Columns » John Brummett

Asa, Jim -- delicate dance

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Surely the most delicate dance of the general election campaign will be Asa Hutchinson's with Jim Holt.

I write metaphorically, of course. I am unaware if actual dancing violates either's fundamentalist religion.

There are those who say that Hutchinson must reach out to centrists to compete against Mike Beebe in the governor's race.

There are those who say Hutchinson's task is made harder by the impressive victory achieved by the farther-right Holt, champion of clamping down on illegal immigrants and defying courts on school reform, in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

But then there are those who say Hutchinson must not distance himself too far from Holt lest he offend his vital right flank and suffer the fatal electoral consequence of a divided or tepid base.

They're all right. Thus, the delicate dance.

I asked Holt the other day if he and Hutchinson had spoken since the election. He said they had. I asked what they talked about. Holt said they agreed there is a reason these offices are sought separately, rather than as a ticket, and that each man would need to run his own race.

"But please don't make that sound like we're distancing ourselves from each other," Holt said.

Yes, the delicate dance. You don't want to get too close. But you don't want to get so far away that you end up appearing to be dancing with somebody else - some shimmying, half-dressed Democrat, for example, in Asa's case.

The defining issue will be immigration, of course. It merely qualifies as the political and governmental story of the year.

It's especially relevant here. It entails Hutchinson's background as deputy secretary of Homeland Security for border control. It provides Holt's very calling card, since he had that bill in the Legislature to make it a misdemeanor for a state official to encounter an illegal immigrant seeking services and not turn in that illegal immigrant for deportation.

So, I mentioned to Holt that I'd quoted Hutchinson a month ago as saying he couldn't go along with Holt's bill. I'd quoted Hutchinson at that time as saying such a measure would preclude our right to be Good Samaritans. I'd quoted him as saying we wouldn't want to put ourselves in a position of having to deny medical services to a sick child only because the child's parents couldn't provide citizenship documentation.

Holt replied that Hutchinson or someone with Hutchinson's campaign - he couldn't remember which - had told him that my account of what Asa said wasn't exactly right.

Sometimes you can dance for a while to the tune of those lying newspapers. But, to his credit, Hutchinson authorized his press secretary to tell me - when I asked as a matter of public record - that I'd had it right.

But there was a hint of the soft shoe in the answer. It was that Asa and Jim pretty much agree on immigration in a broad sense, if not on that particular bill.

Actually, to be fair and complete, Hutchinson had made a statement in the interim that he believed there was a state role to play in immigration enforcement, though he offered no hint what that might be.

Beyond that, Asa had danced a bit a month ago when I quoted him. At the time I called it a bob and weave worthy of Bill Clinton.

After saying he couldn't go along with Holt's measure, Hutchinson said that, on the other hand, we can't let our good will and benevolence get taken advantage of.

So, there's a line to be drawn. It's somewhere out there on the dance floor. You must try to find it while keeping your partner close, but not too much so.

You must do all that without tripping over your own feet.

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