Columns » John Brummett

Asa rides wheel of fortune

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An emerging political question is whether Asa Hutchinson’s cashing in will get in the way of his running for governor, speaking in terms of timing, logistics and another thing I forget. Oh, yes. Ethics. You’ll recall that Hutchinson, the Bob Jones University graduate and prosecutor of Bill Clinton, left the deputy directorship of the federal Homeland Security Department at the first of the month. He’d been passed over by President Bush to run the agency. He announced his affiliation with a Washington law firm that’s in the vanguard of steering clients to the gravy train that could reap billions from government contracts for homeland security protection. He signed with a speakers’ bureau at $15,000 per talk, excepting the free ones to Republican groups in Arkansas, where, by the way, he stopped by one weekend to say he would seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year. He said the Washington law firm would grant him liberal leave to relocate to Little Rock, where, he said, he’d form his own little homeland security consulting outfit, something to be called Hutchinson Security Strategies. Do me a favor. Call directory assistance and ask for a residential listing in Little Rock for Asa Hutchinson or a business listing for Hutchinson Security Strategies. See if you have any better luck than I had Tuesday. How hard would it be to give a half-hour speech on “How I Spent That Year I Was in Charge of Border Security,” and take a little of the $15,000 to rent an apartment in Little Rook and furnish it with a telephone with voice mail? That would seem an easy enough investment if you were intending to run for governor in this place where you weren’t. But Asa’s focus seems to be elsewhere, as the Washington Post reported the other day. There’s this fellow named Tom McMillen. He’s noted for standing 6-feet-11 and a few other things. He was a college basketball player for Maryland and for 11 seasons in the NBA. He was a Rhodes Scholar. He was a Democratic congressman from Maryland for a while. It’s McMillen’s entrepreneurial side that commands our attention for these purposes. In 1993 he started Complete Wellness Centers, Inc., a health care firm managing alternative medicine centers. To make the long story short, the firm dismissed and sued McMillen and went bankrupt. Now he has an idea to start a shell company called Fortress America Acquisition Corp. and to go around selling $42 million in stock in a holding company that would intend to purchase homeland security firms. What the Post reported was that Hutchinson had signed on with McMillen’s venture as a “special adviser.” Asa is selling to the firm, or lending, whatever credibility in the homeland security field he can offer as a former servant of the taxpayers in the new federal agency specializing in homeland security. Now we return to our emerging political question: Will Asa be able to balance his time between being a lawyer and quasi-lobbyist in Washington, a speaker for hire, a consultant in Washington, a start-up businessman in Little Rock and another apparently incidental thing I forget. Oh, yes. Gubernatorial candidate. Ethics? Some say that state and local governments are the front lines of homeland security. Might there be any conflict in a governor’s vested association in companies likely seeking government money for homeland security contracts? Let’s just say it would bear watching by Win Paul Rockefeller, Mike Beebe and other concerned citizens.

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