Some of the best news from last week's primary election was from Arkansas House Minority Leader David Whitaker of Fayetteville, who pointed out that the House Democratic Caucus immediately gained three women after Tippi McCullough, Jamie Scott and Nicole Clowney all defeated their primary opponents and face no GOP opposition in November. Considering the caucus only had three women as members before last Tuesday's election, the addition of McCullough, Scott, and Clowney reflects a shift in politics in Arkansas. We saw issues such as school safety, childcare costs and women's access to health care play a larger role in the primaries than in the past. The women who run for office this year, win or lose, will automatically be potential contenders in future races. Hopefully, as I lamented in my "Future is Female" column last year, we are done hearing the names of the same men over and over as potential candidates. Thanks to these women, along with the progressive men who stepped up and ran this year, the Democrats will have a larger, more diverse pool of future candidates. The bench is deepening.
Speaking of women, as I was scrolling through Facebook this past weekend, I noticed an ad in my feed I thought surely was a joke. Here was the World Woman Foundation bragging that that Governor Hutchinson would headline and give opening remarks at the World Woman Summit in Little Rock this October. After I realized it was no joke, I figured this was one of those right wing groups masquerading as a women's empowerment organization. Wrong again. Or at least from what I've read, it doesn't seem that way. The website does have a testimonial from UN Ambassador Nikki Haley but also praise from Green Party 2016 presidential nominee Jill Stein and Senator Kamala Harris (D-California). Last year's line up seemed to be an impressive and diverse mix of entrepreneurs and experts and also included Hutchinson as an opener (By the way, how did Jan Morgan miss the opportunity to link Hutchinson with lefties Stein and Harris in the GOP gubernatorial primary?).
The conference is billed as "a source of inspiration and support that connects and empowers women around the world" and, last year, covered topics such as violence against women and global health equity for women. So why is Governor Hutchinson, who earlier this month was bragging about his primary endorsement from President Donald Trump, an admitted sexual assaulter, proponent of cutting health care to women and obvious racist, involved in this summit? This is the same question I asked when I found out he would be speaking at a celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. earlier this year despite being pro-death penalty and pro-voter ID law.
I know the answer. We are honoring him for being the governor of Arkansas. He is expected to appear at events, smile and say a few words and we are expected to clap. But when does it become appropriate to set aside the respect for the office to express our anger at the office holder? We've seen this very issue play out on the national level with more and more athletes and artists refusing the traditional White House visit to avoid meeting with Trump. While some centrists and Republicans accuse those who take a stand against Trump of being "divisive" or "politicizing an event," the members of the teams and the award winners are actually reacting to Trump's own divisive comments and policies. It seems those with the least to lose are the first to cry for the loss of civility and respect of a president who is neither civil nor respectful of others. I'll admit Hutchinson is no Trump, but he still has done very little to protect Arkansas residents from the authoritarian, anti-women policies of this administration. It seemed promising when, early on, Hutchinson had harsh criticism for Trump during the 2016 presidential primary, but they seem to be big buddies after a recent meeting that resulted in the endorsement and an agreement to send Arkansas National Guard to help secure the border. Are we just months away from seeing Hutchinson go all in and begin to refer to himself as a "deplorable?"
That's why the primary results are so sweet to many women and families in Arkansas. While Hutchinson continues to do everything to keep his conservative base happy, he is failing to prevent Arkansas from being on track to bottom out in education, health care, and infant mortality ratings It's a good thing so many in the Democratic Party are waking up to the idea that a diverse group of progressive women are the new force in state politics. And even though some still insist on referring to them as the "fairer sex," don't expect this group to always clap and be civil. They've watched as legislature put guns on college campuses, take money from public schools and given tax cuts to the rich. With apologies to Howard Beale, they are mad as hell and are not going to take this anymore.