the Legislative Black Caucus
, not represented at the news conference, had been "very helpful" in his drafting of the bill. The chair, Rep. Vivian Flowers,
has not returned repeated efforts to get her opinion on the bill and others in the caucus have deferred questions to her. It might be that even a devalued observance for Lee in October, on a non-holiday, is still too much, despite the sole holiday for King on the third Monday in January.
Still, Hutchinson said this legislation would demonstrate "we are beyond the divisions of the past."
Image of state is a factor in attracting business and talent, Hutchinson acknowledged during press questions. Yes. And honoring Robert E. Lee contributes. And laws discriminating against gay people. And laws attempting to discourage full voting participation. And laws that punish people for being poor. And so on. But that's me.
It occurs to me: You introduce a bill and you lose and that might be worse than doing nothing at all.
UPDATE: I spoke with Rep. Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff
chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
She said the caucus supports the bill, but had been caught by surprise by its introduction last night. She said they have some minor "tweaks," including a desire to make sure King isn't "marginalized" in the portion about education curriculum by restricting teaching about him to a single day around the holiday.
But on the larger issue, she said: "We're supportive of eliminating Lee from the holiday. This bill does that."
Does the caucus object to continuing a gubernatorial proclamation for Lee in October?
"The proclamation is a proclamation that the governor would make. It is not a state celebration or commemoration of Lee. So the short answer is, no, I don't have a problem because it is not a holiday."