LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas officials had varying reactions to Donald Trump’s win in Tuesday’s presidential race.
“I am surprised he won,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday at the state Capitol.
“I thought the dynamics had changed,” he said, referring to the FBI Director James Comey’s announcement Sunday that newly surfaced emails did not merit any charges against Democrat Hillary Clinton. “It had not changed.”
Trump’s election signaled that voters want change, said Hutchinson, who supported Trump after he became the party’s nominee.
“They’re frustrated, they want more accomplished in Washington, they want less gridlock in Washington,” he said. “They want an outsider to come in there and change things. And they gambled — or made their best judgment, I should say — that Donald Trump is the right one to lead a time of dramatic change in America and to change directions.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Trump’s transition team was discussing the possibility of Hutchinson serving as U.S. attorney general. Hutchinson, who served as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency and as undersecretary of border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, was asked by an Arkansas reporter if he would be interested in serving in Trump’s administration.
“No. … How’s that for clarity?” he said.
Hutchinson also said he was surprised at the apparent effect the presidential race had on legislative races in the state. Several Democratic incumbents lost to Republican challengers, increasing the GOP’s majorities in both chambers.
“I didn’t think it’d be a nationalized election, and I was wrong. Clearly it was a national election and it impacted state races,” Hutchinson said.
Trump has campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and with Republicans maintaining control of both chambers of Congress, that goal could be in reach. Hutchinson was asked what he would like to see happen with health care under a Trump administration.
The governor said that in the short term he hopes to see the state receive greater flexibility in managing its Medicaid expansion program, including approval to add provisions the current administration has disapproved, such as a work requirement.
He said that in the long term he expects to see a debate about the future of federal health-care policy.
Hutchinson was asked if he thought the roughly 300,000 Arkansans who have obtained health insurance through the Medicaid expansion program would be able to retain some kind of coverage even if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
“I’m not going to speculate as to what should happen in the future based on what Congress may or may not do with the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who served as a surrogate for the Trump campaign, said in a written statement Wednesday, “Mr. Trump has earned this victory and is prepared to use his business experience to make America great again. I am confident he will appoint strong, conservative justices to the bench, get regulations off the backs of hardworking Americans, bring much-needed reform to all areas of government and help unify all Americans after this hard fought campaign.”
Rep. Nate Bell, I-Mena, said he was “disappointed” by Trump’s win. He said he voted for independent candidate Evan McMullin and was concerned about Trump’s “bigotry.”
“I feel like Hillary is a terrible person, but I think at her core she respects humanity, and I’ve never felt like Mr. Trump does,” he said. “Hopefully, he will prove me wrong.”
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said he voted for Trump and was glad he defeated Clinton.
“You know that last debate, whenever they were talking about abortion, and the comments she made about not only supporting Planned Parenthood, but actually she wants to increase the funding to Planned Parenthood,” he said.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she was trying to look at the positive side of the election outcome.
“We’re still here, the sun’s still shining,” she said.
Flowers said that with Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, partisan gridlock should not be a barrier to acting on important matters such as infrastructure and schools.
“They think they can make everything so great again. I want to see it,” she said.
Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, said the American people signaled that “they do not want politics as usual. They don’t want status quo.”
Rice said he voted for Trump, but “he’s going to have to earn the respect of the American people and he’s going to have to earn my respect.”
He said he was pleased with the tone Trump set in his post-election speech.
“I hope it continues,” Rice said.